Saturday, April 5, 2008

Ladies' Night Out

JenniferA graduate student in my department decided that it was high time the womenfolk of MolEvol went out on the town, in part, she said "to cheer us up after the fire." And so this past Friday the seven of us (two technicians, two graduate students, and three postdocs—the boss was invited but couldn't make it) went out to Katalin, a restaurant and jazz bar located in part of the old train station warehouse.

We sat at a table immediately, but was a good ten minutes before anyone deigned to give us menus, and another half hour after that before someone else came to take our order. As has been mentioned in previous posts, being "at your service" is not a high priority in Sweden, even for people whose job it is to serve you. The two bottles of wine we ordered came out first, and poor VP., a postdoc who is seven months pregnant, was nearly driven to eat the candle, as she had been hungry before we even sat down and her Pepsi didn't make it out for another ten minutes.

But the food, when it arrived, was tasty (I had a kyckling och baconsmacka, which came tastefully but oddly presented with the bacon on top of the bread, a handful of fresh oregano stalks for garnish, and a tiny scoop of coleslaw in a tiny square dish) and meanwhile conversation flowed very comfortably. This was the first time I'd seen these co-workers away from work, and we had a very good time indeed. Horror stories of previous labs were swapped (I told the BioBeer "Danger: Ebola" story, to great acclaim—that one's always popular with fellow scientists), as well as stories of previous departmental parties (VP. met her husband at one, finding out only much later that they had been set up with each other), and other various mishaps (the third postdoc, K., has a series of scars on one arm that look remarkably like a shark bite, but are not).

We also talked some about our family backgrounds. Z., a Polish graduate student, has some hard-line communist relatives who continue to rail against the modern times; VP., who is Latvian, is half-Jewish with some anti-semitic Russian nobility on the other side ("How my parents got together I never know," she said); I told tales of Irish criminals and dubious Germans. K. confessed to being entirely Swedish and said almost wistfully "... so I don't have any good stories like you do, they're all just normal people."

After dinner we all had dessert (I had the rababerpannacotta med apelsinsorbet), and I thought again, not for the first time, how lovely it is to be with people who always have dessert. No "Oh, no, I shouldn't" protests here! After dessert it was nearing 10pm, and so we started to think about breaking up. VP. and K. declared that we should not leave a tip at all, because the service had not been particularly good. A service charge is always included in the bill, and I know this, but tipping is a remarkably hard habit to break. We discussed this point for a few minutes, and Z. said that it is even harder to tip when you are not used to doing it. VP. and K. confirmed that tipping in a restaurant is entirely voluntary, and really only done if the service was exceptional, or if you've been difficult customers (such as when VP.'s two year old dumped a whole glass of juice onto a leather couch). "What about more personal things, like, oh, say, the person who cuts your hair?" I asked, thinking of Joe's recent experience and my eventual need for such a service. VP. and K. both laughed. "No, never!" Why not? "Have you gotten a haircut here? Do you know how expensive it is? Never tip a haircutter!"

So among the seven of us, with the inevitable confusion resulting from three people paying in cash and four paying by credit card, our server ended up with 10 SEK extra, an amount so insignificant as to be perhaps more even more insulting than nothing at all. At an American restaurant, we might have been blacklisted forever. Here, no one gave it a second thought. And it must be said that the waiter sealed his own doom when he saw all the credit cards come out, and actually rolled his eyes and sighed out loud.

So our tjejmiddagen was a success, and I hope that we can do it again soon. Maybe somewhere else. A place where the servers will recognize a Ladies' Night Out for what it is, and flirt with us a little more (or at least not treat us like a nuisance). But most importantly, somewhere that will bring us our food a whole lot quicker.


  1. J!, I love reading these posts, and I share your difficult adaptation to the non-American, leisurely server service.

    To provide a contrast, in Egypt, it is considered rude to clear your plate. It suggests to the host that you did not get enough food. I had a waiter at TGI Fridays (the one in Giza, right next to Nile Bowling) reach to take my plate with an entire bite of cheese burger and some fries left. After I expressed my interest in the custom ("What the hell are you doing?"), we got along famously. If I am going to have to forgo a beer so as not to be beat up on the walk back to the hotel, I am going to get every morsel!

  2. The next time J! goes to tjejmiddagen and people start telling lab stories, she should tell the saga of the Pepsi bottle and the liquid nitrogen.