I used to work part-time as a waitress in a place where customers questioned my identity. My time there has become extremely quotable, and one I take advantage of whenever people ask if ‘Emily’ would like to change her mobile provider, or if ‘Emily’ can do the dishes tonight.
Mum, the customer is always right – my name is not Emily, I can’t help you. The following exchanges I’ve had prove this:
“Hey, I’m Emily and I’ll be your server for today. Can I get you anything to drink tonight?” I hand her a menu and indicate where the drinks are found.
“Hello, I’m Miranda. You must be new. I’m a regular here. Just tea please.” Miranda has a fake flower tucked into her big blonde curls. She tells me she’s with a table of three or four. She’s waiting for her husband, her son and possibly her son’s girlfriend too. She observes that it’s quiet tonight. I agree but optimistically suggest that quiet nights aren’t always necessarily bad before leaving to fetch her tea.
When I come back she asks me about myself.
“Are you in university? – Oh! Really? – Which one? What are you studying? Oh, my son’s girlfriend is going there next year. My son does maths. He’s a maths genius. He’s not worried about the year twelve exams at all.” Miranda slowly shakes her head in bewilderment. “It’s so bad that he doesn’t even try.”
I am holding the teapot at a bad angle. Hot liquid leaks from the lid and burns my hand. She is oblivious. I set the pot down with the handle facing her.
“So, what’s your name?” Miranda peers at me through her glasses.
“…Emily.” Maybe she didn’t hear me the first time? I study her face. No, that’s definitely not the answer she’s looking for.
“No…eh…what’s your name?” She tries again, raising her thing eyebrows for added emphasis.
“Emily.” I tap my name tag and try to conjure up some acceptable social cues indicative of my desire to leave this conversation. I do none of them. I don’t want to be rude. I cannot be rude. I am also a wimp.
She makes a pained face, “No, like your real name.” Her mouth is pinched into a weary smile.
“Emily is my real name.” She cannot be serious, right?
She cups her tea in her hands and stares at me pointedly.
“…Do you mean my Chinese name?”
“Yes! Like, your Chinese name,” she lets out a relieved sight and leans back. “What is it?”
My hand throbs.
It’s the start of an evening shift. My mind feels numb.
I am serving a young couple wearing matching leather jackets. They look very stylish.
“So… is Emily your real name?” The man shifts his beer glass closer to me. His partner does the same, but she does nothing else to acknowledge my presences. She’s reading over our rice and noodle dishes.
The amber liquid initially hits the side of the glass with too much force, but I manage to execute a decent pour. “You got me. I’m actually Stacy.”
I laugh when he laughs. “Seriously?”
“Nah, my name’s actually Emily. Really.”
I top up the woman’s glass. She’s flipped back to the start of the menu.
“Don’t lie. Don’t you guys just pick up any old name tag from the staff counter and wear it?” He grins widely. His teeth are nice and neat. The woman finally looks up and takes a sip of her beer.
“Can’t say I’ve ever done that before.” I hold the serving tray behind my back. “But hey, maybe I’ll try that sometime. Keep you all on your toes.”
He’s delighted with this response.
A party of five and a pram walks in. My colleague seats them by the window. There are still a couple of tables in the process of looking through their menus. It’s not too busy yet.
“And are we also just about ready to order?” I take out my pen and notepad.
“You ready?” He addresses his partner. She closes her menu and nods.
I wait for her to begin, but she never does. Her partner chimes in.
“Lemon chicken for me, sweet and sour fish for her and a small fried rice to share,” he checks off each dish with his fingers.
“Right, and that’s all for today?” I confirm their order on paper. L chi, s/s fish and small fri. It’s crude but it works.
“Yup, thanks Emily. Xiè xie!”
“Thanks.” The woman speaks to me for the first time when I grab her menu. She’s indifferent, but her voice sounds pleasant.
“No worries,” I smile back, adding as an afterthought, “méi guān xi (沒關係).”