Monday, May 11, 2015

Miss? Sweetie? Kiddo?

Two days ago I went to Zupas alone. It was crowded, like any restaurant at six o' clock on a Saturday night. I was forced to stand a little closer to the people in line with me than I normally like. But then, I wasn't standing any closer to my linemates than anyone else was with theirs. When the group ahead of me finished ordering, the server passed over me and spoke to the adults standing behind me.
"What can I get for you guys?"
Okay, I thought. Apparently I look young enough to need adult supervision before I buy soup.
At first I stepped back, thinking I'd let the adults order their food and place mine when the server silently noticed her error. But she had to realize it whether I said anything or not, so I spoke up.
"I'm not with them. I'm paying alone."
So I ordered my sandwich, slid down, and got a soup to go with it. But this time, when the server turned to me, she said, "Do you want onion crisps on that, miss?"
Miss? Not sweetie? Not kid? That's what I got for years. That's what I got a few months ago. That's what I still get, depending on the stores I go into.
This happens to me all the time when I'm out shopping with my friends. One cashier says "What do you kids want?" and the one in the next store over asks, "How can I help you ladies today?"
Am I a lady or a kid? I don't know how much of this is due to my size, my age, the fact that I'm standing on a threshold between childhood and adulthood. I don't know how much of it I'll get in the future. I've heard tales of young wives who tell door-to-door salespeople "I'm the mommy" when asked to fetch their parents.
The dissonance is disconcerting. I'd just like to know what side I fall on so I know how to walk into a store. Do I have to hold my head high, so the cashier knows I actually have money and she should treat me like I intend to spend it? Or can I just slouch up to the counter and slap down some bills? There's a difference in your bearing, conscious or unconscious, whenever you walk into a store as an unaccompanied teenager. It depends on so many things-how you're dressed, the number of friends you're with, whether you're carrying a purse or just a debit card in your back pocket, what you're buying-and, of course, the mindset of the guy behind the counter. After spending so many years marking cashier reactions, I've come to the conclusion that it has less to do with all of those than the last. If two servers in the same establishment serving the same customer can come to differing conclusions, then I don't doubt that I'm right.

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