Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fancy Pants Restaurants and Imposter Syndrome

Note: I wasn't able to post this until today (Friday).

On Tuesday, I went out to my Fancy Pants Restaurant. When travelling, I ususally try to have one meal at a restaurant that is Zagat rated. This doesn't necessarily mean it's a terribly fancy restaurant. For example, when I came to London in May, I ate at Jenny Lo's Teahouse, a tiny place with a tiny menu but fantastic and affordable food. This time, I upped the ante by making reservations at Petrus, one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, the chef of which helped Ramsay's signature restaurant in London earn its third Michelin star. The thing is, I looked at the menu, and it looked divine. I checked out the reviews, and they were stellar. I decided this was the place for my Fancy Pants meal.

Now, I've been to some nice restaurants in my time. Not dozens, but a few here and there. Places along the lines of Obelisk (in D.C.) and La Mer (at the Ritz in Doha), and I've had the champagne tea in Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley here in London. At any of those places, I've felt comfortable enough to enjoy myself and the food I ate. They were all special occasion places, and I always felt like there were a good number of other people in the restaurant who were there as a "treat" of sorts.

My friends, yesterday at Petrus I felt like I might as well have been wearing a neon sign that blinked IMPOSTER. I dressed "smart," as the dress code instructed, in a nice shirt, knee-length skirt, black tights, and black dress boots. It wasn't like anyone stared at me or laughed and pointed, while yelling, "Look at the poor girl who can only pretend she has the money to eat here on a regular basis!" The service was impeccable, a highly orchestrated rhythm of suited men and women quietly, almost motionlessly, pouring, serving, taking away, etc. I never once had to ask for anything--even the bathroom. I simply stood up after my meal, and the lady walked me to the toilet as if she'd been reading my mind.

Located (price-wise) between the lunch menu du jour and the chef's menu, I had the 3-course a'la carte, preceded by an aperitif and accompanied by the best white wine I've ever tasted. Was the food good? Of was pretty amazing. The meal was accompanied by several amous-bouches, which were almost tastier than the main fare I'd ordered: fois gras, pork belly, hazelnut parfait (each with a bunch of fancy stuff inside, outside, or next to it). How can one go wrong with all this?

Well, I was surrounded by these people who were chatting about the economy in Greece and Ireland, or the price of real estate in central London, or something else of this sort. I sat there, feeling not only guilty at the fact that I was spending so much money on my meal, but also on the fact that I was there to begin with. Anyone who's been to grad school likely knows this feeling. It's called Imposter's the feeling that one is an imposter and that, at any moment, one will be called forth and mocked for pretending to be something one is not (smart enough to have a PhD, rich enough to afford a meal at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant, etc.). The problem is that I don't know if I'll ever shake this feeling because I know where I've come from: a tiny town in the middle of small state that nobody pays any attention to, a family that never had much money, and schools that aren't ranked in any prestigious college listings. I still love a chili-cheese coney with onions from Sonic as much as I love a Fancy Pants meal, and the people who eat at Fancy Pants restaurants wouldn't even know what Sonic is.

What's the point of all this, you ask? Well, I guess it is to say that I learned a lesson yesterday. I learned that if I'm so uncomfortable in my own skin to eat with pleasure, then I'm somewhere I don't belong...maybe somewhere I don't want to be.


Anonymous said...

LLLOOOLLLL! I first heard of the Imposter Syndrome when I was working on my MA in National Security Affairs, the only woman, the only wife, among a class full of high-testosterone military types. I didn't know the vocabulary, and I had to practice responding, hoping my voice wouldn't quaver.

A fellow student approached me at a break and handed me the article. I was so embarrassed; I had been using a little aloofness as my defense and barrier, but he had seen right through it.

Long story short, his good humored confrontation steadied me, and having a compassionate ally in my classes encouraged me. Also, ace-ing all the exams and graduating first in the class was a HUGE boost. :-)

I am guessing you looked a lot more composed on the outside than you felt on the inside. And, if not - who cares. You had an awesome experience. :-)

You belong. You belong. All those little slights, imagined or real, don't matter. Being at home in your own skin is something you are in the process of growing into. Process. Process.

Lisa Dunick said...

Never let overblown eurosnobs keep you from unbelievable food. That, I think, is the first rule of Happiness.