I woke up late this morning. Having showered, I sat down to read, when I realized that I had very carelessly over-looked a crucial part of my morning routine. I had forgotten to eat breakfast. Today felt like a fried eggs kind of day. So, I left my laptop—which remains permanent affixed to the end of the kitchen table closest to the windows, just to the front and right of my slowly waking Japanese bloodgood maple—to assemble all the tools necessary to cook eggs. Naturally, I started for the frying pan. I looked for it in the obvious places: first the sink. No, it wasn’t there. Nor was it on the stove, or the cubby just above and behind the stove. Nor was it in any of the cabinets that it has been known to haunt. No, the frying pan just wasn’t around. Desperate, I called to my sister.
“Janice, do you know where the frying pan is?” I asked.
Her response was muffled, as she mumbles. Our misunderstanding was compounded by the closed door to her room, and neither of us was about to exert the energy required to open it. Minutes later we eventually came to an understanding. Sometime in the past three days my father had snuck into the apartment and thrown out the frying pan because it was scratched. Funny, the pan had been scratched for years, yet we kept it anyway. Yet today no earthly force was going to keep me from my eggs. So I resolved to brave the stores alone, despite however frenzied and therefore frightening an after-Thanksgiving mall might be.
On the drive over, I realized that I know nothing about what makes a quality frying pan. I planned to go to Williams-Sonoma, milk the clerks of their cooking ware savvy, and shuffle off to Macy’s, which, in my experience, has sold the same products at slightly lower prices.
I dodged the greeter and her catalogues at the main entrance and proceeded directly to the stainless steel pans without making direct eye contact with anyone. It took them almost no time to spot me. For one thing, the store is small. The pans are somewhat occluded from the rest of the store by a large shelf of expensive gadgets, and the closed space made me feel somewhat more comfortable. But my sustained pacing was anything but deliberate. From time to time I grabbed for a handle, though my grasp was tentative, as though personal touch finalized the purchase.
A kind lady guided me through the store’s offerings. She was shocked that I was willing to shell out more than one hundred dollars for a single pan, and, so, started me in cast iron. By the end of it, we had ventured into copper. I told her that I didn’t need that level of precision in my cooking heat distribution. We decided to stay away from non-stick surfaces. Really, I only had to decide on the exterior color. I explained that I was going to check out some other stores before I decided.
Frying pans, and similar purchases, stress me out. I’m intimidated by the permanence of my decision. Additionally, a hundred bucks is a lot of money for a part-time freelance writer and full-time education graduate student to throw down on a kitchen gadget. (I will not draw attention to the sweater I bought at JCrew to calm myself down immediately afterwards.)
According to plan, I walked out of Williams-Sonoma and into the home wares section of the Macy’s nearby. I located the same pan for the same price and promptly marched back to the friendlier store. This time I was unable to avoid the greeter, who recognized me as the boy who was looking at pans earlier. She sent someone “right over” to help me out. This time a very, perhaps too knowledgeable man helped in my assistance. His tactic: ask another bout of quick though endless barrage of high-stakes questions in order to divide-and-conquer.
He started out, “What do you expect primarily to cook in this pan?”
What? I had no idea that the typical customer base had such use-specific needs. I floundered a bit. Somehow I managed what I thought was a reasonable response.
“Omelettes,” I muttered. My helper wasn’t satisfied by my answer. He asked for clarification.
“Oh, like frittatas?”
Actually, I had large, four-egg omelettes in mind but I suppose—wait a minute. What? He just assumed I even know what a frittata is, let alone make them myself. Had it been three weeks ago, his question would have stumped me. But after a somewhat lengthy discussion with Arthur the dining hall manager and friend Karthik about the nature and classification of frittatas, I was equipped with the requisite knowledge to shop at Williams-Sonoma. Still, I sacrificed accuracy in the name of expedience and agreed, yes, that I would mostly cook frittatas in my hypothetical frying pan.
But this raises a very important point. The depths of stereotyping reach even further than I usually think. My friend Danielle lists as this quote under the heading Favorite Music on a popular online community [I hope she doesn’t mind my posting it here]:
From your glasses, I can tell you listen to that kind of music.
But stereotypes go beyond anticipated action or appearance. They can steal deep into the knowledge we assume people have. Even Danielle’s description assumes a certain knowledge base—in this case, of genre of music—but do I look like the type of person who knows what a frittata is? I’m not sure what I mean when I say I’m not. Because I’m long-winded, let’s look at a more clear-cut example, just for excessively pedagogical purposes.
Let’s say, just for instance, that we’re in immediately post-Nazi Germany—because Nazis engender a universal disgust in people, or at least people feign universal disgust because to do otherwise is socially irresponsible, and because talking about things Guantamino might make some people uneasy; either way—and that I was a grand master Nazi torturer. It’s after the war, and now I own a candy store. You, a friendly tourist and likely patron, enter my store and we strike up a conversation. Straight away, I ask you what you think of the bootikens as a torture device. Now, most people will not know what the bootikens is. [I don’t even know what it is. You can look it up yourself if you feel so inclined.] But how do you feel that I presumed you a)know what a bootikens is, b) are comfortable enough with your knowledge to discuss it in public with a stranger, and c) have an opinion of its efficacy in torture?
That’s right, I called you someone who is knowledgeable of technical torture devices; i.e., I called you a torturer. How implicit of me!
The pan, by the way, is wonderful. It conducts and retains heat very well. Be careful to use it only on a low to medium heat. And be especially careful when washing it.
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