Month: November 2014

5 Simple and Easy-to-Follow Steps to Not Being a Dick to Your Server

Hey folks! Okay, not going to lie, this was inspired by a pretty bad shift at my night job. I had multiple tables that failed to follow at least two of these steps. So, just in case you didn’t know, here are some simple guidelines for not being an ass while dining out:

1. Be clear, ask questions, and be honest

“Be clear” means to make sure your server is aware of all of your food restrictions. Let him/her know if you would like something prepared in a particular manner, so as to avoid future return trips to the kitchen. If you have questions about how something is prepared, how something is served, or if substitutions are available- ask them! We can’t clarify things unless you let us know what you don’t know! If your server asks if everything is okay, or if you need anything else- be honest about it! If your burger isn’t done well enough or if your orange juice tastes watery just tell him/her. S(he) will be able to fix it quickly and won’t internalize his/her guilt later when s(he) realizes s(he) forgot your ranch or that coffee to go. Speak up!

Speaking of which….

2. Speak in a clear and loud voice

Have you ever heard Dane Cook’s skit about working at Burger King? In it he mentions the painful experience of a guest ordering food in a quiet voice. Let me tell you, his words may be funny but he is telling the truth. It is incredibly frustrating and difficult to take an order from someone who can’t speak louder than a whisper. It’s even worse when you politely ask them to repeat and they either refuse or give you a sassy look as they restate their order in a lower voice. It’s not that hard to speak up a little bit so your server doesn’t have to hunch over and ask “pardon?” three times to write down that all you want is some dry toast. Seriously.

3. Use “please” and “thank you”

Not gonna lie, this goes a long way. It makes your server feel appreciated (they are, you know, doing you a service) and much more likely to go above and beyond to make your experience at their restaurant a good one. Plus, it’s just good manners.

4. Just tip them

The bottom line is if you can’t afford to tip, you shouldn’t eat out. Plain and simple. Restaurants are required to pay their servers half of the state minimum wage in Ohio. Servers rely on tips to at least cover the other half. If your server did the bare minimum- brought you food and drink in a timely manner and fixed any mistakes- then they deserve that 15%. They just do. If they were absolutely terrible, mean, and just a generally awful experience, then they may not deserve such a great tip. But please, for the sake of giving people the benefit of the doubt, leave them something. And of course let them or the manager know that the service was shitty so they can fix their mistakes. Jeez, there’s that “be clear” thing again.

5. Treat them like a person

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at the amount of people I serve that treat me like I’m some sort of service robot. I exist only to bring them their drinks, their food, and their check. In that order, with no conversation and no interruptions. I get talked down to regularly, and I get treated like a slave on occasion. I once had a guest throw a sausage at me because it was too well done for him. That’s right folks, a fully grown man threw a sausage at me because he was upset. That is not something that a well-adjusted adult does to someone they respect. It’s not hard to give your server the general, expected respect of being another human. In addition, your server is providing a service for you. S(he) is there to make sure you have an enjoyable experience, not be your control-freak punching bag when you can’t control anything else in life.

Following these 5 steps will not only make your server happy, it will also provide you with a better experience while dining. Your server will feel appreciated and respected and, in return, so will you. Servers are not required to bend over backwards for you, no matter what you may think, but some general respect, a “please” here and a “thank you” there will take you very far. You will enjoy your experience and the staff will actually want you to come back. So please, keep these in mind the next time you eat out and you may find that the reason all of your dining experiences suck is because you suck (at remembering how to be respectful).

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Skyrim Series Part One: Introduction

AKA The Beginning of my Obsession

Alllrighty folks. Here it is. Part one of many. I will be systematically posting the majority of my “award-winning” Skyrim paper! Basically I love to write about history in modern media, and I need a history post on this blog, so this is me being lazy and blogging something I’ve already written. I will probably use Skyrim posts as filler when I don’t have a lot of time to post something in my awesome History, Shmistory  category in the future.

If you don’t know what Skyrim is, I propose you either stop being my friend (kidding*!) or check out the website. In one phrase, Skyrim is an incredible video game moderately based in Norse culture and mythology. I fell in love with its predecessor, Oblivion, and made my mom (ok, I asked politely for her to) get it for me when I didn’t even own a console on which I could play it. That is how ridiculously obsessed I was with the game from the beginning.

Anyway, I got the game in December 2011. I took a history class on Medieval Europe spring semester of 2012. During that time, magic happened:

This project began out of my love for my newest video game obsession and my passion for a Medieval History course I was taking. I had pulled myself away from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim just hours before my classes began, right after I had achieved the title of Thane in a Skyrim city. My professor that day discussed Thanes in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and my interest was piqued. After doing some preliminary research, I found that Skyrim held many parallels to Norse culture and mythology. To my surprise, I found a lengthy list of sagas discussing elves, dragons, and even magic. It seemed that my surface comparison had much more to it than “these things are in Skyrim and they are also in Norse Mythology.” So began my simple method of research: I would play Skyrim or read the Prima Official Game Guide and take different concepts from them and then reference John Lindow’s Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. After finding a surface parallel, I would take the references Lindow made and look in different Eddas and sagas for detailed equivalents between Skyrim and Norse Literature. Some of my comparisons got so deep that I had to stop researching so I could look at other parallels.

For this comparative analysis, I examined numerous primary sources. The first group of sources I used were the two Eddas: The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. The Poetic Edda is a series of poems by unknown authors, first compiled in the 12th century. Scholars estimate that the original poems were written between 850 and 1000.[1] The document is fragmented and disjointed at best, but it provides one of the earliest looks into pre-Christian Scandinavian mythology and that is why it was relied on heavily for this project.

Snorri Sturluson wrote The Prose Edda in the 13th century and intended it as a textbook of poetics as well as a reinterpretation of all the writings on the Old Norse gods and heroes. Sturluson, an Icelandic poet, politician, and historian, examined different longstanding poems and oral traditions from Norse and Icelandic culture and compiled them to re-write the stories of the old. His bias throughout the Edda is clear: Sturluson was a Christian writing about his ancestors’ pagan beliefs; however, he tells the stories without an overshadowing air of judgment or pedantry.

The Eddas were my go-to manuals on the mythology and lore of the Norse, but the Sagas written in Iceland in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were where I completed a more detailed analysis on many of the creatures and concepts presented in Lindow’s book and Skyrim. The sagas I used were (in order of reliance):

  • The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. The saga tells the story of  a king in sixth century Denmark. It discusses his ancestors and his rule with many references to the lore of the time. Odin, the all-father of the Norse pantheon, is mentioned many times in his interactions with Hrolf and his family. Magic and elves are also prevalent in this saga; the final battle is of Hrolf against his half-elf sister and her magical bestial army.
  • Heimskringla: A History of the Norse Kings. Penned by Sturluson, this saga’s stories span from the ninth to the twelfth century. It begins with the mythical prehistory of the kings of Norway.
  • Eyrbyggja Saga. Written in the thirteenth century, this saga focuses on the people and culture of the (then newly) invaded Iceland.[3]
  • The Laxdœla Saga tells the story of a love triangle between three residents of the Breiðafjörður area of Iceland after its invasion by the Norse.[4] The saga’s contents date back to the late ninth through the early eleventh centuries.
  • The Saga of the Volsungs is an extremely well known saga from Iceland in the late thirteenth century. The section I used the most was the tale of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, which can be traced back to oral traditions in the ninth and tenth centuries.
  • Grettis Saga. Tells the story of Grettir, a hero/outlaw in Iceland, after his expulsion from Norway.[5]
  • Egil’s Saga. Dating back to the ninth century, this family saga describes Norse Berserk warriors in great detail.[6]
  • Haraldskvaedi. An epic poem from the ninth century [7] Its remaining manuscripts are fragmented, but the poem is the conversation between a Valkyrie and a raven and it discusses many concepts and people from Norse lore.

To be fair, that bulleted list was 3 pages in my paper.

I had to be much more creative in finding sources for Skyrim and its internal lore. Actual interviews with game designers and programmers (on the historical subject) were scant and therefore I relied mostly on the game itself or the Prima Official Game Guide. The creators of Skyrim wrote over 800 (amazing!) books for the player to discover and read.[8]

The amalgam of primary sources from Iceland and Norway and Skyrim’s inherent lore created what I consider the biggest homework assignment I have ever attempted. I am still not satisfied with the depth of my comparisons, though I have described some of them in detail for this project. If I were able to read Old Norse or Icelandic, my research would not have been as difficult, as finding free and accessible translations of the sagas led me to a number of not-quite reliable websites, and as such I needed to triple-check many of the translations.  As it stands, I only hope that the depth of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s relationship to Norse mythology can be inferred from the information I present.

Additionally, I hope my readers don’t get bored with me but my Skyrim research has now become a hobby and I love to share my Skyrim love with the world.

*not really

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On Painting

I have always loved art. I think physically expressing your emotions is an amazingly cathartic experience and my whole life I have appreciated anyone who could pull it off with some amount of talent. I never was very good at drawing, shading, painting, or coloring, even. I had these great ideas and visions for my artwork, but it always came out looking way worse than I expected. It came out missing something.

My final semester of college, I realized what I had been doing wrong my whole life. All it took was one all-nighter with two of my best friends to show me what the art I created had always been missing. It was one of many nights when the three of us were up late studying in my room when out of the blue I asked them if they’d like to paint together since happened to have a blank poster board. We all needed a break from homework so we placed ourselves in my tiny room, surrounding a large foam-board. We tried to talk about what we wanted to paint. We thought of ideas for landscapes or scenes to paint, but couldn’t really agree on one. Then, A said “let’s just start and see where it goes.” So, I put on a playlist, we each chose 2 colors we wanted to paint with, and we just started. Our final painting was nothing award-winning. It had almost no depth, the colors clashed, and none of our lines were perfectly straight or perfectly curved. But we loved it. And we continued to love it. Five, ten, probably closer to twenty paintings (not to mention paddles for our respective Greek societies) were completed in that one semester. It was usually just the three of us painting, but any painting session could turn in to a party of five or more. One painting we did had over seven people contribute in one way or another!

One of our paintings after we started to stop sucking so much.

One of our paintings after we started to stop sucking so much.

We got better and better as we went along, but we just gave our paintings away. We shared our expression with our friends. Almost every single night we would sit in that tiny triangle, huddled over a dollar foam-board, painting our feelings. Sometimes we talked about what we wanted to paint, and we actually followed a theme. Sometimes we didn’t. But again, I was telling this story to tell you what I realized I had always been doing wrong. I used to start with a goal of what I wanted my painting or drawing to be instead of just wanting to paint or draw. When you go into creative expression, it’s hard to try to conceptualize where your art is going to go, what it will end up being.

We made so many mistakes during the “Painting Semester,” but we also got really good at turning our mistakes into inspiration for further art. We started so many paintings with an idea that turned into something entirely different. We found the joy in art, the secret to it. All we did was take our feelings, our laughter, our sadness, our everything, and put it on a canvas. Seldom did we create a painting of something specific- they were usually abstract swirly art things or weird flowers or tye-dye with Ohms and peace signs- but we were always 100% satisfied with our work. Because we realized that we accomplished our goal of creating something instead of something in particular.

After I graduated I went to Nicaragua (as you all probably know from half of beMUSEd’s content) and didn’t have many opportunities to paint, though I did doodle and draw quite often. And when I got back from Nica I had to get a job and start saving money and worrying about “real life,” so I didn’t paint. But tonight I was feeling a little down, and I was feeling a little stifled. I didn’t know how to express my emotions in words or thoughts, so I asked my sister if I could use her painting supplies (I gave all of mine to my pledge daughter, A) and sat down on my bedroom floor and painted. It probably took twenty seconds before I already began to feel better because all I wanted to do was paint. I just wanted to make something, anything. And I did! So I felt incredibly relieved.

I am a firm believer in creativity as a way of life. How do you live your life creatively?

Coping: Teaching in America

Have you ever missed someone so much it hurt?

Multiply that by about fifty. I am having major withdrawals from the beautiful, wonderful, absolutely amazing children I grew so attached to this summer. Every single day I’m reminded of them. I have a student who shares one of their names, I have a student that looks like a straight-up doppelganger of one of them. I hear phrases and see things every single day that make me wince with how much I miss my summer experience.

I know that I have to look at silver linings and the happy side of things. I had that experience, right? And it was so incredible even blogging about it didn’t fully show my true and utter euphoria during my time in Nicaragua. Why should I get stuck on the fact that I’m not there anymore?

Because I’m not there anymore.

Instead I’m in America. I’m in Cleveland, with test-score goals and No Child Left Behind. I have students in the second grade that can barely read and feel entitled to anything and everything. I have kindergarten students with XBOX360s and iPhones. I “teach” by really just evaluating and testing. I am a part of the assembly line that molds these children into test-taking shape.

I feel really cynical. I feel like I’m just doing damage. I feel like I am in no way instructed to do anything that will help foster an actual enjoyment of reading or learning. And that breaks my heart. In the 3-4 minutes I get with my second graders every day I try like hell to make some sort of connection with them, to make them enjoy their 3-4 minutes reading with me. I want to make them happy to read. I want to make reading something they choose to do, not something they stop doing when the timer goes off.

I don’t feel like I’m making a difference. I may have been misinformed, but I thought that volunteering was supposed to make a difference. I feel like the only difference I’m making is helping out the teachers- which of course is awesome because they deserve a break, but I chose this gig for the students and helping them. I don’t know what re-reading the same thing every day is going to do to help them.

In Nica, one of the ten principles we lived by daily was “It’s Not About You.” This principle basically meant that you were there for the children, not for yourself, and you had to do what was best for them, regardless of what you wanted to teach or the fact that it was hot or you were tired. Should I hang on to that now? Am I actually doing what is best for these kids? I guess if so I should shut up and deal with my discomfort, right?

Any words of advice?