Some of you may remember that over the summer I helped my friends out at the Texas café by filling in until the new managers arrived. I still go back often for dinner or to visit the staff and see how things are going. The new mangers are great. They have really turned the place around in a very short amount of time. Between movie night, English corners, deals on food, and a great atmosphere they are packing in the customers. But all of this has not come without a fair amount of struggle.
The restaurant’s dishwasher left suddenly and they asked the cooks to fill in for a while. They did for a few weeks, but demanded more pay for the extra work. The new management agreed because they needed the help, but in all actuality they were not even asking the chef to put in over time, but to use the hours when no one was coming in or when the restaurant was unbusy, to get their hands wet and do something instead of just sitting there. To us it seems like a natural request, if you are an employee at a business and your boss says, “Don’t just sit there, wash the dishes”.
In asking for this simple task to be complete, the new mangers were making a huge cultural faux pah . In Uyghur culture men DO NOT wash dishes… no way, no how. Growing up, it is his mother’s job to cook and wash the dishes for him. After a man gets married it becomes his wife’s job. In fact the worst position to be in the Uyghur family is the youngest son’s wife.
Traditionally as each son gets married he brings his bride back to the family home. This young newlywed girl is ushered right into the kitchen to start her work of serving the family. Her days are filled with washing, cooking and cleaning for her husband’s family, almost like a slave. She only gets a promotion from the kitchen when the next oldest brother gets married.
With this cultural back ground, let’s return to the café. The cooks filled in where needed for few weeks, but quickly put up a fuss that they would no longer do women’s work. Even when offered more pay they refused to get their hands wet. They stubbornly clung to the traditional mindset. One of them actually claimed that his mother forbid him from washing the dishes at work. Some of these men are engaged and need more money for their wedding, but refused to do the work that could help to line their pockets even a little. When my friend’s husband, the manger from the States, rolled up his sleeves and started to try to set an example of being willing to do whatever was needed, the employees sat around doing nothing but watching and laughing at his softness.