I stood there with a plate in my hands. On it, there was rigatoni with vodka sauce, two meatballs, broccoli, cauliflower, and white space. The white space was for some delicious calamari and a pizza slice. The pizza slice made it to the plate, while the calamari did not. I went back to my table, disgusted and disappointed. Fine calamari, I’ll devour this plate, with or without you.
I’ve written about my affection for buffets before. All the food you can imagine is at your fingertips. The only problem is that there are other people around. Roadblocks. Speed bumps. Slow pokes. Dilly-dallyers. Whatever you want to call them, they are there. And make no mistake about it, they are there to sabotage your dining experience. They want the growl in your stomach to grow larger, rather than dissipate from the influx of food you heave into your mouth.
It’s common knowledge that lineups are a part of life. Everyone understands a line. Everyone knows that when you join a line, you’re always the last person in the line. It’s just the way it works. If you dare join the line in front of someone, you are subject to a hole being stared through the back of your head.
At a buffet, however, the term “lineup” does not exist for some people. Everyone has tunnel vision. No one even blinks. If they blink, they might miss something. Everyone walking everywhere. It’s like a Black Friday mob. (Too soon?). Little kids running around with plates that sway side-to-side in their tiny hands. Tall people like me not only have to worry about what food we want, we have to worry about checking our blind spots and not trampling a little kid and causing an incident that ends in: tears, apologies, glares from parents, and food touching the dirty floor for longer than five seconds. Oh, the horror.
Well yesterday, I went to a buffet. You know what I always get on my first plate? Calamari. I’d say it’s a tradition, but it’s more like a magnetic attraction.
I made my way to the calamari station and there were four elderly women standing there getting food. Fine, I’ll wait. I’ll join the back of the line.
Now before you jump down my throat thinking I’m picking on old people, I’m not. If these were four people my age, I would have said, they are four people my age. I’m just setting the scene.
I have nothing against old people. I like old people. Using my older relatives as examples, they are hilarious and have always been good to me. Always happy to see me. Pulling my cheeks. Saying how tall and handsome I am, before pulling my cheeks again and telling me that I should be eating more. In a nutshell, the old people I know, always do that. Maybe it’s an Italian thing. Actually, it’s very much an Italian thing. Old Italian people like to grab you. They just do. And no matter how much you weigh or how much you’ve had to eat, you must have more.
After all, the phrase is, “Mangia, Mangia!” If they wanted you to eat less, they’d only say “Mangia” once. Right?
So when I encountered these four women at this Italian buffet, I didn’t mind. Take your time, take your food, and let’s get this show on the road. I’m patient. I’ll wait.
And so I waited…
And looked at the white space on my plate…
And quickly went to fill that white space with a pizza slice, before returning…
And made eye contact with the women. The kind of eye contact that says, “I respect you, but it’s been a solid four minutes, please move on with your dining experience…”
And then another person showed up, jumped ahead of me in line, bumped shoulders with the women, and forcefully grabbed her food.
I would’ve thrown my hands in the air and given the universal sign for “I give up”, but I was holding a plate. If I had attempted to do so, it would have looked like I was making the universal sign for The Lion King. Shout-out to Simba. Yes, that thought ran through my head at that moment.
So I left in disgust and disappointment, without the calamari.
Maybe I’m too nice. Maybe I need to change my ways. Maybe I’m the problem. Perhaps, I should become inconsiderate of other people’s personal space and force my way into lines, bump shoulders with old ladies, and make my presence known.
Perhaps I shouldn’t respect elderly women. Maybe I should say something when the mental clock in my head eclipses the four minute mark, in terms of wait time.
I don’t know. I don’t know how it takes that long to put food on your plate. I can’t fathom standing at a station, putting food on my plate for longer than 30 seconds, maximum. Or how you can be so unaware of your surroundings and the fact that other people would like to eat, too. Or why you must engage in lengthy conversations with people while putting food on your plate. That is what the table is for! Hence, it’s called a dinner conversation! I know they didn’t teach this in school, but come on!
I don’t know what possesses some people to not wait their turn in line. Or why manners get thrown out the window when food is involved.
Hey, I like food as much as the next person, but I’m not about to start a WWE-style smackdown. I don’t want to smackdown. I want to chow down.
Again, maybe I’m the problem. Some of you are probably reading this and thinking, why didn’t you just say “excuse me” or barge your way through the crowd.
Well the answer is simple – I shouldn’t have to do that.
I shouldn’t have to tell someone to “hurry up” or “get out of the way”. I shouldn’t have to push my way through a crowd and have people raise an eyebrow at me.
Should I care what strangers – who I will never see again – think of me? No, I shouldn’t. But I was raised better than that, so I do care.
So no, I didn’t cause a scene. I didn’t tap anyone on the shoulder and point at my watch, while raising my eyebrows (you know the look). In my head, I was screaming. But I stood there silently, waiting. Because I’m too nice. Because I didn’t expect to be standing there for four minutes. And because I thought there was an unwritten rule among buffets goers that says: “get your food, and get moving”.
Again, I was wrong.
I don’t know about you, but when I put food on my plate, I can feel the next person in line staring a hole through my head and breathing down my neck. And so I get my food, and get moving. This isn’t a parade. People are in a hurry to get back to their dinner conversation. I get it.
But I guess some people have no sense of urgency. Or think, “Hey, there is a nice, young, lad standing behind me, waiting. I should follow the unwritten rule – get my food, and get moving.” No. None of that crossed their mind.
I no longer cared that my magnetic attraction to calamari had been broken. In fact, this post stopped being about calamari a long time ago. It’s about how people treat strangers in public, especially at buffets.
My pasta was cold. Meatballs were good. Veggies were good. Pizza was superb.
So I went up and got calamari on my second plate. No big deal. It wasn’t going anywhere. Oh wait, it had gone somewhere. Right to the plates of those women and that lady who barged her way through the crowd.
What was left of the calamari? Scraps! Small pieces. So I grabbed three scraps, did a loop around the buffet, and came back when more were put out. Man, all that for some fried squid.
The next time I go to a buffet, maybe I’ll lower my shoulders, and barrel my way through. I’ve seen people do it a bunch of times. They all get glares, but who cares. As soon as the top button on the pants pops, they leave, and their lives go in different directions.
If I don’t do that, I’ll just stick with the way I was raised. Respecting a line. Respecting strangers. Respecting people’s space. Respecting the perks that people at the front of the line receive. And wait my turn. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. It’s what I’ve always done.
And if that fails, I’ll bring a stopwatch and a horn.
And if that fails, I’ll find the entrance to the kitchen and grab the calamari the moment it’s ready to be served.
Because hey, I want calamari, too.