Friday, August 12, 2016

Rhys has a little Rant!

RHYS BOWEN: Okay sorry but this is going to be a minor rant.

I’ve just returned from a few book events around the country and something annoying happened to me on a regular basis: an agent at the airport or rental car center or hotel would look at me, then the man standing ahead or behind me and ask, “Are you together?”  When I go into an upscale restaurant I’ve been asked, “Are you waiting for someone?”  As if shocked that a woman of a certain age should dare to eat alone.

I bet.a man standing in line has NEVER been asked “are you together” indicating a lady standing behind him. I was once standing in line for a rental car. Although an agent appeared to be free I was not called forward. Eventually I asked if the agent wasn't free. "Oh, I thought you'd be with that gentleman," he replied. It never crossed his mind that I was alone, and was going to have the audacity to take a car out, by myself.

(And in case you think I look like a little old lady when I travel, here are some recent pix. With me in the fur coat is Robin Burcell)

As I’ve been watching the election and the Olympics and being bombarded with sexual stereotyping (Hilary raises her voice and she’s screeching. A male raises his voice and he’s being assertive). Female athletes have their appearance commented on all the time.. Do you ever hear the commentator say of a male volleyball player,  “He’s looking hunky today?” And what about the one athlete whose headline read “Wife of Chicago Bulls Player wins gold.” Never mentioning her name or her sport.

Well, I’ve decided not to take it any more. Each time I was asked if I was with someone I’ve replied, “ Is it now against the law for a woman over fifty to travel alone?”
And when they ask in that restaurant if I’m waiting for someone I reply, “Only if I get lucky” 

And I’ve found a way to make sure I get good service after that. I never take the first table I am offered, especially if it’s near the rear or the kitchen. I say “I prefer to sit over here, thank you” and walk over to the nicest table. And as soon as I sit I say “I’m on business and I don’t have long. Please send over the somelier with your wine list” and I order something unpronounceable (or at least something that I can pronounce and most people can’t). Then the word goes out that I might be difficult and the service is excellent!

So let’s take a stand, dear Reds of a certain age. Let them know that just because we are older women we do not sit at home crocheting, or go out playing bingo. And we don’t need a man to travel with!

Do share your stories! Have you experienced the same kind of put downs?
At least we writers have one secret weapon. When someone particularly annoys me I take a good look at them and think, "Careful or you'll wind up dead in my next book!"


  1. “Careful or you’ll wind up dead in my next book” is one terrific line!

    How sad, Rhys, that you’ve encountered so many of these thoughtless, uncalled-for comments.
    I’ve noticed the same inequity in descriptions of Olympic athletes . . . how about the commentator who said, “She swims like a man”? It’s really quite shameful that the commentators can’t treat the athletes with the respect they deserve.
    I can’t say I’ve ever experienced such a put-down myself, but then I haven’t done much traveling lately . . . .

  2. Shortly after my ex-husband and I separated, the car that I ended up with died. I was making a good salary at an up-and-coming computer firm, so I went car shopping. At one dealership, I asked to drive one of the cars and the salesman asked where my husband was. When I said that it was just me, that I was alone, he snorted and walked off, refusing to wait on me. I had to find another salesman to help me. I've had other men, particularly short men, belittle me and whatever I was saying. On two occasions, this happened in the midst of group meetings of mostly men, and in each case, the man conducting the meeting actually threw the offender out of the meeting and made him give me a formal apology in front of everyone else. That helped, some.

  3. Oh, Rhys, they had no idea they were dealing with a force of nature! Rock on.

    I've traveled more on my own than accompanied since my college days. It's been an evolution.

  4. Rhys, I hear you. I have travelled alone both for work and alone for more than 35 years, and I agree that single woman are treated differently at restaurants, stores and other locations. But my experience been quite varied, depending on location (city). So it's been hit & miss for me.

  5. Boy, did you hit a hot button for me. I traveled alone for work and was always treated like a second class citizen or overlooked at car rentals and restaurants and it drove me crazy. I was there on business with a hefty travel allowance and was always a good tipper so I couldn't figure it out. I finally found it so exhausting to eat in restaurants having to constantly demand attention (Please, can I have some bread?)that I settled for room service.

  6. I hear you, Rhys! I've been known to let it be heard that I can and will take my business elsewhere when treated like a lesser human being. And have done so. On the other hand, fortunately, I've also encountered plenty of respect and courtesy.

  7. Yes! Go Rhys! The Olympic coverage has been shameful in its treatment of women.

    You should try dealing with NYC taxi drivers!

  8. they were definitely messing with the wrong woman, whether of a certain age or not!

  9. Fabulous! And it is not OK to call me honey or dear. And "young lady" is not cute or acceptable. Xxxx. Love you Rhys!

  10. OK, here two male commentators debate whether female Olympic athletes should wear makeup:

  11. This happens to me all of the time. I'm divorced and 36 and so therefore I MUST be waiting for someone. I couldn't possibly enjoy going out for a good glass of wine or a bourbon by myself. I certainly would never want to travel to a fantastic city like Florence without a companion. Grrrrr.

  12. Well said! I'm traveling right now and carrying your thoughts with me...

  13. OOh, I'm steamed on your behalf, Rhys. You, of all people, one of the best-traveled women I've ever known. Love the unpronounceable wine idea!

    One of my biggest pet peeves along this line--among many, I'm afraid--is the restaurant check. Unless you make it crystal clear at the beginning of the meal that each woman in the group needs her own, servers automatically assume it's okay to put everyone on one check. They never, ever make this assumption with men, who don't then have to struggle with who pays what. Even at the hotel in Bethesda at Malice, where there are far more women writers there than male ones, they automatically pile everyone onto the same bill. It's so irritating!

  14. Give 'em hell Rhys!

    My personal peeve is when someone asks me if Julie (ok, so she's my trophy wife), is my daughter.

    My answer?

    "No, this is my son, and I'm soooo worried about him."

    That leaves them gaping and stammering.

    Not since I traveled for business have I eaten alone, at least not in the sort of restaurant that doesn't have a counter and stools. Still, two women -- or mother and son -- can also get short shrift. I refuse to sit by the kitchen, and I can usually whinge my way to a decent table.

    However, this has never happened to me in France. Perhaps its because the cafes are tiny and one table is much like the other. Interesting this, as tipping isn't done, so they aren't being nice in hopes of 20%.

  15. Oh Hank! Being called dear or young lady is a red flag for me too! When we lived in Texas we had to entertain a lot. When a couple I had never met arrived the husband turned to John and said "And is this the little lady?"
    I looked at his wife and said sweetly "Is this your little man?"

  16. You got it right, Rhys!

    All my working life I've been the lone female top-tier executive in male dominated industries so I encounter this sort of thing on a daily basis. I learned to be assertive in my 30s, but I still walk into meetings and get asked if my boss is coming. Apparently my name isn't gender-specific.

    Still, it isn't as bad as it once was. When I got my first American Express card at 23 and later called for service, I found out they had me down as male in their records and the rep asked if he could talk to my husband. I had one but told him no--I was working, paying my bills and the card wasn't any of my husband's business.

    And I agree, Hank--don't call me "honey," "darlin," or "sweetheart"!!

  17. Rhys, I get where you're coming from. Though I'd like to point out that not all of your readers on this blog are women, and that this situation doesn't only happen to women over 50 traveling solo.

    I travel all over the place by myself and often treat myself to nice restaurants. It's much more common than not to be asked if I'm "dining alone," "will someone be joining you?," "a table for how many?," "are you together," and so on. This happens at movie theaters, restaurants, making purchases in stores, etc.

    I think a lot of folks are unaccustomed to people having fun by themselves out in the world. Sure, some of their attitudes are gendered, but I testify that it happens to men going solo as well!

    BTW, love your Constable Evans novels.


  19. This reminds me of two things. I'm still reeling over coming across my great-grandmother's obituary. She died around 1940 -50. The entire thing does not contain her first name. Title: Mrs. George Sullivan. Even the names of all of her surviving daughters are Mrs. [Husband's name]. We've come a long way, but clearly have further to go.

    I travel alone, but generally end up with colleagues when I get where I'm going, so I rarely eat out alone except in airports, and it is expected. I love business trips and don't get enough of them (I never vacation, so business trips are my out.) I once saw an ad for Hagen Daz of a woman sitting alone on the bed in a hotel room wearing a plush terry robe and eating Hagen Daz out of the container. The caption read "Thank heavens for business trips." That's how I feel, but maybe you don't.

  20. I haven't traveled much lately, but I used to travel all the time, and almost always alone-- and I don't remember having problems like this. Of course, I was younger and probably dressed in business attire (now, since they treat us like we're traveling steerage, I dress for it). I'm usually very sensitive to such slights, but I can't remember the last time I experienced one in person. (Maybe having your credit card in hand helps mark you as the responsible person at a counter?)
    However, on the phone, disrespect is a regular occurrence. I hate it when someone who is about half a century younger than I am starts calling me-- repeatedly-- by my first name (a name I happen to dislike). I very often tell them that I am old enough to be their grandmother, and would appreciate the respect of their using my last name and my title, unless I give them permission to use my first name, which I haven't done. It usually works.

  21. My hair grayed at an extraordinarily young age, so by the time I hit my early 50's I had been coloring it a long time. I decided I was through, and let it grow into its natural white. That has been an eye-opening experience. I readily admit, it was like I aged 10 years in 6 weeks, which makes it feel like a pretty controlled experiment. On the one hand, I find people are kinder to me now -- more likely to smile at me or engage in random conversation without any sense of fear. But on the other hand, I definitely do experience the slights Rhys mentions and more. I know the "invisibility" of women a certain age is a well known phenomenon, but WOW does it sting when it happens to you! Service people sometimes seem to look RIGHT THROUGH me as they move to help a younger customer.

  22. I was right there with you until the comment old ladies sitting at home crocheting. I traveled quite a bit for business, stayed in some great hotels and sashayed alone into some fine restaurants. I always expected to be treated fine and mostly I was. If I wasn't, I made sure somebody knew about it. Now that I'm retired, however, I quite enjoy staying home knitting from time to time. I've earned the right to spend my time however I want, and I do. Stereotypical comments come in all shapes and sizes.

  23. Diane Hale here. For some reason, I've rarely had any problems with most of the issues discussed. Only one experience left me highly incensed. It was when my then-husband and I were closing on a house back in the late 70's. Due to my veteran status I'd applied for a VA loan. When we sat down the closing agent looked at my spouse and asked him when he'd served. I sat straight up and said, "I am the veteran. He (I pointed to my spouse) never served." My tone of voice and expression (I've been told many times I have "that look" when I'm angry) had him immediately apologizing and nearly fawning. After dealing with the mountain of paperwork, I complained to the manager. Yes, it was a time when it was assumed only men served during the Viet Nam war era. To be honest, I was more angered by my veteran status being "overlooked" than the implicit gender bias.

  24. They call these microagressions, but they sure add up. The Olympics have been terrible, just terrible.

  25. Agreed, the Olympic coverage has been disgraceful. You'd think we were back in the days when doctors thought women couldn't compete in sports because it might excite their wombs.

    I haven't experienced too much of the "are you with someone" effect when traveling, although I, too, am now an invisible woman of fifty-five. The women I see getting it are my two lovely daughters, who have strangers telling them to smile, remarking on their appearance, or, in the Smithie's case, getting hit on in bars even when she explains she's with her girlfriend!

  26. Oh, the Olympics has me disgruntled, too, Rhys, with its condescension toward women. The Wife of Chicago Bears blunder was just too much. I read with glee this morning that Simone Biles told reporters "I'm not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I'm the first Simone Biles." Good for her! Don't go comparing her to two top male athletes. She's her own top athlete.

    Five years ago, when my husband and I went car shopping for me and I picked out a vehicle, I didn't realize until it was too late that the car salesman put it in my husband's name, my name nowhere in sight. I was fuming at that. So, when I recently bought another car for me, I made darn sure my name was on it. I mean the cars were obviously for me, but the salesmen thought they needed to go in his name? Grrrr!

    I often go out to eat by myself, but I usually go to my favorite little restaurant and they know me, so I don't usually get asked if it's just me. But, I have had this happen other places, and it is irritating. I'd like to be a fly on the wall and see how many men are asked that compared to women, although the number of men would probably be zero.

    Like you, Rhys, when I travel by myself, I'm pretty much upfront about expecting to be treated well, and I don't always accept the first table selection either. I love your ploy of choosing the unpronounceable wine, although I probably couldn't pronounce it either. I will say that I try to dress nicely when checking into a hotel, as I really think if I showed up in sweats, I'd get the room by the ice machine with the wonky air conditioner. Now, my adult thirty-two-year-old beautiful slim daughter could wear sweats and get a suite upgrade. Yes, age discrimination along with being a woman.

  27. Riftng on Susan's comment, my husband and I were in an electronics store. Husband (an electronic engineer) often loses himself when he goes in these places. He found me back in the audio area and asked if I had snagged a salesperson. I'd had about three walk every way but through me and had had enough so I announced in a voice that could be heard in the back row of the theater, "No, they obviously don't wait on women here." There was a stampede. I chuckled, and I'm sure the "B" word was floating in the air.

  28. David, that's so interesting! And very revealing. Thank you!

  29. Kait, I hear you, on the electronics store! For a long, long time I was the only one in the entire family who could even turn on the computer without a manual handy, and everyone called me for help. But when I went shopping for a new system (about every ten months for awhile), invariably the young male clerk would mansplain stuff (usually incorrectly) to me.

    The one place I have had a different experience was at the Verizon store. Half the time the salesperson is a woman, and usually they are all helpful.

  30. I grew up around cars. Dad had a restaurant/service station when I was a kid. I could change a flat tire at 14, change the oil and check other fluids at 15. I hate it when I take the car in for service and they assume I don't know what I'm talking about. Hey, if I were younger, I'd fix it myself.

    I'm also handy and have my own tool box. Hey, idiot service people I know what tools are which and what you use them for. Don't treat me as if I'm stupid.

    1. My dad was a master mechanic and we all had to learn the basics. My dr. Ed teacher also expected that. We had to know how to change a tire and check the fluids and belts before we could get behind the wheel. And it was a stick. My ex knew nothing about cars. They would always start talking to him. The looks on their faces when I'd explain what they meant to the ex. Of course, learning this happened in the 60s-70s so both men were thought to be very unusual.

  31. Kathy, the story of your car-buying experience makes me cringe but I have to say I had the best car-buying experiences with the Saturn folks. When I got my first Saturn, John and I went to the dealership [in California] and the salesman asked John what model he would like to see. John [bless his heart] said, “This is my wife’s car,” and the salesman immediately turned to me to find out what I wanted. He explained everything about the car to me [even though I didn’t understand all of what he was talking about] and pretty much ignored John while we looked at several models. He never once talked down to me or made fun of what I did [or didn’t] know about cars, never acted as if my questions were silly or stupid. It was amazing.
    Years later, when we'd moved to Alabama, I traded my Saturn in for a newer model . . . and was treated in exactly the same way.

  32. I just bought a used car earlier this week but began the loan process on Saturday. My husband wasn't with me when I went to look at the cars. When I was approached by the salesman, the first thing he asked was, "Where is your husband?" I said, he is home. I wanted to say, "where is your wife" but I didn't.. Not going to sink to their level. Then it came time to finance the car and this time, I brought my husband to see the car, though he never drove it. They started taking down information for the loan and looked directly at him and asked him where he worked. I said, "Why does that matter? I am the one buying the car." Whoa.. So the car will just be in your name? YES!! This is 2016.. Oh my..

  33. I get the "Just one?" question all the time when I dine out. I'm too chicken to invent an imaginary friend, act huffy, and say, "No, it's the two of us." (But I wish I was that bold.) I once had an airport security guard tell me how sad it was that I was traveling to Italy alone--not realizing I'd been looking forward to getting away from people for months leading up to the trip. As far as commenting on female athletes' looks but not males, I do have to point out that shirtless Tongan flag bearer...

  34. Rhys,

    I am steamed on your behalf. That was rude of them to do that to you. Hope you talked to the manager (s) or wrote letters to the company (ies) about this! That is discrimination. In my experience, that is really bad manners and/or poor training. A long time ago, a friend, in a wheelchair, and I went to a restaurant where we had to enter through the kitchen since they did not have a ramp. And they sued the restaurant under Americans with Disabilities Act. And they won the lawsuit. Do they really think that women do not drive? Loved the comment about wine :-)

    Wonder why the Car rental person thought the man was with you? Was he standing very close to you? (I never let strangers stand that close to me when I travel.)

    Trying to think of anything like this happening to me. Since I live in California, this is so rare in my experience. And I often travel by myself. I was at Malice in Betheseda (sp?) too. Which restaurant did this happen at? One of the commenters mentioned Malice.

    Regarding the Olympics, I have not really been watching as much as I watched the 2012 London Olympics. I was surprised by the comments about women athletes. In the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, the headline on page B7 said "Her fast swim into history."


    About NY taxicab drivers, I am really sorry to ask you this. At the risk of sounding bad, were these taxicab drivers from countries where women are treated as second class citizens?

    Great comments, everyone! The comments about how women are treated made me wonder. Does it make any difference where you are? Or at a certain time in history like the 1950s compared to 2016?

    Several people commented about buying cars. I was lucky. We bought a car from a lady and she was great! And her boss was a woman too! Most of the car salespeople there were women, now that I think about it.

    Have a great weekend, everyone!


  35. I'm making a mental note of those comments, Rhys.

    I've always had bank accounts in my own name. Using my first communion gift money, I opened my first savings account when I was seven.

  36. My pet peeve is being called 'Miss' at age 61

  37. It helps if you play the part of a lone, capable, confidant woman.