Our new series, Truth in Travel will share the not so pretty side of travel. We will be sharing stories that need to be shared in order to increase awareness and to make the world and the travel world a more inclusive place for all. Sharing the truth is now more important than ever in order to see the changes we all want to see.
It was in October 2016, I accompanied my husband to Vienna in Austria while he was there for business. He was at a conference for three working days, in which I was so thrilled to explore the beauty of Vienna without any time restrictions or a partner with conflicting plans! We had moved from San Francisco ten months prior to this conference, so we were eager to travel to every city we could. Europe wasn’t unfamiliar to me, as I was born and raised in Scotland before moving Stateside. But I also wasn’t fully aware of the mentality in some places in Europe.
Prior to my trip, I spent countless hours pinning posts, reading blogs, and researching cool photography spots. There seemed to be so many things I knew I would love from the Hundertwasserhaus to the Vienesse Sachertorte and was so excited to be going.
It was the 12th of October, a chilly Wednesday morning. I packed my camera, put on wooly socks and lots of layers, and set out to explore the city by myself. All those exciting feelings of when you’re in a foreign land, hearing a foreign language, were kicking in. It didn’t take long for the buildings and architecture to captivate me, the imperial traditions to enthrall me, and the old coffee houses fascinate me. After climbing 50 meters high in St Stephan’s Cathedral, I was hungry and knew exactly what I wanted – chicken schnitzel! I had marked a place I would have lunch at for the three days my husband was going to be at the conference and there was no doubt in my mind which would be first – Cafe Diglas.
Cafe Diglas is a classic Vienesse coffee house serving traditional Vienesse food. Besides the food offering, there was another reason I really wanted to have lunch there. I once saw a photo of a woman on a rainy day, dining there sitting by the window looking out. Raindrops speckled her face and from above shone an angelic yellow glow from a light fixing, where the lampshade was dressed in a tutu skirt. After doing some more research, I learned that all the lampshades by the window booths were tutus and this got me really excited – the little things. Famished, I reached there past lunchtime rush hour where many people were vacating tables. It took a while before anyone noticed me, and being new to a city, I was still figuring out how the dining situation worked – do I wait to be seated or grab a table. A couple of elder women walked in five minutes after me and were seated immediately. That prompted me to seek the attention of the staff and asked for a table for one, hoping they would place me under one of those dusty pink tutu skirts. The server told me to follow him. I walked in past the bustling bar area, hearing the clinking of glasses, the murmur of chatter. I passed people putting on their scarves and coats, thanking the staff for their service, saying goodbye upon exiting, embarking from their empty tables. I next passed the window seats with the tutus I so longed to sit under, questioning myself why I couldn’t have sat there. The server guiding me to my table was fast so I couldn’t reach him to ask. So I kept following, walking now in a part of the restaurant that didn’t even seem like the restaurant, up a dark corridor, where the sound of the faint classical music was replaced with the clanging sounds of pots and pans. Soon after, the server introduced me to my table – an isolated table in a peculiar spot next to the opening of the kitchen. There were no windows, no natural light, and no other customers. I was puzzled and afraid to ask why I was seated there when there were plenty of vacant tables. But I plucked up the courage to ask why I couldn’t sit in the main restaurant to which I was told there were no available tables if I don’t have a reservation. I swallowed hard and had a knot in my stomach. I was soon given a menu and the waiter walked away.
I should have got up and left. I should have stood up for myself and demanded one of the vacant tables. I should have questioned why I was seated where nobody could see that there was a brown woman eating chicken schnitzel. But I didn’t. Was it my British politeness that didn’t want to cause any bother? Was it because I didn’t want to spoil the rest of my day after spending so many great hours in the city? Was it because I didn’t want to accept that I had been discriminated against by the color of my skin?
My heart sank. I felt like I had been punched in my stomach. My throat was dry. But I refused to show the waiter I was troubled by his ill-treatment and immersed myself into my phone, acting busy and unphased, but really typing about my experience in my iPhone notes. I ate my chicken schnitzel, paid the check, even left a tip in case I was treated even worse, and left, saying bye to the staff with a broken heart and wet eyes.
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