I don’t believe that

“Oh come on, that didn’t really happen.”

“Uh yeah it did.”

“Well, I don’t believe that.”

I was telling a story the other day, coming off my experience at the local petrol station last week.

A few years ago, I was in Amsterdam, embarking on a classic post school, European adventure. It was my first time galavanting the globe and was having an amazing time.

My girlfriend and I – after a wonderful day exploring Holland – met up with two of her friends for dinner in the heart of Amsterdam. We settled on this quaint Italian joint and wandered in hungry, ready for a warm meal and happy to get out of the cold.

The restaurant was empty, the smell of homemade pizza dough and pasta hanging in the air – the waiter ushered us to a table at the very back of the room. Without uttering a word or greeting, the waiter dropped the menus on our table and bustled off.

Now before I left for Europe, a few family friends urged a sense of caution when travelling Europe – but not for the normal stuff like pick pocketers or beggars hustling for cash:

“Watch out for where you get seated in restaurants.
“If you get seated next to the toilet when there are plenty of other seats in the room, it means they don’t want you there.”

Within the Asian community, apparently there is a red flag when travelling that if you get seated next to the toilet in an empty restaurant, you’re in for some terrible treatment.

“I don’t believe that – that couldn’t happen in today’s world.”

But as we got ushered to the very back of the restaurant, I noticed the smell of warm dough begin to give way to the universal smell of the beautiful men’s room.

“Just a coincidence,” I thought to myself.

Then as other people walked in, they got lovely seats next to the window, beneath the hallowed ambience of the low hanging lights or near the open concept kitchen. No was near us.

“Maybe they booked and chose their seats in advance,” I reassured myself.

Then I asked for water – which granted was delivered to me – but with some strange glob in it, which I guess I can’t prove was spit but I’m fairly certain was not meant to be in a glass of water.

“Maybe something dropped in it,” I convinced myself.

Then the two waiters and the manager spent the next 45mins – standing out of sight to my girlfriend and her friends – mouthing ‘get out’ and pointing at their watches.

“Fuck,” I mumbled to myself.
Longest 45mins of my life.

I held my breath for another 10mins before it got too much, tapped my girl on her shoulder and bumbled straight for the door.

“Oh come on, that didn’t really happen.”

“Uh yeah it did.”

“Well, I don’t believe that.
“Maybe they were just rude, it probably had nothing to do with you being Asian.”

I couldn’t help but gawk.

“Well I guess, but there’s a difference in being rude, and being racist.”

And that, is the first time in this entire piece that I have thrown that accusation around – that during that night, was the first time I had experienced racism like that. But here, was someone – listening to this story – and assuming that it didn’t happen the way it did.

I understand the skepticism, I do.
I’m sure the race card is played when it shouldn’t be, abused even.
But I also now know – that people dismiss the role of race entirely, which is negligent and naive in its own way.

Ignorance is bliss – but only for the ignorant.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about white privilege or reverse racism or colour-blindness. Those are controversial concepts and topics for another day.

I’m just talking about straight up ignorance, because there is a genuine and obvious difference between rudeness and racism. And it might be bliss for some of you to not know the distinction – but for the rest of us, all we can do is gawk and wait for you to catch up.

In the meantime though, I hope none of you have to sit through 45mins of grown men motioning at their watches, mouthing ‘get out.’ 

There is no Italian food worth that.

Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour

Featured image by William Stitt on Unsplash


  1. Sorry to hear about your horrible treatment at that restaurant in Amsterdam. Goes to show that even the most “progressive” cities can also be ignorant to tourists and foreigners of different races. I’ve had my fair share of racism while living and traveling in Europe– it sucks, but you eventually learn to develop tough skin, although the scars still linger from the past. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. I’m very sorry to hear about those experiences. I think I’ve been pretty lucky, I can probably count my experiences on one hand. The feeling sucks and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

  3. So sorry to hear about your experience, that’s awful! Sadly everywhere you go there will be exceptions of people who are still very small-minded. Hopefully on the whole you’ll have positive experiences in Europe (and elsewhere).

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