The summer I graduated from high school I got a job as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant- "the best buffet in town," the customers always said.
I was 18 and hadn't had many jobs at that point. I filled out the application and less than a week later someone called me and asked if I could start work that day. No interview, no mental preparation, just, "WHEN CAN YOU COME IN, PLEASE HELP US!" Kind of like that.
And my training was just as thorough as the interview process. "Here, take a quick look at the menu and then watch this one girl take one table's order, then you're on your own, one two three GO!"
I got the hang of it, I made pretty good tips and my co-workers, all gravelly-voiced waitressing vets, loved me. They'd stick up for me when the owner or manager got mean or if the cooks yelled random syllables at me if they didn't understand my order slip.
There was this one cook who was closer to me in age and smiled at me a lot. You know, uncomfortably a lot. He'd try to corner me at the tea machine or the time card puncher to flirt with me, but here's the thing! He barely spoke English and it would take him several tries to communicate to me that he thought I was cute, or wanted my number, or was asking me where I was going at the end of the summer. And you know how when two people who speak different languages don't understand each other, they just talk louder and try a stab at useless hand gestures? It was really awkward- so much yelling and flailing while I just stood there with a smile/grimace.
One time he was asking me to go see a movie with him but with his ineffectual English and thick accent he actually said, "I'd like to see your boobies!" instead of "I'd like to see a movie with you." I almost died.
The only woman who worked in the kitchen was the dishwasher, named Ho. As you might imagine, the name Ho does not go over well with uncultured Americans so someone decided to call her Princess, which I thought was ridiculous. She had to be in her 30s. Anyway, she did not speak any English. Not a word. Her husband was one of the cooks and did some translating for her if the waitresses were loading the counter the wrong way.
One day he caught me by the arm and said, "My wife think you are beautiful!" I turned to her, where she was smiling at me from behind her counter and she gave a timid wave. "Thank you!" I said to her, and her husband proceeded to say, "I think you are too. Very pretty." He gestured to his face, meaning my face. "Very beautiful!" He patted my cheek. And that was a little awkward too, because he started telling me this every time I came into the kitchen. "Very pretty!" Pat, pat.
This was TEN YEARS AGO, kids. I just ran into this guy at Walmart the other day, which has happened a few times but if I see him in advance I can steer my cart away before he sees me. This time he saw me first. He threw up his hands, said "Ahhhhh!" and tried to cup my face but I managed to lean back. He gave me some of the loud talking and flailing, asking me about Liam and if I was married, which has happened every time I see him. He just stands too close and stares too much and rubs my arms, STILL! Like he recognizes me ten years later because I'm That Girl Who Lets Him Get Away With This Shit. Liam always gives him the stink eye and leans away from him too, which he does to everyone in public who has no concept of personal space.
As usual I, too, leaned away, wishing Gabe was with me, and I asked him about his wife. This seems to break him of his trance. He gestured that she was elsewhere in the store with her kids and I said, "Ok, gotta go, see ya!"
Just a few minutes later I passed him and his wife and kids, and he saw me again, like Nora Radar. Again he threw his hands up and said, "Ahhhh!" And he tried to touch my face YET AGAIN but I ducked. I said hello to his wife and she fawned over Liam for a few moments and she patted me on the shoulder.
I walked away feeling conflicted- I'm not trying to be a douche about non-English speakers but I would not mind it if that man could possibly interact with me without touching my face. Ho, a.k.a. Princess, was one of the best things about working at that restaurant so many years ago because of her smile and how excited she'd get about trying to talk to us waitresses. Her husband, however, constantly reaching out for me and telling me I'm pretty, still makes me cringe.
The other night I was mixing up a concoction to attract and trap some pesky bugs in my garden, and the mixture contained soy sauce. Almost every time I cook with soy sauce I toss a splash into a hot pan of garbanzo beans, so it's been a long time since I've smelled it all by itself. The aroma of the two tablespoons I measured into a bowl for the garden really struck straight up my nose and it nauseated me.
It brought me right back to the slow summer afternoons when I'd be cleaning and refilling the little soy sauce bottles at the waitress station- and I'd hear the kitchen door creak open, see arms flail from the corner of my eye, and I'd hear "Ahhhhh!" and feel him squeeze my shoulders, pat my forearm and eventually go for my face.
There has GOT to be a better way to say hello.