I have made the recommendation, on numerous occasions and to no avail, that what we are sorely in need of, what we could really use — over at The Annoying Bar & Grill — is a picture menu. Sadly, I’ve only been half-kidding when I’ve made this (sometimes) snarky suggestion.
A resource such as this would go a long way in helping us to avoid situations like the one in which I found myself last week. Then again, if we had a picture menu, I wouldn’t have this fabulous story to tell. File under “every cloud has a silver lining”.
My absolute favorite table last week consisted of two men who, instead of mirroring my warm smile, chose to greet me, instead, with some finger snapping. No one, and I mean no one, enjoys a finger-snapper more than I do.
These two, as it would turn out, enjoyed gesturing of all kinds. In fairness, it was the resource that they had at their disposal to make themselves understood, as they spoke almost no English. They would have been prime candidates for a picture menu. I’ll bet they would have appreciated such a thing.
Following their attention-getting (and immediately off-putting) finger snapping, I was drawn into a game of charades. They were forced, due to the nonexistence of a picture menu, to attempt to convey to me what they wanted to eat by making fish faces, by mimicking swimming. Yes. Grown men were doing this. Had I known then that they spoke zero English I may not have been able to help myself from guessing aloud, rather than just thinking, “Wait. Wait. Is it ‘The Incredible Mr. Limpet'”?
They followed up the fish faces by opening and closing their fingers. Okay, I thought, maybe it isn’t a movie. Could it be a song? Is it “Rock Lobster”? (I dispensed with this line of thinking rather quickly. Who was I kidding? They couldn’t possibly be referencing that old song, could they?)
Sensing my confusion, one of them grabbed my pen and my order book from my hand. Not quite as rude as finger snapping, but pretty close. It was then that I realized that we had moved on from charades. It would seem that I was going to be an unwilling participant in an impromptu game of “Pictionary”. (A case could be made that they were fashioning their own picture menu here!)
The clue-giver discussed something with his dining partner, in their own language, prior to sketching a very primitive rendering of a fish on my order pad, with my pen. (I wanted to point out that colluding with another player was tantamount to cheating, but I decided to suspend the rules of the game for the time being. We needed to move this along. I had other tables, for crying out loud!)
Their sketch looked very much like this:
As you can see, no pincers in sight. And so I ordered them the tilapia. And the French fries. Because I didn’t want to assume rice and be pigeonholed as a racist.
Frankly, I don’t know how they decided upon our restaurant to begin with. What made them pull in to our establishment if what they were after was a fish dinner? Do cow horns, which are featured prominently in our logo, mean something else in their part of Asia? Do cows SWIM there?
As if this whole exchange had not been interesting enough, it got more amusing (and, yes, slightly frustrating) as our relationship progressed. They seemed to be very excited when I delivered their main courses, excitement which I mistook for “Wow! Look at that! She got it! She understood us!Fantastic!” This, as I would soon find out, was a grave mistake on my part.
Their enthusiastic reactions were not, as I had originally suspected, a result of their love of tilapia and French fries. It became clear to me, as I read their body language, that, perhaps, tilapia was not what they had had in mind when they drew what any child would agree was a picture of a flat fish sans pincers. They kept pointing at their meals, shaking their heads in the negative, and making “pinching” gestures with their hands. “Ah!”, I thought, “It was lobster they wanted after all.”
In a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mindset, I made a motion with my own hands, which I hoped they would understand was meant to convey the message: “Calm down. I’ll get you a couple of lobster tails!” (I was tempted to add pincers to their fish picture, but abandoned that notion as too time-consuming.)
As they were shoving their unwanted tilapia at me, I removed the plates to the kitchen. I then had to have a conversation, in Spanglish, with the kitchen staff — a group who might also benefit from pictures of our food. I explained that I needed a couple of lobster tail dinners and that I needed them “rapido“. The emphasis being on rapido!
My finger-snappers seemed relieved when I brought out their lobster tails. They were not wholly satisfied, however. They began to point at the French fries and shake their heads, again vigorously, again in a negative way. I was beginning to suspect that I had made the wrong starch selection. I then did what any racist idiot worth her salt would do under these circumstances, which was to hightail it back to the kitchen and procure for them some rice — their native grain of choice.
My cave artists did NOT want rice. How did I know that they did not want rice? They took their forks and proceeded to throw the rice off of their plates and onto the tabletop as they, once again, shook their heads back and forth to convey the message: “No. We do NOT want rice.”
They followed up the rice-tossing with a closed fisted, up and down gesture — a gesture that I interpreted, in this situation, to mean “mashed”. While this action means something altogether different to Americans, as we don’t have “jerk-off” potatoes, I threw caution to the wind and went with the “mashed” potatoes.
Once they had left and as I was clearing the area of the errant grains of rice that had been unceremoniously “removed” from their plates, one of my co-workers blew by and reminded me that it could have been worse — that they could have ordered dessert. I reminded him that the dessert menus have pictures.