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Men often receive better quality of service and are more ‘respected’ than women in public spaces. It has happened for a long time and it’s no longer acceptable.
It was the usual Monday morning. Simone and her husband were sitting in the balcony, sipping their first cup of coffee. As was her usual habit, Simone was running her day’s work schedule in her head – 10 am client teleconference, 11 am kick-off meeting, 1.30 pm working lunch with the team.
‘Hey!’ She turned to her husband. ‘Can you suggest a nice restaurant, close to my office, where I can take the team for lunch?’
‘Yup!’ he said without a moment’s hesitation. ‘That sizzler place. It’s a stone’s throw away from your office, and the food’s great.’
‘That place!’ She dismissed it with a wave. ‘The service is terrible.’
Her husband stared at her. ‘No it isn’t,’ he said. ‘The service is impeccable.’
‘I’ve been there thrice.’ Simone shook her head. ‘Twice with Ritu from the office, and once with Preeti when she was visiting from Singapore. It was a disaster every time. The service is sloppy and the manager is rude.’
‘Strange.’ Her husband stroked his chin thoughtfully. ‘I’ve always had a great experience there. The manager’s always pleasant and cordial. Last time, he even gave me a complimentary glass of the house wine.’
Simone couldn’t help but wonder how two people could have had such different experiences at the same place. She might have put it down to the manager having had a bad day if it had happened once. But it had happened thrice. A thought started forming in her mind. She decided to put it to the test.
That weekend Simone and her husband went to the sizzler restaurant for lunch. The manager greeted them politely, chatted with her husband for a few minutes, and then led them to one of his best tables. ‘Sir is one of our regular customers,’ he said to Simone with a smile as he pulled a chair out for her. ‘It’s always a pleasure to see him.’
She wanted to remind him that she used to be a regular too until his sloppy manner and shoddy service got to her. Even as she watched him proffering menus, refilling their water glasses, suggesting appetizers, consistently on his most agreeable and pleasant behaviour, she was finally able to figure out what was different this time. She was with a man!
‘Does this mean that I need a male chaperone just to get good service in a restaurant,’ she wondered to herself. ‘Where else do I need a male chaperone?’
Every time you want to buy yourself that bottle of expensive Pinot Noir at the local wine shop. Every time you need to work late in the office on that important project you’ve been slaving for. Wednesday night when you want to attend your best friend’s birthday dinner.
Next week when you need to go to the airport to catch that late flight. The list went on, endless, continuous, relentless. It was like a rude jolt, a painful realization that made a mockery of everything this enlightened, free-thinking, naïve woman had previously believed.
She wanted to ask the manager why he believed that her husband deserved better service than her. Was the money he paid for the same food, for the same service, better than the money she paid? The thing that bothered her the most was how innocently oblivious she had been to this blatant discrimination.
Had we women gotten so used to being treated as second class citizens that we don’t even notice it anymore? There she was – an educated, independent, urban woman. If she was being subjected to this, she shuddered to think what was happening to the less fortunate ones.
‘Well, acceptance isn’t an option,’ her colleague Ritu said to her matter-of-factly when they discussed it the next day.
Simone shrugged. ‘Look at us, fretting over something so small when other women have much bigger problems to deal with.’
‘Big or small, obvious or subtle, we have to keep fighting it. Starting now. Come on.’ Ritu rose from her chair and picked up her bag.
‘Where are we going?’ asked Simone in surprise.
‘To the same restaurant. For lunch.’
The manager was busy with another customer when they reached but came over to take their order 5 minutes later. That’s when Simone looked him straight in the eye, smiled and said, ‘It’s just me and my friend today.’
‘And we’re tired of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde games,’ added Ritu pointedly. ‘We’re paying good money. Same as them.’ She glanced over at a group of men at the next table. ‘See that we get good service, will you? Same as them.’
Needless to say, they did indeed have a very pleasant lunch that afternoon. Keep at it ladies. As Ritu rightly said, acceptance isn’t an option.
Image source: a still from the film Badla
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Rrashima is a senior corporate analyst with over 20 years of experience in the corporate
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