Alex's Restaurant, an ethnography

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Alex's Restaurant, an ethnography

The Wiseguys (scene one):

*These four old guys (definitely into their late sixties, early seventies) sell cars at one of the dealerships on the boulevard. I would bet fifty dollars that they all work for Cadillac. They come in once a week, on Friday afternoons. They love me. They like to give me a hard time, ask why I don’t love them anymore, when I’m going to run away with them, etc, etc. They are caricatures of car salesmen but are obviously unaware of this. They hold court in Eat Well like it’s 1965 at the Sands, talking in loud voices and telling stories about one another to each other. (“This guy here, one time he says to me, ‘Paulie’…”)

It has been suggested to me that perhaps these old guys are, in fact, aware of their stereotypical niche and of the roles that they assume by coming to have lunch in the restaurant. This is certainly possible and is something that hadn’t occurred to me, so natural and seemingly without irony is their behavior. For the younger generation(s), irony is something that is nearly always acknowledged, either articulated (the perennial gesture of finger-quotation-marks) or thinly disguised as humor. For older people, however, participation in ironic or staged situations need not necessarily be acknowledged.

Most of their boisterous comments--well, nearly all--are addressed to my chest. Ordinarily I would comment on this; put a stop to it at once. Ordinarily, that is, if I wasn’t at work. As a self-defined feminist, I am outspoken and assertive when I feel that I am being demeaned or stereotyped. At work, however, I find myself confronted with strange challenges. I am forced to walk a line between power and respect. I am not at liberty to chastise or even...

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... had become stifling, claustrophobic, and to be able to bring my perspectives as a student to bear on it was a (surprisingly great) relief.

From a feminist perspective, this is a rich area for study. I would like to further explore the subject, to study the relationship between the server and the served…as “the relationship between the waiter and diner is problematic because of the blatant purchase of human service that is involved” (Finklestein, p. 56). This is true, and is further complicated by gender expectations and prejudices. True, attitudes towards these public-private taboos are changing, but there is much to be learned as we continue to adapt.


Dining Out, by Joanne Finklestein, NYU Press, 1989, Chapters 1-4

Woman, Culture and Society, by Michelle Rosaldo, Stanford Press, 1974, pp.17-42.

Updated by Jeff Tobin on January 23, 2001

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