Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Ethnic atmosphere

I wondered about this recently, and Zandria, at Keep Up With Me, happened to just mention it in a blog post. She’s talking about why she particularly likes a bar in her neighbourhood, a place called O’Connell’s, and she says this:

The bartenders. It’s an Irish bar, so all of the bartenders are Irish (I guess it must be a pre-requisite to get hired there). They’re nice, and they have cool accents. It’s nice to go to a place often enough [...]
The context in which I was thinking about it was for sushi bars, where people expect to see Japanese chefs and Japanese waitresses. And that’s what one sees; I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience otherwise.

Now, surely it would be illegal for a business to hire only from one ethnic group. I suppose lots of Americans could pass for Irish, if they had to, with a bit of dialect coaching. It might not be a valid condition of employment to be Irish, but being able to sound Irish certainly could be. Think of it as an acting job.

But could it be a valid condition of employment to look Japanese? Would customers expecting a Japanese man behind the sushi bar or at the hibachi table be put off by, say, a tall blonde woman who looked more Swedish than Asian? Would a Chinese man be close enough? And could the restaurant be sued for turning an applicant down for this reason?

There certainly are exceptions for this sort of thing in acting jobs. If a Broadway role requires a slim, young, light-skinned man, the producers certainly are allowed to reject someone too fat, too old, too dark, or too female. A hibachi chef can arguably be called an actor. A sushi chef or a waitress or a bartender, not so much.

Why, then, do I never see variations? Is it that non-Japanese don’t apply for the jobs? Is it that Japanese restaurants (or Irish bars, or whatever) are unlawfully discriminating, and getting away with it? Or am I wrong: is it really completely legal to filter these sorts of job applicants this way?


Thomas J. Brown said...

I've wondered the same thing, actually. I also wondered if a guy would be able to get a job at somewhere like Victoria's Secret. Do men not apply because they're embarrassed to be selling women's underpants? Is Victoria's Secret allowed to deny men employment because the job requires physical interaction with women? Or because it could potentially make the customers uncomfortable? If a man was turned down and sued, would he have a chance of winning? Not that I want to work there; my mind was just wandering one day.

Also, I have seen non-ethnic people working at ethnic restaurants (I live in Spokane, WA, after all), and it is jarring. At my favorite sushi restaurant, I once had a tall blond with an accent I couldn't place serve me. It was weird.

lidija said...

Actually I've been to "sushi" and "hibachi" places clearly run by Koreans or Chinese. Nobody seemed to object. That's because they all look same to us, right? Right.
(Actually I've had far east Asians confess we all look same to them).