This story is the third among a three-part series. If you haven't read Part-II, read it here.
We ate our respective meals without too much talking. The guy and his friend talked in a language I was trying hard to place, but couldn’t. It sounded almost Middle Eastern, but wasn’t Arabic. It also sounded slightly European, but wasn’t French or Spanish. I fleetingly wondered if they were Jewish but dismissed the thought almost instantly.
“Do you like the udon?” I asked them.
“Yes, very much,” they both replied. “Do you like yours?”
“Yes, it’s very nice.”
“Where are you flying to” the friend asked, clearly having taken note of my luggage.
“I’ve flown in from Dublin, actually. Just this morning.”
“Oh, you live in Dublin?”
“Well, I live between Dublin and India. I’m from India, but I also live in Dublin.”
“Oh, you live in Dublin!” he smiled.
The guy was silent. I turned to him: “If I may ask, where are you from?”
“Israel.” He gave me a bright smile.
“Wow,” I said, reacting more to my internal dialogue than his answer. So he was Jewish. But he didn’t know my fascination with everything Israel, and it probably made him think I was exoticising him.
They went back to talking in what I confirmed must be Hebrew. A few minutes later, the friend said: “I think this is going somewhere. You want me to make it explicit?”
I was stunned. Nice wingman, I thought.
The guy gulped and did a quick save: “You caught me off guard there, mate!”
I didn’t want to embarrass him further but it was very hard to not giggle. I turned away and thought of work to distract myself.
My bill arrived and as I was paying and getting ready to leave, I decided I’d oblige if he asked for my number. He was too self-conscious by then. So I just picked up my things and said, “Nice to meet you, gentlemen.”
“Enjoy your day,” I said buying him some more time.
“Enjoy your stay.” He smiled.
We were both hesitant. I mentally filed it away as another meet-cute.
In the same day, I got hit on by a bartender and then a waiter. The bartender was at a little neighbourhood wine bar in Bloomsbury, where I went to meet an old friend. I thought I knew the bartender from the time I lived in London, and he thought he knew me as well. But we didn’t manage to place each other and to end, he said, “anyway, you’re very pretty.” It felt non-creepy and genuine so I thanked him.
Later, I went to an Italian place for dinner. I pulled out a bottle of cocoa tea I had bought from Hotel Chocolat to have with my pizza, but wanted to make sure the staff didn’t mind me using an outside drink. “Can I drink this here?” I asked a waiter. He looked unsure. “It’s non-alcoholic. But if it’s a problem, that’s fine,” I assured him.
“Oh sure, go ahead,” he said finally.
Once my friend and I had finished our meal and were walking out, I thanked the waiter. He winked at me and said, “good luck, miss.”
“He only let you have that drink because … y’know,” my friend said.
My self-esteem should’ve gone through the roof with all the male attention, but instead I was compelled to think about how differently all of this would’ve played out (and been perceived) if these servers—both real and mistaken—were female.
Recent hullabaloo about the President’s Club in London saw people slut-shaming hostesses and service staff employed to cater to guests during the evening. “The women were allegedly told to wear black underwear to match short, black, skirts they had been given for the evening,” said a January 2018 story in The Guardian. Irrespective of much debate, where the two sides included condemning inappropriate behaviour and the women being used as bait for men, blaming the women involved seemed like a pathological bias.
Be it at an all-men event at The Dorchester, or any of the places mentioned in this essay that I visited, if it were waitresses who had indulged in flirtation—winking or complimenting—they wouldn’t likely feel as safe or flattered as I did. If it encouraged the men in question to respond, especially in a manner that crossed boundaries, the blame would still lie with the concerned waitress and her unprofessional conduct.
I don’t mind it when a waiter flirts with me. Perhaps a lot of men need to stop judging waitresses who do the same. Maybe only then, would a woman mistaken for a waitress, have the courage to initiate an interaction that may turn out to be a meet-cute.