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28th November 2016

Chicken shop supremacy

‘It is a sad reality, but what is one notch worse than the treatment of restaurant waiters and waitresses, is the treatment of people who work at fast-food outlets’

For anyone who has worked as a waiter or waitress, you will probably have been treated in a way that the majority of the population has not been subjected to. People talk down to waiters, people talk down to restaurant staff, all the social graces and manners that people in Britain have can mysteriously disappear when their steak is over-cooked, or they are sat too close to the bathrooms. It is a sad reality, but what is one notch worse than the treatment of restaurant waiters and waitresses, is the treatment of people who work at fast-food outlets.

A case in point would be that of a Michael Corcoran, a former Cardiff and Oxford United footballer. He drank over a gallon of beer before ending his night at Kebab Zero in Kingsland Road, Shoreditch. There he chanted racist abuse at Michelle Kwarteng, banging on the shop counter and staring into her eyes. Having been identified by Kwarteng, PC Tracey Chapman attempted to arrest Corcoran outside Shoreditch Town Hall, he pushed her aside and fled across the road, running straight into a car and then requiring treatment for minor injuries by paramedics. Corcoran was convicted of assaulting a police officer and racially aggravated harassment in January 2016, and was ordered to carry out 220 hours unpaid work and pay £1,085 in fines and costs at Thames Magistrates’ Court. (Hackney Gazette)

I have seen it, they way certain men order food in kebab and chicken shops, if they aren’t banging on the counter and running into cars there is still a kind of rhetoric that comes with ordering their fast food late at night. Something about being inebriated, under the cover of night, and surrounded by their friends makes them talk in a certain way. It is symptomatic of ladism, of lad culture. Although, I find the marriage of the word lad and culture unsettling in itself, the way lads behave is so dramatically divorced from anything that gets described in cultural terms, perhaps they need a new name? Try lad supremacy, for one of the many heinous characteristics of the lad in 2016 are his delusions of grandeur, the idea that he is better than everyone else, that he must have the last most authoritative word on everything.

This notion of supremacy manifests itself overtly in the arena of the chicken shop. As I witnessed last Monday, when a ‘white lad’ ordered from a BME restaurant worker, he attempted to establish himself in all his hollow alpha masculinity. It was just after 1.00am on Wilmslow Road, Fallowfield. It was in a chicken shop. The guy who was cooking that night, who I often see working there, has these terrible hours yet still manages to provide a fast, personable service. I have been going there for years, and something that keeps me coming back is that service. So when I see, first hand, lad supremacists talking to him in a derogatory, condescending tone weighted with the full force of British ignorance and prejudice, it makes my skin crawl.

I had ordered, sat down, when these two young guys walked in with that distant, drunken look in their eyes. Bearing in mind there is a huge menu printed above the counter. One asked, ‘how much for three fillets?’ the chef tells him it’s 50p a fillet but chips are extra. “What? Where’s the other guy? The other guy normally does me three nice fillets and puts some chips in their as well”, at this point his friend mumbled something about not having much money but was quickly assured by the one ordering that, “don’t worry it’s fine”. He continued, “look can we get six fillets with chips, three quid”. It wasn’t a question, he wasn’t really ordering, he was telling the chef what he wanted and how much he was going to pay for it.

And so it went on, similar to a thousand other scenes like it all over the country that probably happen every night. I imagine you have seen it too, maybe not a loud, brazen display like that of Michael Corcoran, but probably something a little more back-handed, more clandestine. In something as small as the tone of voice of a drunken man, can exist decades worth of deeply entrenched ideas of racial superiority. Even when you remove race from the equation, the language a man will use arguably reveals something. The derogatory, patronising words he uses are chosen in an attempt to exert authority. Maybe he is searching for order in a life that is otherwise spiralling out of control. For what these displays of macho arrogance reveal to us is not strength, but weakness. They attempt to bolster their claims at manhood by ‘looking tough’ in front of their friends, yet their insecurity shines.

This kind of behaviour is not secluded to fast-food restaurants, it happens everywhere. There is no immediate, magnanimous solution but one incident told to me by a friend when I was in the process of writing this article, serves as a kind of model of what we can strive to do. So this friend, N, was in Sheffield, at a kebab shop after midnight. A middle-aged man was being told that he had to wait in line to get his order, like everyone else. He worked himself into a rage and stormed out uttering the most archaic of British racial slurs, ‘P***i’, loudly under his breath. N has never appeared to me a confrontational person but she said, that on this occasion, she could not contain herself. She followed this man of nearly 50 years out the door and called him on what he had said. “You CAN’T say that to people”, “it was just a joke, I…I…”, it doesn’t matter if it was “a joke, you CANNOT call people that”. The man was left dumbstruck at being made to swallow his pride at the hands of a woman half his age.

Call them on it, don’t let it go unchecked.

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