That’s Their Excuse And They’re Chop-Sticking To It

, , , , , | Working | June 20, 2017

(I am 15. A few of my friends and I, along with my and one of my friend’s fathers, have decided to go out for dinner. This is the type of place where you don’t order individual dishes, but a set of 14 dishes are gradually added to the table. We are the only table there, as we decided to go out before rush hour started. We are seated at our table and begin to talk as we wait for plates and utensils to be handed out. Note that my father and I are the only white people at the table, but have lived in Wuzhen for eight years. My father is fluent in Mandarin, and I am semi-fluent, as my school is taught in English.)

Waitress: *in English* “Good evening, all. We hope you enjoy your food.” *in Mandarin* “[Waiter #1], this table needs plates, bowls, and chopsticks, now!”

(Waiter #1 comes over with a stack of plates and chopsticks and sets them down in front of each of us. As he turns to leave a second waiter comes by and peers over our table before doing a double take and marching over to Waiter #1 and whispering something inaudible. Waiter #2 then walks over to the cutlery tray and picks up two forks before coming back over to our table, shooing the first waiter away. I can hear him say something along the lines of “Get it right.”)

Waiter #2: *picking up my chopsticks and replacing it with the fork, doing the same with my father, and speaking in English* “Sorry for the mix-up, sir. [Waiter #1] is still in training.”

(My father stops him, taking the chopsticks back.)

Dad: “No thank you, sir. I am happy using chopsticks; so is my daughter.” *he gestures to me* “May we have them back?”

Waiter #2: “Are you sure, sir? It’s okay not to use chopsticks.”

Dad: *nods* “I know how to use chopsticks, sir. May I have them back?”

(The waiter then frowns before scurrying off, with our forks and chopsticks, coming back after a minute with the waitress.)

Waitress: *to my father* “What is the problem, sir?”

Dad: “I would just like to have my and my daughter’s chopsticks back. That waiter left when I said I didn’t want a fork.”

Waitress: *pauses and then to [Waiter #2] in Mandarin* “What’s wrong? Give him the chopsticks.”

Waiter #2: *snarkily in Mandarin* “Are you stupid? No! He’ll try to use them, dirty them, and ask for a fork. It happens every time. Just give him a fork to start with.”

Waitress: “What makes you so sure he can’t use them?”

Waiter #2: “Look at him! Of course he can’t. All the Westerners that come here leave their chopsticks, but dirty them trying! If he changes his mind and asks for a fork, you can wash the chopsticks, not me.”

Dad: *in fluent Mandarin* “Excuse me, sir. What makes you think my daughter and I can’t use them?”

(Cue the waitress and waiter looking in surprise at my father. The waiter glares at him incredulously before slowly placing the chopsticks back down on his plate, marching angrily around to my table and shoving them down onto mine as well, and storming off. The waitress is still standing there in shock, embarrassed.)

Waitress: *in Mandarin* “Apologies, sir.”

Dad: “It’s no problem.”

(She rushes off back towards the kitchen and my friends and I begin to eat the food that has been set out for us. We can still spot Waiter #2 glaring at us from the corner of the room, waiting for one of us to give in and ask for a fork. It’s beginning to get slightly unnerving, so I choose to ignore him. My friend is struggling with her chopsticks, as she has just transferred from America but appears Korean as her father is. Her father eventually calls the waiter over to ask for a fork.)

Waiter #2: *sneering proudly like he’s just won a bet* “Gladly, sir.”

(He grabs a fork and walks around the table to where I am sitting, thrusting the fork in front of me and snatching the chopsticks from my bowl.)

Waiter #2: “Here you go, madam.”

Me: *in Mandarin* “Oh, those aren’t for me. Those are for [Friend].” *I gesture to my friend who is shyly raising her hand on the other side of the table* “I don’t need them but—”

(The waiter walks away before I can finish my sentence. He takes the fork back and gives it to my friend, frowning.)

Me: “Excuse me, sir?”

Waiter #2: *exasperated* “Yes, madam?”

Me: “May I have another pair of chopsticks? You’re holding mine from the top.”

(The waiter looks down and sure enough is still holding my used chopsticks in his hand. He glares at me a moment before exclaiming in Mandarin “You’re a tourist. Just use a fork like everyone else!” and then marching off towards the kitchen. He never returned with my chopsticks, so I ended up using my friend’s instead. I don’t know how long he had been working there, as I hadn’t been there before, but surely he must have seen a white person use chopsticks before. Needless to say, we haven’t been back since.)

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