Monday, May 14, 2007

Having your Peda and eating it.

I go for a drink with Best Mate, who isn't feeling very well, and is a bit tired.

BM: I'm not feeling well. And I'm a bit tired.

She rubs her face tiredly.

Later, we go to one of Falmouth's many fine Nepalese restaurants. I originally booked for seven o'clock, but B.M. is released from work slightly early, so I phone and ask if we can rock up slightly earlier, and the restaurant and I agree at quarter past six.

The waiting staff seem deeply annoyed that we have turned up at all, and we have to ask quite a few times for a second menu, and a jug of water. Forty minutes later, we have both in our possession, but no food. We are now at that awkward stage where it's too late to cancel the meal, but when it does arrive, it will clearly be as ashes in the mouth.

Finally the food does turn up. BM, who is nearly asleep by now, makes an odd yawning noise and rubs her face again, this time pulling hard at the corners of her eyes. The waiter leaves.

ME: You just did slitty eyes.
BM: What?
ME: You just did slitty eyes to the waiter.
BM: Oh bollocks.

Discreetly, we study the ethnography of the serving staff.

BM: They're not very chinesey*, though, are they, Nepalese?
ME: Well no, but they don't get on with the chinese terribly well.
BM: So either I'm either stupid and racist, or politically quite-well informed and racist?
ME: Hmm.

What could have happened was, we made a bumbling apology to the waiter, which made things worse, and the whole incident became full of terrible awkward silences, that revealed how fraught with difficulty any discussion of racial differences is in these supposedly multicultural times, and in the end you, the observer, is left feeling that this whole episode isn't exactly racist, but it does rely on 'fear of the other' in a way that is unsettling, and really rather old-fashioned.

But as life isn't a sitcom, it all seemed fine. We didn't have any dessert, but then desserts don't seem to be a big part of Nepal cuisine anyway. (UPDATE: although clearly, what the fuck would I know?)

Afterwards, I am passed by four enormously drunk Scousers. Thirty seconds later, the car alarms begin.

*Actually it might have been me who uses the phrase 'not very chinesey', for which I apologise.

UPDATE: readers with bad memories might believe there was an earlier version of this post which was about a Tibetan restaurant. How wrong they would be.


Sylvia said...

James, I hope you will not be frequenting that establishment again.....They don't deserve your business.

Jen said...

I hate political correctness. It's spot on what you said there; we do, as a result, have an inane fear of the 'other'.

If I wanted to be picky, I could complain to the government that noone should be allowed to call me white. Because I'm not really, am I?

I'm a pinkish tinge of blue.

Even in saying that, I feel a bit racist. It's no way to live, is it?

james henry said...

Jen: Well it's tricky - one person's 'political correctness' is another's 'not using terms that might offend someone/basic politeness', so it's one of those phrases that I automatically distrust.

Sylvia: they've been fine all the other times I've been there, so I think they were having an off day - and the service picked up a lot towards the end, so all seemed to be fine.

So although it looked like it was going to turn into a not-very-good episode of Extras, it didn't, basically.

Although having Patrick Stewart saying 'and then you see, I made all her clothes fall off' might have added to the evening.

Tim Footman said...

It's great fun going into a Thai restaurant in London and trying to speak Thai. Most of the waiting staff are usually Malay, and you might as well be talking Flobadob.

james henry said...

I've tried to speak Thai in Flobadob restaurants, which is just as confusing.

Congrats on the Radiohead book review in the Guardian this week by the way Tim.

christ said...

I hate those Flobadobs, coming over here and taking our jobs...