Sunday, November 25, 2007

Restaurant Etiquette.

"Excuse me, how much longer are you going to be occupying this table?"

Returning to the topic of restaurant etiquette. What happens when you go to your favorite restaurant, and the table where you want to sit at is taken?

To me positioning is everything when dining out. Well, obviously, food is paramount, and some would say that company is too, and I’d say service is quite decisive, lest you be served by a careless waiter that dips his thumb in your fettucini while holding the plate; however, assuming fine food, service and company are in place, a poor table location in a restaurant can ruin the dining experience.

So what do you do when the spot you want is taken? Do you settle for another one even if you don’t like it? Do you wait indefinitely for that table to become available? Do you go to another restaurant?

Today this happened to me. I was with a friend and we really didn’t want to seat anywhere other than the nice little table, where the view of the pedestrian boulevard on which the restaurant sits was absolutely phenomenal. It was taken by a couple and we were willing to wait since it was early. But how long do you wait? I wanted to walk around and come back when the table became available. The host said that the people were eating and that she really didn’t know how long they were going to take.

I had an idea and my friend said it wasn’t a good one. For the sake of the experiment I decided to try it out. I walked to the table and I asked the couple how long they were going to take since we wanted to eat at the same table they were eating and we were willing to wait.

She, a stylish woman in her late 40's, had just stuffed a bouquet of mixed greens in her mouth, and in disbelief she looked at her male companion. This was really bad timing on my part. I should have not addressed them while any of the two were chewing. I was a little nervous, actually, and I guess that I didn’t give myself enough time to strategically plan my approach.

He stared at me and he seemed really bothered. At this point I got really nervous and I just thought of my friend waiting for me outside of the restaurant.

“My friend and I really like this table that you are eating at, and we can take a walk while you finish. I’ll give you my cell number, and if you don’t mind calling me when you are done, that will be wonderful.” I said

I still can’t believe that I spilled out such a rude request. I guess I was really anxious.

“Excuse me?” He said. He was a 50 something year old man. Sturdy built and coarse facial features.

Right then, I really wanted to disappear from the face of the Earth.

“I was just wondering how much longer you are going to take with your food.” (I really couldn’t find a kinder way to present my inquiry.)

“Well, we’ve just started,” she said clearly annoyed.

“That’s fine. I am sorry. Please enjoy your meal. We’ll find another place. By the way, for dessert, their profiteroles are absolutely delicious.”

I dropped those lines with a smile, trying to be cute and leave the scene with some sense of decency. Then he said:

“You want us to call you when we are finished?” He seemed perplexed.

“Yes, but I just realize that it’s such a weird idea, so we are going to go.”

“We can call you.” He said. "It's quite an original idea."

Now she looked perplexed.

I ended up writing for them my number on a napkin and I asked the host to add my name to the waiting list, and that we would only take that one table.

About 30 minutes later, my phone rung and he said that they had just asked for the bill.

A little bit after, we were having lunch at our favorite table.

This is something that people should be able to do, maybe not ask to be called but at least ask for the estimated time that someone plans to spend lunching or dining. My friend thinks that this is improper. I say that we are way too many people in the world and if we don’t collaborate with each other in our simple daily affairs, it's going to be hell. In any case, I don't think I am doing this again. People are not used to such a thing and it's quite embarrassing.

The food was delicious, the seating was the best, and I did order their chocolate profiteroles.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Shoes, a guide to our Souls: Think BIG

If you want to know what a person is all about, observe their feet. How they move, how they own the ground beneath them, and very importantly, the type of shoes they wear.

I truly believe there is a psychological scheme behind the shoes a person chooses every morning, and with so many styles and colors, there is a shoe for every soul.

I’ve been walking the streets of different cities with my camera, photographing shoes, shoes and more shoes. I will start a series of posts on shoes and souls.

For this first post I am going to talk about one of my favorite shoe topics:

“Think Big Shoes”

Through my photographs, I’ve noticed how children and young teenagers, wear loose shoes: untied shoelaces or no laces at all. The shoes even seem a size bigger than their feet, so they can grow and sill fit. I intuit hopeful souls that think big. They see no limits, only endless room for growth and achievement. Their disposition is always looking up because nothing is too high up or too far away to be attained. They sense they are in a journey to find something important, not too sure what, but something thrilling, perhaps life. Whatever it is they are going for it because their short experience, still sees the unknown as something positive. The unknown is a chance for discovery, devoid of threats or danger.

As we grow up and out of our loose shoes, we encounter obstacles to our beliefs and we become too aware of the possibility of loss and failure. The unknown acquires a bitter taste of apprehension. Lives become incarcerated in self-imposed cells of fear and doubt. As we tighten our shoes, we do the same with our souls. Sad, very sad, that we see failure as something to be fearful of.

Please, sit down and hear Sir Ken Robinson speak. There may be hope.
Around minute 5:30 he says: "Kids will take a chance, if they don't know, they'll have a go..."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Idiotized Salt

Me and the saltshaker, a happy family.

My ex-boyfriend used to add salt to his food without trying it first. He would do this everywhere, eating in and eating out. At times he would complain about his mother’s cooking being too salty, needless to say, he had added salt himself. Some restaurants don’t even have saltshakers on their tables because their chefs have already seasoned the food. Take the hint?

I tried to help him see the advantages of trying the food before altering it with tons of salt but I failed. Eventually I grew curious to know, what was the rationale behind his behavior. One day towards the end of our relationship, when full frontal confrontation about stupid things was almost (completely) rewarding, I asked him as he shook the saltshaker over his food like a maraca:
“Why do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Add salt to your food before finding out first if it needs it.”
“Oh! It needs it, I like my food with salt.”
“That food already has salt.”
“I like it with more.”

I wonder why he didn’t just eat spoons of salt.

I came to the conclusion that there were no hidden traumas behind his devoid-of-all-logic behavior, just a simple belief: “I put salt because putting salt is what I do.” A sloppy assumption (all food, seasoned or not seasoned, needs to be seasoned) based probably on an isolated event, (one time the food did need more salt). I am suspecting that this is the same thinking proces as: “I feel depressed because I am depressed,” or “I can’t get up early because I can’t,” and a million other things we do just be-cause.

It amazes me how strongly restricted we can be by ourselves, and by the sloppy things we occasionally believe in. Scary, considering how little rationality we put into our thoughts at times. For example, getting up early in the morning is hard but only during the time that you lay there, debating to get up or not and repeating to yourself how tired you are. If you just get up at once, the pain is over. You are up. You may be tired again later at work, but you’ll deal with that then. Repeated mornings of fighting against our will to get up can irrefutably implant in our minds the hardness of getting up. Thus growing into a person that can’t get up early and that puts salt in his/her food.

So one day, you may find yourself in a situation less than satisfactory for your own standards but because you didn’t take a minute to stop and think about how you got there, and what your beliefs where before you got there, there you are accepting the situation. You assume it is how it is without questioning.

Try your food before shaking the saltshaker and really taste the bite until the end. Then decide. Don’t assume anything or get used to anything because the moment you do, you become numbed, which is as good as being dead.

I suggest you shake your pointless habits. Just take some action, unexpected and opposite to your assumptions.

For example:
  • Get up instantly as soon as your alarm goes off, even though you are tired and assume you can’t do it.
  • Go for an invigorating walk when you feel depressed, despite your assumption that your feelings need nurture and warmth underneath the sheets.
  • Start dancing if you feel anger taking over you.
  • Fake out a loud laugh if you feel bored.
  • Smile if you don’t feel like it or scream with anger if you feel fear…
And so on...

Soon you will meet a renewed attitude, for as psychologist Leon Festinger showed in his studies: behavioral change tends to happen before attitudinal change can occur.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dining Etiquette. Don't eat it if you don't want it.


"Dear Martha, I know you cooked this meal for me coming over today but I'm not into this weird pimiento sauce, I'll just drive to B. King and order something to go, I'll be back in no time."

So in regards to my previous post on food that you don't feel like eating, I was recently at a friends' place for dinner. She chose to serve a pimiento based meal and I’ve always pretty much detested pimiento. I decided to put in practice my personal human behavior experiment and before we sat on the dining table I spoke frankly. I expressed my dislike and naturally offered to drive to the nearest fast food restaurant and pick up something to go. They were so shocked to hear my perfect solution that they didn't really had time to react before I left. I came back in time to join them at the dinner table. I tried to believe that the contrast of my carton wrapped food against their fancy pimientos would symbolize a truthfulness that would strengthen our friendship. There was a weird vibe when I returned. They tried real hard to act natural and I did too. My burger was truly delicious and it really helped me feel more at ease. I offered them fries. She didn't want any because she said she was on a diet but he took a few.

For desert she had prepared a delicious flan. She had a generous portion, I guess her diet is pretty flexible after all. By the time she was having a second portion things began feeling more natural. Maybe it was the sugar. By the time I left there was no trace of tension.

A few days later I talked to her about this and I told her it was an experiment for my blog. She laughed and confessed to have felt really bad but since I was acting so natural, she ended up accepting and secretly envying the courage it must have taken to be so blunt. Honestly, I envy it too. I did it for the sake of the experiment. I am not sure I could do it again.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Water runs wasted and our days may too.

"I let the water run while I brush my teeth and I know that water goes to waste and I don't care."

Not very long ago, in spite of having read a much alarming article on drought in the US, I surprised myself doing it again, brushing my teeth while I left the tap running. What a stupid thing to do, and I bet I am not the only one doing it. So I promised myself to put remedy to such careless behavior.

Monday morning, late for work, there I was brushing my teeth, water running again. I told myself that I was “almost done” which my brain in a hurry considered equal to done. So the water was running and I was still brushing and rushing. 23 seconds later I was really done. Tuesday. I was better: there I was brushing and no water running but then I opened the faucet before I was done. "I'm almost done, I might as well get a head start with the water." It's like trying to be ahead when you are not. A cheap psychological scheme to win the race against time. What a shameful attitude.

I’ve started a campaign against my insurgent behavior. Today is the first day and I am going to brush my teeth now. First, I will fill the cup of water, second I will cut the water stream and only then, I will start brushing, while the amount of water needed for the afterward rinse will patiently wait for me: inside the cup. That is the purpose of the cup, not just to hold my toothbrush and tube paste.

Now my teeth are receiving a more detailed cleaning and water is saved. I probably get to work 37 seconds later than usual, of course, nobody notices.

I've been searching for similar and useless schemes against time in other aspects of my everyday life and I was surprised to notice how many things I rush through unnecessarily. I am starting to ask myself everyday: what's the rush? I mean, I know what's a the end, right? Do I really want to get there that fast? Not really.

Dining etiquette. Don't eat it if you don't like it.


"Excuse me Sir, after reviewing the menu, I've come to the conclusion that I am not in the mood for any of your delicious offerings. I am going to free this table for another customer. Thank you for your kindness."
Have you ever walked into a restaurant, sat down, waited to get iced water and menus, only to discover that you are not into the food they serve? The dining experience may then turn into hell, for there’s nothing less horrid than to eat without desire. This is a story about food but it could pretty much be applied to anything that we force ourselves to endure for the sake of convention.

So do you stare at the glasses already filled with water and notice your lip mark smeared on the edge from that first sip you took? Do you then order whatever seems more palatable although suddenly, you much rather have a home made ham and cheese sandwich? Or do you get up and leave, after thanking the waiter and maƮtre d'?

It’s very likely that they will stare at you with stiffed expressions of disapproval. It happened to me. Removing the napkin from my lap and carefully placing it back on the table was, I think, the hardest part of the decision. Then publicly facing the host’s judgmental stare made me feel, if only for a few seconds, an improper being, inadequate to belong to any social scene. All the same, I’d say you ought to get up and leave. Once out of the restaurant, I was definitely glad that I did. I had been true to myself without stepping over anybody else’s rights or personal feelings. Ah! An important detail: if you touch the bread or the butter it's a whole different picture, since some restaurants do charge for this goodies. I had not touched them but I noticed that they were really good French style rolls, so I laid a $5 bill on the table and I placed the rolls inside my purse, for the sandwiches. (My dining companion never saw this and didn't realize where the bread of the sandwiches came from.)