An Australian newspaper columnist has written the most baffling editorial about children in restaurants I have ever seen, in which she appears to be making a desperate, ill-advised attempt at satire using the term "apartheid."*
This is beyond nuts. I honestly cannot figure out whether Sarrah le Marquand is trying to use the term "apartheid" (God, I shudder every time I type that), which, again, refers to a brutally inhumane decades-long system of racial segregation and violence, in a positive way. Let's just dive right in, so you can see what we're dealing with here:
ONCE a word associated with the horrors of racial segregation in South Africa, a new form of apartheid has crept into the restaurants and cafes of suburban Australia. The divide is as simple as it is absolute: those who sit down for lunch in the company of their crayon-carrying offspring, and those who do not.
That's her lede. That is literally the thing she starts with. No, Sarrah. Not "once." Always. That word is always associated with oppression and brutality. If you refer to Spain's meltdown in the World Cup as a "holocaust of goals," it doesn't excuse anything else that came out of your brain just because you tacked "once a word used to refer to the systematic extermination of millions of human lives" onto the beginning of it.
From that opener, it looks like she's trying to make a hyperbolic, offensively ignorant point about people needing to shut up about kids in restaurants — but one that nevertheless has some recognizable human thought process between Point A and Point WAT. But then it starts to get REALLY bizarre:
If the growing tide of barely concealed grimaces from fellow diners at the arrival of an entourage of pint-sized humans come mealtime is any guide, confining these patrons to separate tables is no longer enough.
They really need their own restaurants. One for the food-seekers with kids in tow, and one for the food-seekers unencumbered by anyone under the age of 12.
How can anyone be expected to enjoy their pan-fried gnocchi, tuna ceviche or salted caramel flan when they suspect there might be a tantrum brewing from the cute-but-ominous looking child two tables away?
Um...wat? Wat? WAT.
OK, let's just keep pushing and see how deep this rabbit hole goes.
One man who unashamedly subscribes to this child/child-free apartheid is American chef Grant Achatz, who sparked a media firestorm earlier this year after taking to Twitter to complain about a couple who brought their eight-month-old to dinner at his Chicago restaurant.
"I could hear it crying in the kitchen," he later told Good Morning America of the unwanted diner. "We want people to come and enjoy and experience Alinea for what it is, but we also have to be cognisant of the other 80 people that came in to experience Alinea that night."
So, basically, the headline on that news story should read: "Restaurateur Thinks About Well-Being of His Customers."
I'm genuinely trying to figure out if this is intended to be satire. If it is, it's really, really bad satire, a) because it makes no sense whatsoever, b) because it is neither funny nor thought-provoking (unless you count "complete bafflement" as a provoked thought), and c) because it trivializes the word "apartheid."
But while many a frazzled parent has had an unfortunate encounter with an inhospitable waiter, it's generally not restaurateurs but fellow diners who are quick to judge those who dare to peruse a menu with a child by their side.
Comments such as those posted by a reader named "Lance of Melbourne" in response to Achatz's anti-baby stance are indicative of the growing tide of intolerance among us cafe-dwelling Australians.
"Totally agree with him. I want to (sic) a meal," he observed. "Not to be annoyed by a little Jayden, Destiny, Montana or whatever stupid name they can think of. It's bad enough you have to put up with the little mongrels in shopping centres screaming and running about."
Ahhh Lance, you sound like a charming dining companion yourself.
It's hard to know who would complain more should the food not be to your liking — you or one of the aforementioned mongrels.
And what are the odds that little Jayden is a more generous tipper?
Ahhhh, there we are. So the "apartheid" dumbassery was definitely trying to be satire. How dare other diners care whether their meals are interrupted by small, shrieking, possibly running-around-and-knocking-shit-over miniature humans? Also, yes, she did just give three separate thoughts their own paragraph each, possibly because she thinks they're such wondrous zingers that each needs its own breathing room.
Look, there are some places and restaurants that should not allow kids under 12. If you're eating at Alinea, you really should not be bringing kids that can't behave themselves, because come the fuck on, think of another human being for once in your miserable, privileged life. For most people, a place like that is a once-a-year expense you save for special occasions. How, exactly, is it fair to them to have that nice thing they get to do once a year ruined by your shitty, selfish behavior?
"But my little Wintress is so well-behaved and advanced for her age!" you might say, and you may be right. But restaurants should be making rules like that on the basis of most of their clientele rather than a tiny fraction of it, so hire a damn babysitter already.
Even le Marquand alludes to this, completely undermining her own points:
Perhaps it a sense of frustration with an increasingly child-centric society that accounts for the backlash many parents are feeling.
Certainly those who sit back oblivious as their offspring run amok, knocking the tables and trampling the belongings of strangers trying to enjoy a quiet meal, don't do the cause any favours.
Reserve the eye-rolling for them — not the well-meaning but weary parents who are desperately trying to juggle a quick bite to eat with the short attention span of a restless three-year-old.
What? If you're eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant, you're not "juggling a quick bite to eat." You're eating at a fancy goddamn upscale restaurant. No one's saying kids should be banned from Applebee's or a diner or even from vaguely kinda-sorta upscale places like McCormick and Shmick's, just that it's a shitty parent move to bring them into a place with a fucking $150 Prix Fixe menu. Do you really not see the difference between an expensive restaurant that people need a reservation for months in advance and an Outback Steakhouse?
Here's a hint: desperate, harassed, busy parents are extremely, extremely unlikely to stumble into the former trying to get "a quick bite to eat."
As wide-eyed optimists are often heard wondering aloud: "Why can't we all just get along?" It's a good question, and a lovely thought.
But brokering peace in the Middle East is a more realistic prospect than achieving harmony between the procreators and non-procreators inhabiting the average crowded restaurant.
Or, y'know, maybe it's as simple as people not bringing kids into fucking fancy restaurants unless it's for a wondrously hilarious photo series. Maybe it really is that goddamn simple. Also, maybe don't refer to someone who doesn't want their $200 meal interrupted as wanting "apartheid," because are you fucking kidding me.
*The above image was included in this post for two reasons:
1) To remind everyone what apartheid actually looks like (and that is basically the tamest possible image of apartheid).
2) Because it's fucking awesome and the guy in that photo is a certified BAMF.
Image via Howard Klaaste/Shutterstock.