I May Be Uncultured

I’m going to say something that is going to make me sound ridiculously uncultured and possibly a little pathetic.

On Friday night I went to a fabulous dinner with friends. The trendy restaurant was exactly what you’d expect in a slightly hipster city like Philadelphia. White subway tiles lined the walls, dim lighting, lots of industrial looking stainless steel. The bar was serving up meticulously made cocktails, the kind where things are muddled and your something-with-lemon has a beautiful curl of actual lemon in it. It had a cool vibe. Part of me already didn’t feel cool enough, the second we walked in the door.

fancy dinner

One overpriced glass of wine later and we were seated with menu’s in front of us. I glanced down, eyes scanning for vegetarian or seafood options, but soon realized that I could not pronounce half the menu and had no idea what so much of it even was. Saffron Trenette? Romesco? Confit? Saba Vinaigrette?

When N and I wind up at restaurants like this on our own, we shamelessly Google all the stuff we don’t know. It makes me secretly happy when we are both on the same, un-fancy page. In a group of friends, I quietly asked a couple of questions and went with a safe option – scallop risotto.

It’s just that sometimes in places like that, I feel uncomfortable. Not classy enough. Sure, I can use my forks in the right order. I’ve always got a napkin in my lap. But I have no desire to have a swig of wine poured for me to smell and then taste before saying yes to it. I ordered it. The answer is yes. I don’t like wondering whether my food has meat in it, simply because I don’t know what half the ingredients are. Food doesn’t have to be fancy and unpronounceable to be good.

If I was abroad and I didn’t know what the foods were on a menu, that would make sense. But sitting in a restaurant several blocks from my house and not knowing? It makes me feel uncultured and out-of-place. Or I wonder if it’s really that the restaurant is pretentious and everyone else is just as confused as I am.

As I sat there eating my slightly crunchy risotto (Is risotto supposed to be crunchy? See, these are the kinds of things I don’t know), I couldn’t help but mentally list all of the foods that I think are just as good (and not $26). I would have been just as happy with cheap Thai takeout, a cheese plate, pizza (obviously), or even a refill of the (free) bread basket.

But you know what? Even though I felt a little awkward and a little pretentious, I couldn’t really believe that this was my life. There I was, surrounded by friends and my love, laughing and chatting at a hip downtown restaurant. It was then that I realized that all the things I wanted to happen when I moved to the city had happened exactly as I wanted them to. In fact, my life recently has worked out exactly as I wanted it to. It’s weird and wonderful and a little terrifying.

So N, thank you for dinner. And thanks for being my partner on this fabulous adventure. Thai takeout tonight?

  • This is so perfect. I feel like I just watched an episode of SATC or something. Glad you are adjusting to city life and your new home well! Cheers! x

  • Giedre

    I know what you mean! And then every time I “learn” something new about fancy restaurants, I swear that next time I’ll feel much more cultured and knowledgeable, but of course that never happens.

  • Love this post. While I worked in a fancypants restaurant for a while right after college and managed to get a bit of an education on fancy food and wine, I still seem to always feel a bit out of place in those restaurants. And yes, gotta love the magical Google machine when trying to decipher those ridiculous we’re-trying-to-make-everything-seem-fancier-than-it-is dishes on the menu.

  • I feel like that all the time! Im no foodie and menus where I don’t know what half the things are intimidates me. I usually go with a safe chicken related item or fish related item on the menu. Sometimes it makes me feel like I have the taste of a 10 year of but in reality its just I never grew up going to fancy places or eating intricate meals. I know American food (this includes americanized versions of chinese, italian etc.) and I know Polish food because of my culture. But Id take some pizza any day at least Id know I like it

  • Haha loved reading this post. I really like how honest and down to earth you are. I am glad things are working out for you 🙂


  • I am the same way! I’d rather go somewhere where the food is just as good and I can also pronounce it! To be completely honest, I’m still not even sure of the correct way to say caprese!! Is it ca-preese or is it cay-pra-say? I’ll just have a veggie pizza, thanks!

  • I’ve been there a few times! I felt stupid and insecure and by the end of the night, deemed this “lifestyle” doesn’t match me. I mean, the food was great but like you said, I couldn’t pronounce half the menu! It’s fun to dress up and treat yourself to great food, but I’d stick with my casual sushi night outs instead!

  • Kelley

    I have a hard time justifying spending money on expensive food. My husband and I went to the Melting Pot one time and spent $100+ and weren’t even that impressed (except the dessert!). That’s another thing I worry about…spending a lot of money on food and then not even liking it all that much. There’s a place in Birmingham, AL (and probably other places) called Flip Burger, and their food was delicious. However, we spent too much money and were still hungry afterwards because the portions are small! I’d love to eat there again but just can’t justify it. I’d be just as happy with some $12 pad thai or a $15 big piece of steak with endless rolls.

  • I almost always feel that way when I go out to eat in Portland. More often than not, when it comes to my food and drink order, clothes, and slang, I am the least cool person in the room.

    but I’m okay with that 🙂

  • I love this post!!! I am always scanning menus trying to figure out what I can pronounce and what I will hopefully like enough to not push around and pick at… I totally feel you. 🙂

  • Fancy restaurants can be intimidating. And admittedly, I can’t pronounce most of what’s on their menu as well. But it’s a good experience to dine there, isn’t it? 🙂 And thank goodness for Google! Lol.

  • Jae

    Oh, Nadine. Why do I get this feeling that we’d be good friends in real life? My then-boyfriend-now-husband and I went on a fancy restaurant inside a hotel once to celebrate our anniversary, but half the time I was worrying about table manners, etc. that I didn’t enjoy our dinner at all.

  • JC

    I think there is a distinct difference between good fancy restaurants and fancy restaurants. I love to go to them and try new things, but I totally understand what you mean when you feel intimidated. I love to try absolutely everything and I am known to ask the waiter a million questions. You shouldn’t feel apprehensive about it, they don’t mind doing it and next time you will be that much more prepared.

  • And then we went to a dive bar where dogs are welcome and the bartender had Lil Bub on her t-shirt. Who were we kidding being cultured anyway haha

  • Haha, That’s okay to feel out of place. I always do and yet I always want to go to those kinds of places until I get there and realize I just might not be that kinda women.

  • I know exactly what you mean. I often frequent new (somewhat fancy) restaurants with friends in Seattle…definitely a hipster city :). I am not the biggest foodie, but I love learning about different cultures with food. Sometimes I feel like its pretentious, and other times I think it’s not. There’s one thing about fancy places, the more you are around nicer things, the more you want nicer things…including food. And, it’s not a bad thing either.

  • So sweet.

  • I completely know the feeling! My boyfriend and I prefer pizza and beer over overpriced wine any night, but many of our friends have a different idea of a “fun night out”. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one whose eyes bug out of their head at spending $15 for a cocktail or double that for a dinner I can’t pronounce. You’re not alone!

  • GC

    I have literally just stumbled onto your blog, on this post exactly, and I just had to comment (not something I’ve done before after only seeing one blog post!). I know what you mean about pretentious places – I’m all about the simple stuff! I love the way this was written – your writing style is almost storytelling-like 🙂

  • I don’t eat at places like this often. It’s nice for a change of pace, but I’m much happier at a casual restaurant.

  • I do not even know the correct forks, to me a fork is a fork and they all shovel food in my mouth the same way 😉 So glad that you are having such a wonderful time and that things are working out beautifully for you!

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