Twice on our European travels in the last weeks, Mrs. VB and I have been confronted with customs that I presumed were long-since abolished. Readers of this humble blog will know well that although I see clear values and virtues for manly men, these generally tend to be inclusive, considerate and, by-and-large, in keeping with the times. I hold on to traditions where they are important, but I am not hard-headed about the hard-won social victories – progress, if you will – of the last fifty years. For my many female readers, I hope to provide an image of man that they might endorse. It would be remiss of me, therefore, not to call attention to the Retrograde Menu.
The Retrograde Menu comes in two forms. One of them looks like any other menu, replete with prices. The other contains all of the dishes on offer, but no prices. The latter form is given to the lady, on the nineteenth-century understanding that a woman has a) no understanding of money; b) no income; c) no interest in the ways in which a household’s money is spent; d) no notion of value; e) no intention ever to pay, or contribute to the expense; f) no self-esteem g) no standing whatsoever when in the company of men. Furthermore, she is supposed to be relieved of having avoided the political minefield of choosing a dish that will not offend her male counterpart’s wallet. She may assume, after all, that if he couldn’t afford the Lobster and the Dom Perignon, he wouldn’t have taken her there. For the man of straightened circumstances, the menu for her can simply be dispensed with: he will decide what she would like.
What utter rot! Needless to say, on both occasions Mrs. VB and I studied the same menu. As a form of protest, I suggested in one instance that she might order for me. I do not think, on the whole, that men are still concerned either to pay for everything, or to conceal the price of things from women. This is an empty chivalry, and no way for a modern marriage to function. So why, please somebody tell me, does this custom remain?
I have noticed that the service in those establishments persisting with this system also tends completely to ignore women. When a man and woman walk into a restaurant together, is there not something distinctly odd about the greeting ‘Good afternoon, Sir’? No eye contact for the lady; no words of welcome; not even an acknowledgment that more than one person has entered the room. I do wonder what would happen if a woman were to dine alone in such a place. What a horrible dilemma for the maître d’. He might have to admit that women exist (and, what’s more, earn more than he does).
I was under the impression that we were well beyond reducing women to empty-headed and meaningless extensions of their husbands. To prove that we are not, and to enhance the foul taste that this leaves in our mouths, I hold up for your general derision the Retrograde Menu.
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