There’s a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant in Hamilton called Ben Pho Than. It’s pretty much one of my favourite restaurants in the city (it’s a tie with Helen’s Kitchen). They have a wonderful menu, but I admit that I am addicted to their pad thai. I eat there at least once a week, and sometimes 2-3 times a week.
There is a waiter there who is, hands down, the worst and rudest waiter I have ever encountered. The very first time I ate there, he served me. When he brought me my meal, he dropped my plate onto the table from a height of 3 inches. 3 inches might not sound like a lot, but it is when you are dropping a plate. It hit the table, bounced, rattled, and spilled some of my food off onto the tabletop.
I was shocked. Literally. I couldn’t say a thing, and just froze as he walked away. Normally, my first response would have been anger. What he did was deliberately ignorant, and it should have pissed me off. However, I was so surprised that the anger did not have a chance to surge forward yet. This bought me a few seconds during which I could think.
I realized, as I sat their in my stupor, that I had a choice here. I could be pissed off, and never come back, or I could choose to be amused, and have a laugh. I decided to be amused. From there on in, I have just laughed off his rude behaviour, and have gotten a kick out of his surly attitude. I also realized that, if I returned his anger in kind, then I would just be giving him what he wanted.
From that day forward, he became known as Surly Asian Man (from the song “Secret Agent Man”). I am as polite to Surly as I can be, and get a good laugh out of his hi-jinks. I’m glad, because if I had stormed out, I would have allowed him to drive me out of one of my favourite places. And I am sure that would have made him happy.
He’s still Surly. When he removes plates from my table, he snatches them away quickly. He literally sneers at me. If he wants something off my table (say, the napkin dispenser so he can refill it), he just walks up, reaches across my plate, and takes it.
Because no one at the restaurant speaks English very well, I haven’t been able to ask anyone why he is so mean. So I have invented a back story for him. In my story, Surly was a rich and prosperous businessman back in Viet Nam. He was an intelligent and shrewd person, who realized that if he were ever to really get ahead, he would have to move to Canada.
His friends and family warned him of the difficulties of emigration. “Surly,” they would say, “Canada is a foreign land, with foreign ways. You will encounter many difficulties, such as racism, the new culture, and you will have to learn a new language!”
Surely scoffed at their warnings. After all, he was an intelligent man! How hard could it be for him to learn a new language? He soon found out. Upon moving to Canada, he opened up a restaurant. He enrolled in an ESL course, and found, to his chagrin, that he just could not master the language. Oh sure, he could learn individual words, but the grammatical structure was so alien he found it difficult to get by.
For the first time in his life, people were laughing at him. When he tried to communicate, what he said sounded ridiculous to people. Some were patient, but he could see in their eyes that he sounded strange. Others would laugh outright at him. Some of the white customers would laugh and call him names. Even with his imperfect English, he could recognize the insults.
Soon, he grew angry inside. Unable to reconcile his pride and his failure, he declared that he did not want to learn English. It was an ugly language, and he didn’t need to learn it. From that day forward, he harboured a deep and abiding anger towards English speaking people.
Of course, my story is total bullshit. Maybe he’s just an asshole who gets his kicks out of being rude to people who speak English. But it’s possible – even if only just – that my story is true, or at least close to the truth. It’s enough to keep me from returning his hate. Besides, its way more fun to watch him annoy another table than it would be for me to let anger take over. It’s like dinner theatre.