The Disciplining of Americans

Discipline may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power…comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application…
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 215

more-meWhy are they ignoring us? I’m hungry. Don’t’ they want to take our order? Take your time, I told myself. You’re on vacation Jeff. You’re on vacation in Europe. You’re on vacation in Portugal! Enjoy the moment and relinquish yourself to their temporal rhythms. Be the bon vivant! Be the flâneur! I attempted to start a conversation with my husband, pretending I didn’t care if the wait staff didn’t come by our table to even give us menus. I just wanted a menu! As I feigned not caring, my husband didn’t feign his disinterest in what I had to say; he wanted a damn menu, a basket of bread, something! But my desire to go at their pace made me feel a little bad asking them to give us a menu and take our order. I didn’t want to be the American who eats at the speed of light and pays the bill even faster. But I also didn’t want to beg for the menu. I wanted to enjoy the company I was with, have exhilarating conversations, and sip ever so gently on a glass of red wine (or port in this case) savoring every drop. I wanted to slow down. After all, this was our vacation!


But we felt invisible, subjugated by different cultural restaurant norms and our desire to be that carefree European embracing any chance experiences that may come our way. We wanted to be Julia Roberts eating pasta in ecstasy in Eat Pray Love. But it’s hard to be Julia Roberts when you haven’t ordered yet and the acid in your stomach slowly eats away at your joie de vivre aspirations.

As we finally eyed the waiter to come over and give us menus, the next challenge began. I am relatively open to trying new types of local cuisines even if I do prefer my tried and true dishes I eat at home. My husband, not so much.  He searches the menu with intense hunger and desperation fearing that if he doesn’t find something he can eat that I’ll want to throw him out the window (with love, of course).  He peered at the menu looking past the sardine-ridden appetizers, the bacalhau entrée, and the muxama salad (salt-cured tuna typical in the south of Portugal). I knew he was searching for pasta or wanted to go straight to dessert with his new Portuguese favorite pastel de nata, a delicious Portuguese custard tart made even better with a pinch of cinnamon on top. Sweat started to form on his temples; he saw my hangry face and knew it was about to manifest itself into something bigger. But then, success! He found a mushroom risotto!  


When the food arrived, we delighted ourselves in slowness, the ever-so-taken-for-granted precursor to enjoyment. We ate, we drank, we talked, and we laughed. We were finally Julia!


But as the euphoria of our dining experience waned, like a once funny joke that quickly runs its course, we sat there and waited. Then, we waited some more. Julia was gone and apparently the wait staff was too. Don’t they want to get paid? They knew we were American, so they should have expected a tip! Did they not need our table for the next guests? My husband thought, they were intentionally ignoring us. They wanted to teach us a lesson. They hated us. We were full and didn’t want to sit anymore. All we wanted to do was pay and leave. It was an oblivious disregard for our feelings. Can we just leave! Must we supplicate the waiters’ attention so we could pay and move on with our lives. They should know we were finished and wanted to leave. The injustice!


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