Thursday, June 26, 2008

Culture Shock: Part 3

Except for the smoking, I've really enjoyed all of my Asheville dining experiences. And we're learning which of the smoking restaurants to avoid. I'm looking at you, Flying Frog. The other night, we went to yummy Rosetta's Kitchen for dinner. We sat on the patio, which was really more of a balcony overlooking the street below. There were "No Smoking" signs up everywhere, so I thought we were probably safe. Then, lo and behold, an employee sat down and pulled out a pack of Camels. Luckily, we were almost through with our meal, but I still felt a surge of annoyance as he spent about five minutes tapping first one end of the pack, then the other on the table. Smoking rituals are so bizarre to me. Can anyone tell me what that's supposed to accomplish exactly?

Finally, he pulled out a cigarette, lit it and took a long drag. Then, miraculously, he carefully stamped out the cigarette and placed it back in the pack, before heading back to work. I don't think I ever even saw him exhale. Very bizarre, but better than sitting in a cloud of tar all night.

The other big dining culture shock here is the check ritual. In Los Angeles, part of the glittering Hollywood culture is the big grab for the check at the end of the meal. Michael and I have even made elaborate plans prior to a meal for the best way to get and pay the check to avoid any debate.

"They paid last time, but they won't remember. So we have to get that check!"
"I know. I'll create a diversion and you grab it."
"Better yet, I'll pretend to go to the bathroom and head the waiter off."

So imagine our surprise here, where everywhere we go, they offer separate checks. They even ask you prior to ordering or at the end of the meal if you want separate checks! Even when it's just me and Michael, waiters and waitresses always ask. It's totally bizarre! In Los Angeles, it was very, very rare to get separate checks. Most restaurants put it in their menus: "No separate checks. Don't even ask." And the rare occasions that you do get separate checks in Los Angeles, they're always wrong. So I end up paying for my salad, your steak and someone else's wine. So you learn not to even ask.

Here, it sort of forces you to announce to someone up front if you're planning to treat them to dinner. It completely ruins the grab for the check and the "Please let me, it's your birthday, after all!" surprise of the dining ritual. Plus, if people know you're paying for them up front, will they still order what they want? Or will Southern manners dictate they follow your lead in terms of entree price range. It's a world gone mad, I tell you!

I suppose this will simply force us to come up with brand new elaborate plans for dining.

"Okay, when the waitress asks about the separate checks, just tell her, 'No, we're paying.'"
"Better yet, call ahead and tell her not to ask, just bring it to me. Tell her I'm the blonde wearing the blue shirt."
"Shut up!"

Okay, that could work.

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