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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Machismo, -isms and Omelet Wars


Photos by me.


So I'm standing in line waiting to have an omelet made. This is a highlight of the day here on vacation, as there are no additional fees for the privilege and being kosher my choices are somewhat limited.

I wasn't expecting any trouble, although as a Jewish traveler you always have your radar up, not only to safeguard your physical security and belongings but also against anti-Semitism, which we've encountered in non-Jewish areas. My husband wears a yarmulke so it's pretty impossible to miss us.

The sexism is palpable here, let's face it, Las Vegas is a haven for prostitution and human trafficking. So is the racism, directed at Mexicans and African-Americans mostly. Comedy features it, but of course that is everywhere. More subtly, some street dancers, a multicultural troupe, made a few jokes about the latter, concluding with a nice call for unity in diversity.

Generally though, from what I can see on the Strip and among the tourists, there is little racial mingling.

On the street, people call out to us regarding the fact that we are Jewish - whereas in DC, out of politeness, you never call attention to racial or cultural difference. A few times people have stopped us. "Are you Jewish?" "Shalom Aleichem," (hello/peace to you), "Laila Tov" (good night), they say, some jokingly, some a little ominous. 

The engagement is sometimes manifested as a show of respect. The man who served us breakfast spent time engaging my husband in conversation. He had a Spanish accent and seemed devout. He said, "I plan to visit Jerusalem, it is my dream." 

Back to the omelet. 

I have often reflected that if openly Jewish people suffer from anti-Semitism, Muslims in America seem to have it worse. So I was curious when I saw a party of two Western-looking Muslim men standing in front of the line. (I knew because of the headcovering of their female companion, who was there briefly with them and then walked away.)

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first. But then the guest in front of me, a beautiful and well-groomed Spanish woman, complained to me. Not loudly but audibly.

"It has been ten minutes and now he's going to order omelets for his whole family," she said.

The Muslim man snapped at her. "Calm down, lady, don't get so excited."

The way he spoke to her - it was so brittle and harsh. Almost as though she had no right to say anything. I thought to myself, that's a little disrespectful.

Suddenly her partner shows up. He looks Caucasian to me. By now there is only the Muslim man left - his companions have departed.

"Is there a problem here?" he said.

"No problem," the Muslim man replied.

"Watch what you say to my woman," said the guy. "Just shut up."

The Muslim man took his eggs and left. He seemed like he did not want trouble. 

"Are you OK?" said the Caucasian man to his partner.

"Yes," she said. She didn't seem surprised although I was. It was only 9 o'clock in the morning and his attitude was more suited to a late-night bar scene where everyone has already had three bottles of beer.

He went back to their table. 

"He takes good care of you," I said to the lady, and she nodded. She seemed calm and pampered, like this kind of interchange was normal.

I wondered how Muslim people feel, knowing that prejudice could result in their getting blamed for other people's aggression. Yes, the guy was rude and maybe there is a view that women should be seen and not heard, but the Caucasian guy seemed ready for a fistfight.

A moment passed. I looked at the chef, who was African-American, and pondered that most of the guests were Caucasian. I said, "I've never seen an almost-fight over an egg."

He laughed and waved his hand dismissively as if to say, "People are crazy."

In the end everybody went to their table and sat down and the meal was had. My husband wondered aloud how we could have so much food while people outside were starving.

Sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, religious wars, fights over homosexuality. The list goes on forever.

It all leaves me wondering about how different cultures and genders perceive each other, what is said and not said, the roles we take for granted. And how easily a negative, but ultimately trivial situation can escalate into war.



* All opinions my own.