Wendy and I went out to a Japanese restaurant tonight for dinner. We knew it marketed itself as a sake bar but how different can that be from any other restaurant that sells Japanese food?
Plenty, it turns out.
When we walked in all of the staff started shouting and a guy rushed at us. It felt more like a bad martial arts movie than a restaurant, but apparently in sake bars that is just what happens. Everybody shouts in concert all the time, especially whenever somebody walks into the place. We also got handed a moist towel just before the food arrived and that sure puzzled the hell out of me (turns out you wash your hands with it) and then I didn't know where to put it down (turns out you can just put it on the table and they take it away eventually).
The bizarre thing is how these sorts of mostly irrelevant details make the experience a worrying one. As I am fond of saying whenever people get worked up, consider the worst case:
Sky: "So, uh, what's the deal... I kinda screwed this up, obviously..."
Waitress: "Well, you just put this over here, and this over here."
Sky: "Uh... heh... yeah, I sure don't know how the hell any of this works."
Waitress: "This is your first time to a sake bar, yes?"
(The entire restaurant points and laughs at my horrific gaffe.)
And then we leave and find food elsewhere, and who cares that a random bunch of strangers think I am a dork? Nobody! That is the worst case! And yet despite the fact that the worst case is honestly just fodder for a great story I tell once I get over the shame of it all, I feel nervous and on edge. There is something deep inside us that makes us worried about screwing up at a social function and terribly embarrassing ourselves even when the consequences are trivial.
And now I know that the sake bar two doors down has a yummy and cheap chicken soup dinner. Also, they yell a lot, everyone sits at one gigantic table, and there are moist towels. Learning is fun!