Blog 2 on Culture

In the The Theory Toolbox Jeffery Nealon and Susan Giroux argue that in order for a culture to be deemed as such it needs a, “context in which any meaning can happen, an exclusion has to take place; to configure the meaningful context […] the very nature of the process, to exclude all those who are not ‘within’ the category you’re trying to configure” (57).  This makes sense to me.  By saying in order to have a culture, or a designated group defining themselves as X, Y or Z, there does not have to be a standard of “What we are” “This is how we function” but “What is it we have, that outsiders do not possess.”

It leads me to ponder the Hospitality industry.  I have spent years working in restaurants, and during the period I have observed a consistent pattern of ideals and behaviors.  They range from the arbitrary to significant, but these patterns and repeated characteristics yield themselves into a culture of our own.  A lot of “insiders” like to refer to this group of ours as even a family of sorts.  The interaction we engage in and highly unusual working environments leave us inside an insulated hovel that only other “brothers, sisters, or cousins” would understand.  For instance, behavior such as shouting and using foul language is often times frowned upon in the work place, and yet in a restaurant it is encouraged.  The fast pace and high demands require an emphasis on urgency.  Therefore, if employees are not performing up to par, the accepted alternative is use brash dialogue to get the point across and motivate employees.  If a cook is taking too long preparing a steak, and all the other food for that steak’s table is finished, the chef cannot say, “Whenever you get a second, I would like the steak to sell the table’s food.” A cook hearing a comment like that will not feel motivated to drop what he/she are doing and finish preparing the steak.  However, if the chef responds with, “Hurry the fuck up with that steak! I got over hundred dollars worth of food ready to go, and its going to go to shit if you don’t make it happen dickhead!” Obviously, the cook will understand the urgency of the situation and finish the task before long.  It is a kind of mental conditioning we as restaurants employees go threw.  Often times when I, or an “insider,” cook for “outsider” friends/family, they tend to see a shift in demeanor and behavior.  We tense up, move quickly, constantly yell phrases such as “Behind you!” or “Holding very hot!” Sometimes we become aggravated when seeing outsiders doing something wrong (not bending the knuckles when handling a knife or putting raw chicken close to raw vegetables).  People will suggest we should calm down or that everything is fine, but these people do not understand what we are doing in our jobs and how it effects us.

Every time I meet another “sibling,” I always ask them what their relationship with outsider friends and family is like.  The answer is identical. “They think I am lazy for not being active enough in the relationship.” “How is your job so important that you have no time for me(us).” “I have a difficult job too, what makes yours so much worse?” We lead lives that no one deems as “normal.” The hours we have are geared towards working outside the realm of normal work hours.  Evenings, weekends, and holidays are times normal people want to go out to restaurants because they do not have to work. Therefore, those are the hours we work.  The industry forces us to isolate ourselves from the normal, so we have created a group, or culture, of our own.  When two strangers, who are both cooks, meet for the first, there is a conversation they can both engage in without discussing a context; they already understand it.  “Yeah, I 86’d the spec midway into service, and chef got all bummed out at me after I used the mise en place he told me to use.” Another cook will understand exactly the scenario, whereas, those who are not in this world would need to be told the meaning of slang terminology (86 or mise en place) as well as the significance of the conflict (unfair treatment from your boss after following instructions properly).

I can see where the idea of a culture comes to fruition here, just as cultures develop in a plethora of scenarios.  In the evaluation of this restaurant (or cooks’) family, it is the exceptions that set us aside, and gives a criteria to form our own culture.



One Response to Blog 2 on Culture

  1. Prof VZ February 7, 2016 at 9:59 pm #

    This is also an interesting reflection on how work colonizes time in different ways, in addition to supporting unique labor sub-cultures that are necessarily exclusionary. Great post!

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