On 26 December, Alastair and I felt claustrophobic after our Christmas indoors so we headed to the ski village called Les Rousses, which is just over the border in France. We planned on a walk followed by lunch in a local restaurant.
It was our first opportunity to test Megan’s new snowsuit. While it may be snug and warm, I realize it is a useless contraption as it does not have buttons or a zip that goes all the way down to the toes. This means it is an almighty mission to get her in and out of it. I stuffed Megan inside and, at one point, I wondered if I had dislocated her arm as I tried to manoeuvre it into the sleeve. Fortunately babies are so elastic. By the time I eventually straight-jacketed her into the suit and hooked her into the baby carrier on Alastair’s chest, she was shell-shocked and I was sweating.
We headed off down a path into woods, crunching through the snow while Megan bobbed on Alastair’s chest and sang to herself. She seemed happy, but we weren’t. Al and I are not used to dealing with a baby in cold, snowy weather so we spent most of our hike second-guessing ourselves and stressing if she was warm enough.
‘My fingers are cold,’ I worried, ‘Do you think she’s cold too?’ Suddenly, I noticed her exposed nose was turning slightly red. Code Blue! Code Blue! We galloped back to the car and bee-lined to our favourite restaurant with high hopes of a hearty, warm lunch to redeem our flop of a 30metre, 10-minute walk.
We were in for a surprise.
There was a sign on the door to the restaurant that said ‘Poussettes Interdite’ which means that prams are not allowed. Fair enough, no problem with that. Alastair took our pushchair back to the car while Megan and I went inside to organize a table.
As I walked in the door, the hostess rushed towards me, shaking her head and hands. ‘No, we’re full. No tables available’, she said, clipped and firm.
I looked at empty tables to my left and my right. ‘They’re reserved. All full. No space. Nothing today,’ she said.
Some tables had a ‘reserved’ sign but most didn’t. ‘Well then’, I said. ‘I would like to reserve a table for later.’
I stood bewildered on the pavement. Something seemed off about that conversation. I could feel it deep down in my bones. That restaurant didn’t turn me away because it was full. It turned me away because I had a baby.
Every time I have eaten in a French restaurant, I have done so in the company of at least one dog. Why are dogs welcome but babies aren’t? Tears pricked into my eyes and I boiled with rage and righteous indignation at the injustice of it. How dare they treat me like that! I realized that the hidden subtext of ‘pousettes interdite’ was ‘babies not allowed’.
To be honest, I don’t mind if a restaurant doesn’t allow kids. I understand. Noisy, disruptive children are indeed annoying. Be direct, be upfront but don’t lie. That’s the part that riled me the most. Don’t say the restaurant is full when it is not. This was the first time I have ever been a victim of any kind of discrimination. I felt like Julia Roberts in the scene from Pretty Woman when the sales ladies refuse to serve her in the boutique – hurt, shocked and itchy for revenge.
I really like this restaurant. They have cheap, good food and a cozy ambience. I wanted to have misunderstood, to be wrong in my suspicions. So, when Alastair returned from the car, I asked him to go in on his own and organize a table so we could see what would happen. If they were genuinely full and if Megan was not the reason for me being shooed out, then he should come out empty-handed too.
Do you know what they said to him? ‘Table for two? Sure no problem, come through.’ He turned and walked straight back out the door.
My rejection by the restaurant gave me a small taste of how protective I can be of my new child. I also got an inkling of what it must have been like to be black in South Africa during apartheid when people were turned away from cinemas, beaches, shopping centres and restaurants simply because of their skin colour. Don’t slam a door in my face. Don’t humiliate me. Don’t treat me as if I am stupid.
The next restaurant we found was also full but had empty tables. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘Is the baby a problem for you?’
At the third restaurant, I arranged a table while Alastair and Megan waited outside. I didn’t mention the baby. When I fixed myself at a table and then gave the signal, they charged through the door. Megan was a star and spent the entire meal sucking her toys. Al tried to kick start the conversation but I was too furious and spent the entire time plotting my revenge. I daydreamed about borrowing a friend’s dog, going to that restaurant and encouraging it to shit on the floor. Next time, I imagined I would get Alastair to arrange a table and then Megan and I could burst in. I could breastfeed her without a polite covering and then flash at the other patrons. That would be fun.
I probably won’t do any of those things but, when I got home, I wrote a fast and furious review on TripAdvisor. I poured out my humiliation and irritation through my fingers and gave them a one star review titled ‘rude bunch of liars’. Now I can move on.