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Asking for info in an ethnic restaurant

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Asking for info in an ethnic restaurant

marcia | Aug 20, 2005 09:59 PM

Tonight my family and I tried a new Latin American ice cream shop in a nearby town which has a lot of Latin American immigrants from several different countries. (See my post on the Tristate board for a report on the actual ice cream shop, which is in Port Chester, NY.)

Because it is where it is, it's designed to cater primarily to the local immigrant community. The signs were all in Spanish, with English translations. We were probably the only non-native Spanish speakers in the place. I wanted to ask the guy behind the coutner a million questions. What country is all this from? The dozens of flavors of ice cream bars and only about a dozen flavors of scoopable ice cream, is this common where ever the owner is from? What are flavores de leche and flavores de agua and how do they differ from watered juice or juice mixed with milk? What is this flavor made with? And this one? And this one? Just what do they mean by curdled milk in the ice cream labelled curdled milk with cinnamon and sugar? Etc, etc. I was finding this place really, really interesting, the things we had were yummy and I wanted to know stuff.

Here's my problem: I felt really uncomfortable asking. I asked a few questions, enough to figure out what was in the Jamaica bar my son wanted and I was so curious about a bar called pico de gallo I just had to ask (jicama, peppers, chiles, cucumbers, etc). But even when the store was empty, I felt that by asking a million questions I'd be a pain in the rear and, this is my biggest fear, come off as condescending and touristy "oooh, look at the exotic people and their exotic food." (Every once in a while, I find myself in a situation where I'm practically the only Jew someone has met and I've definitely been on the receiving end of the "ooo look, how exotic and weird" attitude. Not fun, even when I know nobody meant anything bad by it.) That's not my attitude, by I don't want to inadvertently offend someone. I don't know why I worry that my questions will come off as condescending instead of curious and interested, but I do. In the interests of full disclosure, it's probably worth noting that this may be, in part, a white liberal guilt sort of a thing. I'm probably more worried than I might be in other situations because there are class issues at play. The store is in a town full of working class immigrants. I come from the town next door, upper middle class and white, and so I worry more about inadvertently seeming condescending than I would, say, in a Thai restaurant
in Greenwich, CT (a frighteningly wealthy demographic).

Anyone have similar concerns? Suggestions for how to forge ahead.

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