Friday, March 06, 2015

The Hidden Cost of Being a Woman

A curious thing happened in Paris - in the fanciest of places, I was presented with a menu. A menu I did not suspect was any different than the one being held by my husband but was, in a very important way.
Mine had no prices mentioned whatsoever; his did.

I didn't always notice this occurring, and perhaps sometimes it did not (my stomach doesn't vote by price, so I don't usually bother to check). But once I cottoned on to what was happening, I was intrigued.

What piece of tradition is this?

They're called blind menus or "Ladies' Menus" and operate under the assumption that since dinner is obviously the gentleman's treat, the lady need not worry her pretty little head over the vulgarity of price. This is a little silly since there are in fact prices listed on the man's menu, since presumably he may worry, but if his dinner companion doesn't know and goes ahead and orders the astronomically priced item, what is he to do about it except break out his credit card, pray that payment goes through, and order a salad for himself?

This sparked a little debate amongst my friends. Some felt it was a nice send up to chivalry. After all, you would remove the price tag from a gift that you give. Why not treat your special lady to dinner while doing the same? Of course, this places stress upon the woman too, because generally we'd like to be able to estimate the value of the gift so we know whether or not to accept it. We might, considering our companion's status and our own values, prefer to be able to make a choice in full knowledge of what it will mean to the bottom line, and not just at the bottom of our bellies.

And what happens if I've decided to treat him? What if we're splitting the bill? What if we're friends, or colleagues? How do you explain to HR a meal that goes way over budget -"Oh sorry, I'm just a girl and I didn't know!" And in the age of dual incomes and joint bank accounts, what does it even matter?

I suppose there are some people who couldn't enjoy a meal knowing its true cost, so maybe there's value in having one handy upon request. But when you're given one automatically, because you're a woman, what does that assume? What judgements are inherent? Obviously that I'm not paying. Maybe that I can't pay? That I'm not the head of household? That I don't have access to our financial statements? That I don't participate in budget making or breaking? That high prices would intimidate me?  What is the line between chivalry and chauvinism?

Have you seen these menus? Do they insult you at all?


Jay said...

Particularly funny in our case since I'm the one who speaks french, I did the ordering for monsieur.
I might also plop down my own card, but the bill and and the recepit always go back to him no matter whose name is on the visa.

kenju said...

We did not go to such a fancy place in Paris - alas. But if we had, I would have asked to see his menu, so I would know the prices. I like to be aware of what I'm spending or causing others to spend.

Jude said...

I can see this being standard in days of old perhaps, when ladies were not the breadwinners as they were too delicate to "work". LOL Then if a gentleman treating a lady to dinner was aware that he may get stuck with a large bill, he has the option NOT to take her there I suppose.

But today's world isn't like that. So if it were to happen to me (it did once, years ago in I think Las Vegas) I just asked my husband what such and such costs and we were able to enjoy a nice meal that wasn't overly expensive.

Ms Mac said...

I don't remember that ever having happened to us in Paris but I'll look out for it now.

Wil said...

Jay, this practice has gone on for years. And, it used to be de riguer in Montreal and NYC and Mexico City when I was a little shaver (we were still commuting in DC3's in those days). I even recall taking my grandmother out to dinner, just the two of us, in Guadalajara. In that case, in addition to a sommelier showing me the wine list, I was the only one to actually receive a menu, as in those days, the man/boy ordered for their female companion, regardless of seniority!

Jay said...

It's possible this happens to me all the time and I just don't usually notice. Someone would though.

I love your story about your grandmother, Wil.