Beyond swearing allegiance to the Taliban, the quickest way to make yourself a social pariah in America is to take a baby to a restaurant. Only on airplanes, and, perhaps, movie theatres are infants more loathed. I’ve seen servers argue with hostesses after getting a baby-centric family seated in their section. Once, for no apparent reason, I witnessed a waiter passive-aggressively kick the stroller that we had placed behind our table. Not that I can blame him. Ninety-nine percent of babies don’t belong in restaurants, and they deserve to be seated way in the back where they can do this all they want. That’s where we, as gun-shy parents, want to be anyway.
But Down Under, you bring a baby with you to a restaurant and you become the most popular people in the place. Everyone wants to see the kid, make her laugh, take her back to their table and feed her steak. It may be the easiest way to endear yourselves to Australian strangers, particularly when you’re Americans, who are not terribly endearing to non-Americans. Or other Americans, for that matter.
If you don’t have a baby of your own, I highly recommend borrowing one for this purpose.
We’ve got one of our own, and we’ve been taking advantage of her popularity a lot lately—but tonight we pushed it too far. We took Hannah to a funky Aboriginal restaurant on Lygon Street for dinner, despite all of the following warning signs beforehand that it would be a disaster.
- It was late.
- She hadn’t had a nap.
- She was hungry and there was nothing on the menu she would eat.
- The room was quiet and more dignified than, say, Applebee’s.
- Her only entertainment was a couple of books that a week ago she had stopped reading and started eating.
Yet, in our hubris, we still thought the evening would be a success, because our perfect child had always risen to the occasion, and besides: This is Australia! They love kids!
We are idiots.
Seems we picked the one restaurant on the block where babies are not welcome. No one told us to get out or anything, but, to steal a phrase from my father-in-law, we got stares colder than a witch’s teat in the Klondike. They gave us a table that was partially under a staircase.
Not helping matters was our sluggish waitress, who seemed to have dropped acid a half hour before coming to work. She was so whacked out that every time she passed our table and we asked for something, she stared at us like she had never seen us before. The very presence of a baby at our table seemed to increase her paranoia. About 20 minutes after we sat down, Hannah started wailing. The Space Cadet Waitress’s response was to hide in the kitchen.
It was a painful catch-22. The longer we waited, the louder Hannah wailed. The louder she wailed, the less likely it became that the waitress would return. We began to wonder if she’d just given up and gone home. Eventually, Hannah calmed down and a different server brought out a plate of sausages made of emu, kangaroo, and wallaby, all of which tasted more or less like wild boar. There was also something called a "carpetbag steak" with oysters in it, which I loved. But Hannah started freaking out again, and Sarah and I played rock-paper-scissors to see who had to take the delirious kid out of the restaurant. As always, I lost.
When I got outside, the area in front of the restaurant was packed with police cars and ambulances and looky-loos surrounding someone who had suffered a heart attack right there on the sidewalk. Hannah was screeching so loudly, most of them turned their attention to us instead of the guy on the ground. Her meltdown continued and intensified even as they loaded him into the ambulance. The guy looked dead, and for a moment, I wanted to be him. That ambulance looked really quiet.