This story actually starts some months ago, when I first began job interviewing in the South. The interviews were day-long site interviews, with travel expenses, lodging, and meals paid for by the prosepctive employer. While arranging the interview logistics over the phone, I usually had a confession to make. I told the nice person at the other end that I was kosher. As a result, I did not eat meat in restaurants. This spared me the awkward situation of entering a restaurant half way during the interview process and having to stare through a meal I could not eat. I actually knew of some extremely Orthodox classmates at Cornell who did just this, during interviews in New York City no less. They eventually got jobs. I believe they were engineers. I am not nearly so strict and with the right restaurant, I could eat with everyone else. In the South, however, I knew that people do not ordinarily make accomodations with food. The only thing to do was speak up over the phone.
Actually, the first time, I tried to make the person on the other end of the phone ask. I talked to the gentleman about a job interview that my former employer held during Passover. We brought the candidate into the cafeteria and she got to see that they did not serve matzoh, even on the bread table. It was the height of insensitivity, I explained and hoped that the man on the other end of the line would ask. He didn't so I told him. That was how I learned to speak up and my boss at the time, who was a southerner, confirmed that I had done the right thing. Southerners, he told me, by and large believe that you should eat everything you are served. They do not think that anyone has dietary restrictions.
Well, all of that was more than six months ago. I have not even thought about it, until last weekend. It was my boyfriend's birthday and the two of us went to a town about fifty miles from where we live. There was a big university in the town, and we roamed the campus and the college town which looked much like a nice college town anywhere. On the brick sidewalks, we met a woman with whom I had attended a four hour new employee orientation at work.
We greeted one another, and my boyfriend started talking about football. We made some jokes about my being a New Yorker. The woman said that her husband was a great football fan. He was an ace tail-gater who held great parties. He and his friends had a bar-b-que set up. They got great spare ribs, sea food that they drove to the coast to get, and shrimp for a shrimp boil. She waxed elegant and almost gave us an invitation. I was not sure I wanted to tailgate and I did not want to attend a function where I stared while others ate.
"Excuse me," I said. "but I'm kosher." I am not sure what I expected as a remark back. Perhaps I expected her to tell me about something her husband makes that I can eat, corn on the cob, potato salad, cole slaw, veggie kabobs etc.... Perhaps a little "I'm sorry." would have been appropriate. Perhaps she would make a suggestion about restaurants in the area. This was also the weekend in between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. I think a little "Oh you're Jewish, well happy New Year," would have been perfect.
Well I wouldn't be writing this story if that was what she said. Instead, of saying any number of polite things, she said: "Oh you're all the wrong things....How do you.....like....." and she gave the name of the city where I live and where we both work. I told her I liked the city fine.
I will probably see this woman at work at one time or another. WE DO NOT WORK IN THE SAME DEPARTMENT, but I will see her. I will have to be polite to her, so while I can't forget those words, I am going to dismiss them as an awkward slip, rather than something with far nastier implications. For all I know, her words were simply an awkward slip. As a Jew and a New Yorker, I am after all a foreigner in this part of the country. You can ask others to honor and respect your ways, but with that request, you have to sometimes give others the benefit of the doubt.