I am lactose intolerant. Because I am an adult and have learned how to manage this condition, it does not greatly interfere with my life. I know that if I eat something with a significant amount of cheese or cream, I need to take a pill with a lactase enzyme, and if it is something mostly dairy like a bowl of ice cream or a glass of milk, I need to avoid it or choose a lactose-free option (thank you, Breyers).
Now, I also happen to be literate, which means that if I find myself in the unfortunate situation of accompanying friends or family to an ice cream shop, I am fully capable of consulting the menu myself and determining if there is anything that 1) I can have and 2) I like.
However, in an effort to be helpful, my companions almost inevitably begin to point out to me options of things that I can have.
This is frustrating to me for several reasons:
- It's a bit patronizing because it implies that I'm unable to discover for myself what options are available to me.
- Generally, people assume that because I'm accompanying them, I want to buy something, when really I may just want to hang out with them or am unsure whether I want anything.
- Every time something is suggested to me, the person expects me to respond. So they'll say something like, "You could get a popsicle...?" and look at me expectantly, hoping that I'll praise them for solving my "problem." Then I have to say, "Um... No, I don't really want a popsicle." Or (this one ALWAYS comes up) "Actually, fruit smoothies usually have milk in them..." And then they suggest another thing, and another thing, and I have to make a split-second decision about whether I really want that thing and if not, if and how to explain why not.
- This actually makes it more difficult for me to find something to order. Rather than training my attention on the menu and thinking through what I might want, my attention is on the person talking to me and how to respond to their suggestions. Think about how you would feel if every time you went to a restaurant, your friends would rapid-fire suggest things you might want to order so you never got a chance to actually read the menu for yourself.
The analogy I used to use was that of inviting a vegetarian to a steakhouse and then going, "Hey, you could order a salad! And it comes with bread!" Of course, now that I am a pesco-vegetarian (when I go out to eat), I have had this kind of experience myself, with my dinner companions feeling the need to comb the menu for vegetarian options and then read them aloud to me. Often they do it in an apologetic tone, like, "I feel so bad you can't eat all this delicious meat, so I'm going to make the non-meat options sound as appetizing and exciting as possible."
This is even more annoying than the ice cream thing because while I am sad sometimes about not having the broad range of ice cream flavors available to me (the only lactose-free ice cream I've seen is vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan, and it's been a decade since I had soft-serve), I am a vegetarian by choice, so no one needs to pity me for it. And I've actually found that it makes ordering infinitely easier because I may only have three or four things to choose from instead of the entire menu.
What prompted me to write about this was yet another version of this experience that happened last week at work. A bunch of my coworkers were taking a break to walk over to Caribou and invited me to go with them. I made the mistake of mentioning that I don't like coffee, but I said I'd be happy to walk over with them anyway.
Of course, as soon as we walked in, everyone started suggesting things that I could buy instead of coffee. I tried really hard to focus on the menu, but it was impossible to absorb any of it because I had to keep saying, "No, I don't really drink soda... Actually, I can't have caffeine after 10am... Yeah, but I don't really like those flavors of tea..."
I was trying to remember whether I had any Lactaid pills with me so I could order a hot chocolate, and trying to decide if I actually wanted a hot chocolate, but my brain couldn't fully process those two thoughts because my one coworker was talking rapid-fire for at least five straight minutes about the caramel apple cider: "I usually get that because I don't really like coffee either but sometimes I just get it without the caramel so it's really just heated up apple juice if you wanted that, but I don't see it on the menu but I'm sure you could ask and I know they have apple juice so if you just wanted them to heat up apple juice and then maybe they could put caramel in it if you wanted but I don't know because I don't see it on the menu -- oh, maybe it's -- oh no, that's not it, I don't know, I don't really come here that often."
I ended up ordering nothing.
So that's my public service announcement for the day. If you have an adult friend or family member with a food allergy or intolerance or simply a dislike of a certain food, assume that they are perfectly capable of reading the menu and ordering for themselves unless they tell you otherwise.
Have you ever found yourself in this kind of situation, either giving or receiving these kinds of suggestions?