I’ve hesitated to post this one, because I’m unsure how I feel about it. I wrote this three weeks ago.
Lunch is a quick affair in a big cafeteria a maze of hallways away. (It’s also company subsidized and cheap.)
On my first day, the lunch bell chimes over the intercom at 11:45. Unlike at the morning bell, when everyone stood up exactly when the group director did, people get up individually or in clumps, but still pretty quickly. Yumi turns off the room lights, and we all troop to the cafeteria. I go with the women, as they seem to have taken me under their wings. We get our trays, line up for food, find a spot on the long rows of tables. Just the women.
Our men all sit close to us, but not close enough to overhear. The women talk about what happened at the big meeting in the morning, who yelled at who, whose presentation was too short, who is now sitting alone on an “island” of four desks, because others have moved up the ranks. I understand about 60%, though this ratio goes up when I was there for the event being talked about. I have no idea what to say. It feels like high school. Maybe it’s a way for women to get out frustrations that otherwise have no outlet.
It is particularly weird to see my American coworkers, who I would have sat next to in the U.S., be off segregated with the men, while I’m with the women. They don’t even look at me. They can’t, bad form.
I ask if the genders always sit separately at lunch. Yes, absolutely, they say. The pace of eating is different, they say. (As if on cue, the men, who sat down later than us, get up en masse and leave, while we linger—a 30-minute rather than 20-minute lunch.) Also, they say, they don’t like the men to hear them talk, they wouldn’t feel comfortable, the words would get stuck in their throats. One grabs her throat at its base to demonstrate.
When everyone is done, a little nod goes around, and we get up. We pay, and stand in line to rinse our dishes in the river of dish water, put up our trays and scatter. I’m left alone and get completely lost on the way back. I finally give up and go downstairs till I find an exit. It’s warm outside and white cherry blossom petals blow over me. I breathe again. I think about my previous group here, where there wasn’t this gender issue at lunch, because there simply weren’t any women.
I walk all the way around the building to the front entrance and start over.
Three weeks later, I’m completely indoctrinated. One day last week, I was first to the cafeteria, and I sat with the men. The women joined me, but clearly reluctantly, with Looks at each other. I won’t do that again. And now I love my group of women, and I don’t even notice where the men sit at lunch. I get plenty of the men during work and at dinners. Wow.