At the local IHOP

IHOP logoWe took my mom out for breakfast to our local IHOP last weekend. All was fine and dandy until the waitress decided to inform me that the kitchen confused my order such that my seafood omelet would be delayed.

The waitress came to our table and then looked at the husband, who had earlier given the waitress all of our orders while mom and I were busy chatting. She glanced at me and then switched back to Jeff. "Does she speak English?" she asked, referring to me.

I guess, somehow something about me said "I do not speak English." Or was it maybe my earlier chatter in Arabic with mom? Oh well!

22 thoughts on “At the local IHOP”

  1. The waitress was being ignorant. She should have addressed you first with the question rather than speaking directly to your husband.

  2. Things like that stopped bothering me long time ago, I always resort to humor at such situations.

    I would have answered her in Spanish.LOL

    Or boroken English with an oriental accent.


  3. My first reaction is to say “of course she was being rude, she should have spoken to you, if the question was for you, and your husband could have stepped in if it turned out you didn’t speak English” BUT…

    I’ve been in the exact opposite position quite a few times. I was married to a Chinese woman for 10+ years and we used to go out to eat with her family in Chinatown 4 or 5 times a month. I speak neither Cantonese nor Mandarin, I’m obviously a white guy, and most of the time I was the only non-Chinese in the restaurant. It would have been excruciatingly painful and awkward if all the waiters and waitresses had spoken to me each of those times we ate out (most of the restaurant service in Chinatown are new immigrants who don’t speak English at all) and I’m glad they didn’t. I encouraged that (them ignoring me) by not making eye contact. They seem to know that means “Don’t talk to me” I guess. I can use chop sticks better than most Chinese people, though, but that never stopped them from bringing me a knife and fork, either 🙂

    At least they didn’t refer to me as “gweilo” which is good, because I do know that word!

    So, bottom line, I’m not sure if she was being rude or if she was trying to be nice. How did you feel about it? I guess you felt she was being rude, since you posted about it?

  4. It is an easy answer, I guess. He can answer her by saying: “yes”; and the confusion is over. Unless you want her to know you are the Shakespear (spell !) of your time; then it is another issue. From what I can smell; she did not get her tip that day ! Take it easy !

  5. It probably won’t help you feel any better but……….. On my way back to Amman, during the last hour of my RJ flight about two weeks ago, the lady in the seat behind me started asking me how I knew Arabic. As we started visiting, I found out that she and her husband (Jordanian-Americans) own four IHOP restuarants in Oklahoma City (my home city). I had eaten in two of them with my family over the holidays. Small world! I thought that was pretty cool.

  6. I could just imagine the wheels in Jeff’s mind turning with such an excellent opportunity handed to him to very politely inform the waitress — in so many words — that his Arab-speaking wife has a master’s from a university in England and speaks and writes it all very well.

    I assume the waitress just didn’t know any better and was simply asking a question in the name of correct communication. Good wait staffers learn, one way or another, to be cool and communicate as clearly as possible. Orders can be misunderstood too easily sometimes.

  7. I have had the opposite happen. My wife and I went out to eat at a local Kabab place. The guy taking our order was an Afghani, but he had worked in the Gulf and spoke Arabic.

    I guess he saw this white guy with Arab lady and thought that he’d flirt a bit with my wife in Arabic because I wouldnt know what was going on.

    They bantered about, back and forth in Arabic about where she was from, where he learned Arabic and the like. He asked her where is your husband from? He got more than a bit of a shock when I answered that question, in Arabic.

    My wife has this type of stuff happen all of the time, although it is usually with Hispanic people trying to talk to her in Spanish.

    I know sometime “regular Americans” expect to get an accented English from her, but as she was schooled here, grade school, high school and university, she doesnt have any accent at all.

    I remember going to a Subway and my wife and I talking in Arabic. The Bengali behind the counter asked in English if I was Lebanese. He didnt know Arabic because he never would have taken my Arabic for Lebananese, but as there are blond haired, blue eyed Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians, he thought I must be since I was speaking Arabic.

  8. Amazing how the average American is so ignorant. When I was in Miami, no one spoke English at the IHOP, the Mall, the grocery store! And everyone was ok with Spanish, so why not Arabic?

  9. Ali,

    Amazing how the average American is so ignorant.

    Nice stereotype. This is a good opportunity for me to point out how smart the average Arab is. Iraqis can’t defeat the US military, so they get even with Americans by defeating themselves. That’ll show us not to mess with Arabs, won’t it!? So clever.

    When I was in Miami, no one spoke English at the IHOP, the Mall, the grocery store! And everyone was ok with Spanish, so why not Arabic?

    You seem to be so smart that you saw Natasha say somebody called the police on her for speaking Arabic, or something? I applaud your reading comprehension! It’s obviously much higher than mine!

  10. And everyone was ok with Spanish, so why not Arabic?

    When was it said that it wasn’t okay to speak arabic?

  11. Shortly after we moved to Central California from Montreal, I was out at a supermarket with my mother and my younger brothers. At one point, we found ourselves in the way of someone’s cart, and my mother asked us, in French, to move, so the woman could get by. After we got out of the way, the woman pushed past, smiled at my mother, and said “Gracias.”

    She thought my mother had been speaking to us in Spanish.

    Ignorant? Yes. Polite? Yes. Comic? We’ve been laughing about it ever since.

    In my experience, most cultural misunderstandings and faux pas fall into this category. The problem is that it’s often difficult to tell (a difficulty increased by cultural difference) whether someone is being a good-natured doofus or a hateful a**hole.

  12. I had to come out of my break from blogging to comment on this one guys.

    “The waitress came to our table and then looked at the husband, who had earlier given the waitress all of our orders while mom and I were busy chatting.”

    If this is what happened, then you cant blame the waitress for asking such a question. The fact that Jeff had placed all the orders, instead of natasha speaking for herself and giving the waitress her order, i think explains everything.

    Natahsa, why didnt you just tell the waitress yourself what you wanted?

  13. Linda, I like to order for the both of us. I consider it a gentlemanly, if old world, action. 🙂 But in addition, with 7amati there, I wanted to order for all of us. She feels more comfortable letting me do so. Although, her English is perfectly fine as well.

    I understand this. With my Arabic skills, though I’m perfectly capable of ordering shwarma and the like, I’ll let the wife have at it unless I’m feeling like a challenge (not often the case when I’m hungry). Same goes in a Mexican place. ‘Tash is fluent, so I let her give it to them in Spanish.

    Regardless, I think in these situations the waitress can choose to either embarrass herself or embarrass the patron. She would embarrass the patron if she spoke to them in English and they didn’t understand. So she chose to embarrass herself by asking me this question, to which I responded promptly with a smile: “No, she speaks English as well.”

  14. My favorite is when people first meet me after hearing i’m from Jordan. They come up to me, shake my hand really slow, and then slowly mouth and loudly pronounce the words “Hi, NICE TO MEETTTT YOOOOOUUUUU, MY NAME IS JOHN”. Cuz somehow saying i’m from Jordan, qulifies me as hearing impaired and or mentally challenged.

  15. Aghhhh.. That makes me wonder.. What would she have lost if she had asked you first? What exactly? I mean if infact you did not speak English, all she would have had to don is repeat the question to your husband maybe. But people just make assumptions based on whatever…

    I have been in your situation a couple of times, and I grew up in the south. And I am not a very pleasant nor patient person, but as someone stated earlier, you get used to it, and more importantly you need to make the best out of it. In similar situations, I said “Are you actually asking him/her whether I can speak English? Yes dear, I can. Now, can we please go ahead and order? I’m starved”..

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