Monday, September 29, 2008

Tipping in a Foreign Country: The U.S.

I ordered takeout from my favorite neighborhood restaurant tonight. As I stood next to cash register to receive and pay for my food, I noticed something going on before my eyes.

First, I noticed a family of four -- two kids and two adults -- get up and get ready to leave.

As the family started to leave (you know this sometimes takes some time), one of the waiters came to register with cash in his hand, presumably from someone having paid his bill. He kept counting through the bills (I counted maybe $70), as if somewhat distressed.

Eventually, another waiter says to the alpha male of the departing family, "Was everything okay? Did we do something wrong?"

Uh-oh, I thought.

"No, everything was fine," the guy responded.

"Well, I was just asking because you didn't leave any tip," the waiter continues.

Just for the record here, I don't really condone waiters doing this. Whether by oversight or by deliberate omission, sometimes people don't leave tips. I'm not a fan of waiters shaking down their patrons for their lack of tipping skills. It's rude and a bit tacky.

Anyway, the guy didn't understand what was meant by this. "Customarily," the waiter explained, "Diners add an extra 15% to for their waiters here."

"We're from New Zealand," the diner explained. But he didn't reach for his pocket, that's for sure.

"What's wrong?" his wife asked, coming back to the scene while the two kids lingered near the front of the restaurant.

"Nothing," the husband said, firmly.

I wasn't looking, but I'm reasonably confident that the waiter -- whose English skills weren't the best, by the way (I clarified his sentences for him in this entry) -- gave up explaining the concept and waved him off, probably dismissively, in a "whatever, just go already" kind of way.

Then they left.

I couldn't help thinking that any reasonable guide book published by any decent New Zealand company would have described the tipping etiquette in this country. And I couldn't help thinking that when Americans go abroad without bothering to learn the accepted social customs in the destination country, they get slammed with the "Ugly American" label pretty damn quick. Yet here it was, a Kiwi couple who apparently not only didn't bother to learn tipping etiquette for American restaurants, but they didn't even seem open to the thought of learning it when they were confronted with it.

It also led me to wonder how many other servicepeople they've stiffed so far, and how many they will stiff in the near future. I presume they're not cooking during their stay here, so each meal will likely entail a waitstaff who, it seems, are not getting tipped. If they're staying in a hotel, they probably won't leave a little something for the cleaning staff, whether it be on a daily basis or at the end of their entire stay. What if they catch a cab anywhere?

Of course, it's all just a part of the culture here. I couldn't help scripting out in my mind what kind of conversation I would have had with this couple had the opportunity for a civil discourse on the matter arisen. I suppose I would have explained to them the notion here in the States that, just as a matter of course, diners leave more money than covers their bill on the table. "It's a gratuity for the waitstaff and others who make your dining experience enjoyable," I'd say.

Then I can imagine them coming back: "But isn't that built into the price on the menu? They charge $12 for a meal when I could buy the ingredients for $5. That extra is what should be going towards the waitstaff and others 'who make the dining experience more enjoyable.'"

And to that, I suppose my only response would have to just be, "Well, that's what we do around here."

As it is, I know I already have one friend who doesn't tip cleaning people in hotels just on general principle. Like the theoretical Kiwi response above, his philosophy is that you don't pay over $100-200 per night to stay in a room then pay extra for something like cleaning service, which, ahem, is expected when you stay in a hotel. I just tip because it's customary anyway, but yes, sometimes I do wonder where all that money goes if they at those rates they still can't afford to pay their staff decent salaries or wages.

Anyway, it's a little refreshing -- though not in a good way, I guess -- to know that sometimes, the "Ugly American" myth is just as easily transportable to other foreigners visiting our soil.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Still alive....

Is anyone even still reading this?

I'm still here, just horribly delinquent at posting anything. I suddenly developed a worldview which effectively asked "Who the hell cares what I think?" Mine is but a small voice crying out in the darkness.

But now that I've probably alienated the two people who used to come here most (I made that number up; I have no idea how many people there actually are who come here), I feel like coming back once in a while (read: maybe two or three times a week).

Maybe. We'll see if I live up to this pledge.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

To the Death!

Okay, I really just had to vent. This isn't going to be a well-written post, but a totally anger-inspired rant.

Here's a clip from this morning's Meet the Press, with special guest star Harold Ickes, representing Hillary Clinton's campaign.

It's amazing how he can really just close his eyes and ignore the plain facts being thrown at him.

Let me paraphrase:

Russert: "Clinton herself said Michigan 'doesn't count.' Why are you saying it counts now?"
Ickes: "It just does. La la la la!"

Russert: "You voted against seating Michigan back when they decided to move their primaries up."
Ickes: "Well [after today] they're in, so they're in."
... but you didn't want them in when it wasn't clear that their votes would help Hillary so much.

Ickes: "We think the popular vote is a very very strong measure."
... but you have made clear that electorals are the important number.

Russert: "If on Wednesday morning, Barack Obama has enough committed delegates and superdelegates to put him over the top, will Hilary Clinton congratulate him?"
Ickes: "We will win the nomination."
Russert: "That wasn't the question."
Ickes: "That's the answer. We will win."

Number 4 particularly bugs the CRAP out of me.

Excuse me, I'm sorry, but how can anyone vote for a person as the Leader of the Free World who cannot make contingency plans for things not panning out the way she expects it?

This kind of dig-your-heels-in-the-ground mentality is what makes her more electable? We want a President who doesn't understand that things sometimes don't go perfectly according to plan?

It's hurting party unity. And it's hurting her. If she actually does win the nomination, I'm not sure I could vote for her. I want a democrat in the White House, I really really really do. But if the democratic party, through its superdelegates (because obviously the state delegates won't the ones to make the final decision now) decides to put her on the ticket, it will be committing political suicide. And it will only have itself to blame when people like me sit at home rather than vote that egomaniac into the White House.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Plus Side of Irrationality

I think everyone is somewhat programmed to be "rational," or to at least want to be. It's absolutely clear that many people simply aren't "rational" in their thought processes, but usually when you point it out, they acknowledge it and have to admit that they're not. I don't think anyone goes out of their way to try to be irrational when making their day to day decisions. Heck, the law even bases a good chunk of its caselaw on the assumption that people operate rationally, and substantial deviations from that rationality cast questions on the value of the case.

But I've recently come to think there may be some instances when I kinda wish I were just a little bit less rational, and more completely off my rocker. I shall explain.

Just about a year ago, I was dating this guy. (Let's call him Jack.) [As a refresher for those of you (both of you!) who are reading this on a semi-regular basis (which means I've been horribly neglectful of you for not posting in ages), I pretty much stopped calling him as a chicken-shit way of calling an end to the relationship.) Anyway, point being, while not the best way of getting there, it was a pretty clean break -- I've probably only bumped into him twice since I weaseled out of it.

Jack had met most of my friends during the time we were together, and they all got along well. One of my best friends (let's call him Rick) still thinks Jack was great for me and why did I ever break up with him? I won't lay them out here, but I have my reasons, and trust me, they are very legitimate reasons.

So after I told all my friends I was no longer seeing Jack, the usual sympathies were exchanged, etc. But I do remember being of the resolve that I couldn't tell anyone not to call Jack anymore. I figured it just wouldn't be right to tell my friends who they could and could not talk to. So, I refused to make a blanket proclamation that Jack was now off limits to my friends. If they wanted to contact him, they could, and I would be fine with it.

And, honestly and truly, I am.

The other night, Rick went out with a few other friends; I was tired and broke so I stayed home. The night rolled along, and, apparently, Jack rolled into the bar. Our other friends having already well exceeded the point of non-sobriety, Rick ended up talking to Jack. According to Rick, they chatted for a good part of the night, and they even changed venue at one point ("I'm heading to this other bar; you want to come?" "Sure!").

And really, I'm okay with it.

But a part of me wishes that I wasn't.

A part of me wishes that I was angry at Rick. A part of me wishes that I felt that, if Rick were a true friend, he'd shun the company of an ex. A part of me wants to feel that combination of jealousy and anger, of betrayal and shame, that comes from having your best friend consorting with your ex.

But I don't feel anything like that at all.

I suppose it's healthy that I don't. But what does that say? All I can come up with is that my not feeling anything means I was never really in love. This is a fact that I will readily admit. I know I didn't really love the guy, and that for much of our time together I could barely tolerate him.

But the fact that I didn't love him only reminds me that I don't think I've ever loved anyone. I've never so freely given of myself that I even ran the risk of being hurt were it to end.

The guy I was seeing before Jack dumped me after six months. He looked like he was going to cry as he did it. I never cried once over the breakup.

So a part of me wishes that I did feel some irrationality. A part of me wishes that I did feel hurt that Rick would feel perfectly fine in hanging out with Jack. Because that would show me that I am, in fact, human, and that I am, in fact, capable of loving someone.

But maybe I'm not. And maybe that's why I should be mourning. Perhaps I should be mourning this as proof that I will never find love because I am completely incapable of it.

Even Cylons have love. I don't.

And dammit, now I have Rick Springfield stuck in my head:

You better love somebody
It's late
You better love somebody
Don't wait
You better love somebody
Don't tempt fate
You're gonna pull it just a little too far one night.

(Okay that last couplet makes no sense in this post, but the rhythm gets messed up if you don't quote the whole chorus.)

So I'm incapable of love.

Strangely... I think I'm okay with that.

Random TV Thoughts

Possible spoiler alerts. Do not read on if you've got a backlog of Tivo'd shows you don't want to hear about. Though odds are, I'm not watching anything you are, because my taste in television shows is horrific.

-- The bachelor guy on "Farmer Wants a Wife" is really, really hot. And sweet. I didn't want to get into this show, but DAMN. Then again, I'm not really INTO this show because I fast forward past all the stupid bimbo scenes and concentrate on the guy, and his beautiful eyes, and his winning smile, and his hot bod.

-- I really do hope that Horatio Kaine really is actually dead. David Caruso can't act for squat to begin with, and his character was so far rogue that he really needed to be disposed of.

-- I just started getting into "Robin Hood" on BCCA too. Kinda neat.

-- I'm kinda over both "Two and a Half Men" and "Family Guy." I DVR them, but they're on soooo often, I'm tired of them. And the fact that they're on so often means I'm already into repeats.

-- As much as I love "Gilmore Girls," the fact that it's cycled back to the pilot episode reminds me of how much I hated the first few seasons. Why Rory ever became friends with Paris given what a frigging beyotch Paris was from the instant they met is beyond me; why they remained friends over the years boggles my mind.

-- As much as I love the CSI shows (including NCIS), I always wonder how it is that every single crime scene ever is immaculate before the time of the crime. These guys find one stray hair and it belongs to the killer. I can't imagine that anyone's house is so neat that it has absolutely no stray hairs or other DNA evidence that isn't easily explainable.

-- "Doctor Who" is awesome, but why is the SciFi channel actually ahead of BBCA? One would think that, of all channels to be current on "Doctor Who," it would be BBCA, not SciFi. Also, much as I love David Tennant, I'm getting kind of tired of his whole talking-through-gritted-teeth thing.

I need a life.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Justice Scalia Begs the Question

Today, the Supreme Court upheld portions of the Child Pornography Protection Act.

I haven't read the case so I won't go into detail about it, nor do I have any opinions on it (yet). Basically, from what I can tell from the NY Times, the law prohibits people from offering photos of children in pornographic photos. Even if the photos are fake, or nonexistent. You could offer to send someone kiddie porn and not actually have kiddie porn. But you could be convicted for it.

Here's the rub for me: the following line from the article.

"Offers to engage in illegal transactions are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection," Justice Scalia wrote.

I find this logic circular. The First Amendment doesn't protect illegal speech, he says. So all Congress has to do to escape the reach of the First Amendment is to criminalize the speech.

Okay, that's a little simplistic. It's one level removed. Congress can criminalize any behavior it wants (within constitutional constraints), but talking about committing the crime is not protected by the First Amendment.

But what if, as here, the speech is intertwined with the purported crime? The crime, from what I can tell, includes offering to distribute or share child pornography. Doesn't that mean the speech is the crime? As so, how can you categorically remove that from First Amendment analysis?

Am I missing something here?

Weight Loss Issues

I've had body image issues for as long as I can remember in my adult life. It's awful when I look at my pictures from junior high and realize how thin I look -- yet I can remember that, at the time, I fancied myself terribly fat.

I've only gotten bigger since.

Tonight I watched this BBCA show called "Super Skinny Me," which is a documentary type show where they took two female reporters and put them into the field of trying to lose weight. Mind you, these girls are not huge by any stretch to begin with, but they're both, for the sake of this show, trying various diets, routines, etc. to lose further weight.

One woman is truly going over the edge. She's trying way too hard: effectively starving herself, going on crazy diets, working out excessively, etc. And she's loving her results. She just asked a personal trainer down to absolutely no body fat. The trainer told her that he couldn't, because if she went down to zero body fat, she'd be dead. Her response: "Well then just this close to dead?"

The other woman, thankfully, has a decent head on her shoulders, and she's realizing that she's not enjoying losing all this weight. She misses her "womanly curves" and her boyfriend doesn't like snuggling with her and feeling her ribcage. She met an actual anorexic chick and realizes that she can't see herself thinking that Nicole Ritchie is actually healthy.

I watched this show because I thought it would be interesting to see these perspectives on these women's relationships with food. And I was hoping that it would present a picture of how awful body image issues are and how unhealthy it can be to monitor your food intake so zealously.

But then as I watch this show, it hasn't really done a good job in painting eating disorders as bad things. Hell, seeing this chick go through what she's doing, even though she is kinda miserable, I kinda find myself thinking that the watercress diet seems kinda doable for a week or so.

Because I'm fucking crazy. And I do want to lose weight.

Meantime, I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies tonight to take with me to the office. They taste all right.

Because I'm fucking crazy. And I just love food. I mean, really.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Panic! You Can't Scream Out

I found myself at DAR Constitution Hall last night. To see Panic at the Disco on the Honda Civic Tour.

I confess, I like them. I like the sound of their first album and I find their antics innovative and creative. I didn't like their second album all that much when I first heard it, but it's been growing on me.

What I did not realize to save my life (and really, I should have researched this) was that Panic has a rather sizable fan base that consists of prepubescent little girls. And it didn't help that the opening acts -- Motion City Soundtrack and The Hush Sound -- also appear to be popular among the pre-teen set. Oh yeah, and Phantom Planet. In case you don't know (I didn't), they sing the theme song to "The OC." Yeah. Pre-teen. (Okay, okay, dammit, I admit it, I liked Phantom Planet and just added them to my myspace friends. Grrrr.)

Okay, my characterization of the girls just not fair. They're probably not prepubescent. But they are, I'd guess, around 15. I would hazard a guess that they probably could, in fact, get pregnant if they tried hard enough. Okay, to be fair, there were some boys too, but they we of the Y chromosomes were severely outnumbered. I mean really.

Some were their with their parents. Many, I'd hazard to guess, were not. My only comment on this is: when I was their age, no one was shelling out the cash to let me go to concerts. Let alone spend the hundreds of dollars it likely cost to get the t-shirts and other memorabilia. Let's not forget that pretty much each of these girls had cell phones (and not the cheap kind, we're talking phones with slide-out full keyboards and 5.2MP digicams in them). And digital cameras with which they were either photographing or video-recording large parts of the concert. I have a full-time job and I can barely afford that shit for myself.

Have you ever been in an auditorium filled with prepubescent girls while one of their favorite bands is on stage? I swear I could feel my ears tingling to the high-pitched screams these girls let out. To the extent that one can "feel" sound, I did. My ears were this close to bleeding. My right one still hurts today. I've spent an inordinate amount of time today saying "What? What??"

A few observations, if I may (and since this is my blog, I give myself license):

-- It must be really really weird to be a 13-year-old girl standing next to her dad (who was actually quite DILF-y) when the band sings the following lyrics: "I've got more wit, a better kiss, a hotter touch, a better fuck / Than any boy you'll ever meet, sweetie you had me." That song actually starts with lyrics involving slipping off your dress. I dunno, I guess that's a Family Talk moment in the making.

-- I think it may be a little irresponsible for a band, knowing mode age of its audience, to ask how many of them are single, and to follow that up with, "because I'm sure Brandon wants to take someone back to his hotel tonight." Because frankly, I'm sure a lot of those squealing pre-teens would jump at that opportunity, irresponsible though it is.

-- I also think it's a little irresponsible, when your lead singer comes out for an encore sans the rest of the band, to announce that the rest of the band is occupied in the back stage, "probably doing Jaeger bombs or something." Seriously, folks, can we at least try not to glamorize drinking totally-fuck-you-up drinks to kids who have almost a decade before they can legally drink it?

-- I find it humorous that the Honda Civic Tour touts its environmental consciousness and the fact that it donated a portion of its ticket sales to environmental causes... while all these little girls ran around carrying their souvenir paraphernalia in plastic bags.

Side note: When going to a musical event, do not take as your date someone with no rhythm whatsoever. Especially if he doesn't seem to notice this fact. When the band says to clap with them, it's not that hard... but for some, it is.

But anyway, I still should say that yes, I did enjoy the show immensely. Although I had reservations given how down-tempo their second album as a whole was, they amped it up for the show and it was a really great time. But all I can say is that if Fall Out Boy makes their way out here, I will go to their show armed with earplugs, accusations of geriatric state be damned!

Friday, April 11, 2008

How To Be Hetero.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, How can this self-professed gay guy even think of trying to write a blog entry called "How To Be Hetero"?

Well, here it is.

Okay, I'll have to admit that really this isn't some sort of super-detailed primer on the subject or anything. It's really more of a story of what's been happening to me today.

So I've been at a work conference all day today. Except that I haven't actually been attending the conference. Instead, I've been outside at the registration desk for a good part of the day, watching people come and go ("speaking of Michaelangelo"), helping latecomers and stuff. No biggie.

We have vendors who paid us to let them occupy space at our conference. Decent, hardworking folk who are here to hawk their wares to us lawyers. I have to respect them for that.

This one guy is a little over-aggressive, in my humble opinion. While everyone else is inside, he has been accosting me with questions about the people: "Hey, do you know who this guy is? I've check out his site and want to talk to him." and "This guy had an appointment with me and kinda blew me off. Can you point him out when he comes back out?" I try to be pleasant but noncommittal.

But then, let's face it, the day gets boring sitting around doing nothing. So this guy has started talking to me about stuff that had nothing whatsoever to do with work. He started by discussing his personal life, and asking me about mine.

Hooooo boy.

It started off simply enough. He asked me where in the city I lived, what I thought of certain areas, where I like to go out...

And "where I like to go out" is probably where it all started tanking. Not knowing this guy, I was reluctant to identify any of the bars I tend to frequent, because most of them have big ol' gay flags hanging outside of them. "Around," I told him. Because I live close to the hotel where the conference, I pointed the alarming lack of places to hang out in my neighborhood. (That's actually not quite true, but oh well.) I told him that I walk to Dupont or to Gallery Place sometimes. He told me he likes to hang out at Bar Louie, in the Verizon Center. (Mental note: avoid that place.)

There's a pregnant woman working at the booth about 20 feet away from me. She's got a nice face and is, well, noticeably pregnant. What this means is that she also has a swelled bosom. Let's just say the size of this woman's breasts has not escaped this guy's attention. And let's just say, for the sake of politeness, that he jokingly suggested an illegal course of conduct involving her and some pharmaceuticals.

"Dude, that's not right," I tell him.

"Kidding, man, kidding," he tells me. Sadly, he has that smile that grants him a certain air, a certain charisma, that I'm sure has gotten him out of many a jam in past lives. I have to remind myself that he's being a total ass.

He has just shared with me one of his best secrets to picking up girls: he tells them he can speak some Vietnamese. "Chicks love that," he tells me. (He apparently finds "chicks" to be his mot juste for the opposite sex.)

"You do not speak Vietnamese," I challenge him.

"Sure I do," he tells me, and, to my surprise, he busts out with some actual phrases. Now I don't speak Vietnamese so I can't tell, but at least he has some syllables down adequately. I tell him I'm impressed.

"I guess since you're an Asian guy it wouldn't impress the chicks as much from you," he opines. "It sounds cooler when a white guy can speak an Asian language."

I have to give him some points for that. Just some. Not many.

"Big plans this weekend?" he asks me.

"Eh, I'm going to a movie tonight," I tell him. He asks me what movie, and I tell him: Prom Night. I have to explain to him that it's a slasher flick about a serial murderer as he doesn't seem to have seen any of the hype surrounding it.

"Are you going with your girlfriend?" he asks me.

"..." I say. Seriously, my mouth opened, and I started to speak, but I couldn't pick the words to come out of my mouth. Do I come out? Do I lie? Do I tell the truth (that I'm going with a gay male friend of mine)?

I think he senses my hesitation, but he interprets it all wrong. "Well," he interrupts my floundering, "at least you're taking a chick, right?" I swear he's about to give me that sideways smile-wink-double-point triple threat of treacly charm.

"..." I continue, but he beats me to the punch: "Because going to those kinds of movies with chicks is the best, man. 'Oh, I'm scared, I don't want to go home now!,' she'll say. Or, 'That was so scary, can we go back to your place?' You know what I mean."

Indeed. I knew this theory back in high school. And I wasn't even sexually active then. With either sex.

"I'm just going with a friend of mine," I tell him.

A part of me would not be terribly surprised if he would just come out and ask me point blank if I'm planning on "nailing her." Thankfully, he doesn't do that.

"That's cool, that's cool," he says.

And I let the hallway lapse back into a tersely enforced silence.