I am not the type of person to get my nails done, or have my eyebrows plucked and pruned. If I could figure out how to cut my own hair, I would. Though I enjoy the convenience of it, I have never felt truly comfortable riding in the back of a cab, and get a slight jolt of awkwardness when a hired hand opens a door for me, or takes my bags. Don’t even tempt me with a foot massage from a stranger. Though I know these practices are all perfectly normal in our society, being pampered and served superfluously just makes me feel, deep down, useless and bored.
Therefore, when a waiter pulls a chair a few inches away from the table for me to sit down in, I am appreciative of the gesture, but ultimately, would have preferred doing so myself. Most of the time, at least. Don’t get me wrong, there is an art to serving at a fine restaurant, just as there is one to preparing the meals (but we already know how I feel about that). It’s a tradition invented and perfected by the French, and which many others have tried to imitate. But there can be a fine line between being hospitable and just being annoying. As a friend once remarked, after a waiter had interrupted our conversation to ask for the second time how our food was, “It’s like they’re fishing for compliments!”
Restaurants might misfire at providing service, like this, but it’s the customer who has the concept all wrong if he or she patronizes them more than they really need. In a few short decades, we’ve come to regard restaurant — whether sit-down, take-out, delivery or street cart — food as everyday, from being held mostly for special occasions. I joke at my readings and classes that it seems that in New York, we have it the other way around: cooking at home is a big production, a special occasion, while dining out is the de rigeur. So naturally, our expectations and understanding of food have become skewed. We want this, we don’t want that, we want this on the side, we think restaurants should hurry up and serve us quicker and quicker. Maybe we should just give them a break — literally.
Being doted on rather than doing-it-yourself is something that can seep into one’s psyche over time, too. I can say from the DIY stance that this made me feel more empowered in general, to cook for myself and my friends. On the other end of the spectrum, having more of your worldly needs taken care of by specialists inspires reliance rather than responsibility. We pass it on to our kids, too. We live in an era where children are often taught how to place an order with wait staff before being taught to peel an orange. This lack of direct contact with food preparation has other detriments, too, not knowing what food is, in particular — just take a look at these elementary kids on Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution scratch their heads at the sight of tomatoes. I used to find it cute to see little kids ordering off a menu, because it seemed so precocious. Now the real picture of novelty might be helping mom bake a birthday cake instead of buying one at a shop.
It’s not that I have anything against the various service industries in themselves, and the talent that so many exhibit within it. It’s just that I don’t need it all the time. Let’s face it, none of us do. And we’d probably enjoy something like fine dining even more if it was a rarity. Some people — myself included — may never learn for ourselves the intricacies of manicures, while others might find that cooking never strikes their fancy. But being active and open to learning a few new trades now and then rather than leaving it up to others has personal — and maybe personality — benefits.
On the other hand, I recently made an appointment with a facialist whom an old friend had highly recommended. I had never had a facial before, but was touched that this friend had thought so much of her facialist to send an email about it, out of the blue. So I went. Over the next seventy minutes, I laid on my back with my face and neck exposed to a series of being lubricated, smoothed, steamed, scrubbed, poked and massaged, to a softly playing CD of Om chanting. I was so relaxed toward the end of it that I actually fell asleep, like a baby. And my skin felt like that of one when I awoke. It was a marvelous experience, and I’d like to do it again. But not every day, of course.
By the way, all you local ladies, that facialist’s name is Diane at BeWellBK. I highly recommend.