When we first moved to San Francisco, I found ordering at restaurants slightly stressful. It was often related to whom I was supposed to order from—not the person who saw us to our table, not the person bringing the drinks, not the person clearing the table. In other countries there aren’t quite so many distinctions and clear lines of who does what in a restaurant. Or at least if there was, I have been oblivious to it. Here I often have to figure out whether we seat ourselves at the bar or at a table or should we wait to be seated at the bar or a table? And were we allowed to suggest a table that we wanted to sit at rather than the one we were being offered?
I tried that out at a restaurant just up the road from my daughter’s school. If you are interested in a bit of movie trivia, the restaurant—Cafe Zoetrope—is owned by Francis Ford Coppola. American Zoetrope, the film studio he co-founded with George Lucas, is also in the same building. It is called the Sentinel Building and is a landmark in San Francisco. Famous owner or not, even here I found I had to take the table I was offered.
I like to choose my table, but a while back when I asked the waiter at Zoetrope “Would he mind” if I sat at a different table than he was offering, one that looked nicer and, well, vacant, he simply looked back and said, “Actually I do mind” and sat me somewhere else—not at the table I requested, which was apparently too large but which remained empty throughout our lunch. He wasn’t rude exactly but needlessly unaccommodating and brusque if you ask me.
I was in Santa Monica with my sister one weekend and the waitress came over to us and explained with great patience that we could not order from the guys in the light blue shirts but only from the folks in dark blue shirts, the reason being the guys in the light blue shirts had not gone through the rigorous training required to be able to take orders and deliver the correct drinks. We had unintentionally ordered our Margaritas from a very competent guy in a light blue shirt, who was being more attentive than anyone else in any other colour of shirt. I felt I had adequately been put in my place. I feel like I am adequately put in my place rather a lot in California.
Running on the wrong side of the Golden Gate Bridge, for example, I joined the cyclists rather than the pedestrians. The cyclists were not pleased and helpfully shouted at me to get off the bridge. “Should I jump?” I shouted back.
My husband was recently on a flight leaving San Francisco and was practicing a speech he was giving later in the day, quietly talking to himself, when a woman who was sitting behind him leaned towards him and told him he was being obnoxious. My husband couldn’t hear her over the noise of the plane and asked her to repeat what she was saying. She didn’t get the irony.
When parking my car on a hill in a residential area, my car was not quite at 90 degrees (on a hill in San Francisco you are required to park your car at an angle of 90 degrees) and a woman who lived across the street and up five houses from the house I was going to crossed the road to let me know I should park again and get the angle correct. I resisted saying I’ll get my protractor out and check the angle.
I went for lunch the other week and I ordered a glass of wine called Oyster Bay. Generally I have been drinking American wine since moving here but occasionally I have a yearning for Aussie or Kiwi wines, and Oyster Bay was one of the more affordable New Zealand wines in Singapore, so it’s like a home comfort of sorts (one of the major plus points of moving here is the vast choice of great inexpensive American wine). If I am having a more challenging day immersing myself into life here, I order Australian or New Zealand wine instead of American…. a salute to my past life, I think, or a polite way of saying, “Well if you don’t make me feel welcome I’m not going to drink your wine.” I know nobody cares, but it makes me feel better.
Back to the ordering of the Oyster Bay…the waiter asked which Oyster Bay I wanted. I knew there was only one on the menu but given my belief that many of the people working in restaurants here really know what’s what, and some of them come across as too cool for any school that I have been to (long beards, sleeve tattoos and artisanal clothes) and my feeling slightly intimidated by the trendiness of the waitstaff, I just smiled and said, “The pinot noir, thanks!” And which Oyster Bay did I end up with? The pinot noir, as requested, and, after a second close inspection: The Only One on the Menu.