You Must Pay for Your Meal

h02Today I was looking over the lunch menu at a local Mexican restaurant, and I noticed something unusual taped to the front of the menu.

It was a piece of paper that said (this isn’t an exact quote): “You MUST pay for your meal.” (It said a few other things, but that’s the key part.)

This seemed really odd to me, because…well, of course you must pay for your food. Isn’t that a given?

The restaurant wasn’t busy, so I asked the waiter about the note. He seemed a little embarrassed at first, but then he launched into a story about a young woman who recently came to the restaurant, ordered a dish, ate some of it, and then refused to pay. The waiter offered to bring her a different dish, but she kept saying that she didn’t like the food, so she wasn’t going to pay for it.

I got the sense that the woman never planned on paying for her food–she went into the meal with that in mind. This wasn’t a question of quality or of a misunderstanding of the social contract between buyer and seller. She simply decided that she didn’t want to pay for the food, and she was going to talk around the subject as long as it took. (The waiter eventually called the police.)

I felt like I had seen that type of behavior before, and I later realized where I’ve seen it: middle-school classrooms. I’ve seen middle school students spend a huge amount of time and energy trying to get the teacher to talk about anything other than the subject. Kids are really, really good at that. Like the lady at the Mexican restaurant, they won’t admit it, but they know exactly what they’re doing.

Obviously this is an anecdotal anomaly, but I wonder if there’s a connection. Are there some kids who never grow out of that aloof state of mind? They got away with it when they were kids, and it’s now part of who they are?

I was bewildered and disappointed to hear about the situation, and I tipped the waiter particularly well for an $11 ticket. Hopefully he won’t have to encounter someone like that again.

Have you ever experienced that? How does a person become that way? Can they ever snap out of it?