Eating out

Some American class realities are so mundane that that they generally go unnoticed. Sunday night, I took my bro-in-law Vincent out for dinner at a nice but not particularly fancy establishment in south Chicagoland. There was a wait, and all the chairs were taken in the crowded entry-way. Vincent wasn’t real happy about that. In a few moments, a single mom who could have been Roseanne Barr’s stunt double called to her son: “Get up.” She gestured to me that Vincent should sit in the vacated seat. Vincent and I went on to have a nice dinner. None of our white and black working-class fellow customers eating out with their kids seemed to much notice or care that we didn’t always eat with the greatest decorum.

I hate taking Vincent to pricey restaurants mostly filled with my own educational/income peers. People say all the kind things. Yet it’s not uncommon for customers at nearby tables to make us feel uncomfortable when a few chunks of Vincent’s chicken ends up on his shirt or to visibly fidget when he detracts from their elegant dining experience by allowing his fingers to migrate into the tomato sauce.

Working-class people are less rattled by the practical realities of disability and caregiving. Everyone has a cousin with an issue, a parent or an aunt who works as a special education teacher or direct care worker. Unlike the students at our university’s fancy lab school, working-class kids attend gym class, share a school bus, and sit in the same lunch room with peers living with various forms of intellectual or developmental disabilities. The realities and challenges of disability are a more routine part of everyday life. And it shows.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

6 thoughts on “Eating out”

  1. Makes sense. Seems you could extend this logic to lower-income people just being exposed to more folks dealing with the various slings-and-arrows of harder life stories in general.

    I began to relate personal experience in this larger issue, but the comment grew out of control. Rather than derail this thread, I'll merely link to it. Thanks for the stimulating piece.

    1. Whose blog is that, Eli? i like the drawing. I couldn't find the "about" link that I am used to seeing. And I'm very very nosy.

      1. It's mine. Good question though! I thought there was one up there somewhere. I'll have to edit. Thanks.

  2. Just to be devil's advocate for a mo… the lower SES places are also probably louder and more crowded, so that might also be why people notice less.

    I could be wrong about the noise level though. It is one thing I really don't understand about my own culture. Maybe it is loud *everywhere* now. And this post may have shown me perhaps *one* good thing about it.

    1. I also wonder if you might be accorded a degree of deference due to your socioeconomic status.

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