America the Melting Pot


Last night I went to Pei Wei for dinner. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s an Asian Fusion bistro. While I was sitting there in the crowded noisy dining area, eating my pad Thai, I noticed a woman sitting at the table next to me. She had spread out her napkin to make a temporary placemat. She then moved a small portion from the large plate that her food had been served on, to the small plate provided by the bistro for just such use. She made the meal and the atmosphere seem somehow elegant. As her food had been brusquely placed in front of her by the harried waitress, she’d tried in cultured tones to ask where the silverware was. My ingrained customer service habits rose to the forefront and before I could think through my actions, I told her the silverware was located next to the soda fountains in the aisle behind us. She smiled politely and pleasantly, then proceeded to go get her needed utensils. After she returned, I looked at the disarray of my table: broken chopsticks (they came that way, I swear), discarded wrappers from straws and chopsticks, the small plates were pushed to the side and I was slurping my pad Thai noodles directly from the large bowl in which they were served to me. I watched nearby as some teenage girls talked loudly, often over each other in their exuberance. A table filled to bursting with men in their 20s made the teenage girls sound quiet. A young family sat adjacent to me, the toddler delightfully making a mess of his meal while his parents tried to feed him and themselves. It just seemed so brashly American to me. Quick service- almost to the point of rudeness, loud customers, the cooking taking place right in the dinning room. It made me realize what a melting pot of cultures we are. I know that it’s becoming objectionable to use that phrase; the posh thing is to refer to America as a tossed salad or a mosaic- where every culture remains distinct but combines to make a greater whole. I understand that. But if we embrace these “other” cultures and unite to form one American culture, isn’t a melting pot exactly what we are?