Tales from the Vegan Army: Lost in Translation


Original image was posted to Flickr by Matanya (Creative Commons)

This installment of Tales from the Vegan Army takes place about 10 years ago. I was in Italy for a conference. Ten years ago, I wasn’t confident about my veganism. I didn’t know many vegans and I rarely liked to call attention to it*.  I also had zero experience with veganism and international travel.

Eating outside of the conference wasn’t an option since it was on an isolated beach.  Most meals were buffet style.  I stuck to the salad and the plainest pasta with tomato marinara.

One night, we had a formal sit-down meal in the dining room.  I sat at a large round table with about 10 people.  My two closest table-mates knew I was vegan.  That evening I experienced the meaning of “lost in translation”…

Table-Mate 1, TM 1:  [looks around at the table settings] Man this is fancy!

TM 2: I know. I wonder what we’re having.

ME: [looks around nervously, worried]  Yeah….

TM 2: [gives me a sympathetic look] I’m sure they’ll have stuff you can eat.

At this point, fancy Italian waiters disperse around the room with the first course.

ME: [realizes it’s just a salad and breathes a sigh of relief]

As the meal progresses, more Italian waiters swarm around to take our plates and bring us our second course……plain pasta with tomato marinara. Whew! I’m thinking the meal is done at that point, right? Salad and pasta. Ri-i-ight.

ME[looks down at the MEAT dish the waiter has just put in front of me] Oh, um, I didn’t know there was more. I actually don’t eat meat.

Since I don’t want to even attempt an Italian accent for the waiter, just imagine this guy’s voice for the waiter.


image from closermag.fr

Trust me…it’ll work. Plus despite what transpires, the real life waiter was just as friendly and animated as Roberto Benigni seems to be. So if this were a movie, he would be playing the part. Um, right. Maybe just go with it.

WAITER: Oh, you don’t like the dish?

ME: [not wanting to offend]  Um well, I don’t eat meat. I’m also really full on the pasta and salad.

WAITER: [takes the food, not offended] Okay, I will bring you something else then? 

ME: [nods and thinks…sure, whatever dude. Just keep it down, people are staring at me]

WAITER[comes out and puts down a new dish]  You like this dish?

ME: [stares down at a whole FRIED FISH] Um, I don’t eat any meat. Or any dairy either.

WAITER: [looks sad] Oh, no fish either eh? Okay, I’ll be right back. [swoops up the fish] 

ME[feels like a pain in the ass and says feebishly to the retreating waiter]  Sorry…really, I’m fine. I don’t need anything else.

TM 1: [wants to dissociate himself from the vegan freak and so says loudly enough for others to hear] That fish looked good! I should have taken it for myself. You know…since I eat meat like normal people.  Did everybody hear me?

The waiter, anxious to please, comes out again and plops an omelette down, certain he’s found a winner. I thought to myself — Shit…I said no dairy but I should have mentioned eggs…aren’t eggs considered dairy?  Back to the kitchen it went.

The fourth time he came out, despite me telling him I needed nothing else, he slapped a big piece of fried cheese down in front of me. The size of this cheese was enough to feed a small army, not something someone would ever eat as a meal.  As if the chef just fried the first non-meat, non-egg item he saw in the kitchen to try and please “the crazy American”!

FINALLY the waiter just brought me out more pasta. Now why didn’t I just think to ask him to do that in the first place?

What’s your “lost in translation” or vegan travel story?

*Today, I wear the vegan-freak flag proudly.  Admittedly, it has gotten a lot easier to do since veganism is more prominent in the mainstream.


35 thoughts on “Tales from the Vegan Army: Lost in Translation

  1. coconutandberries

    That sounds like a nightmare! Poor you! I’ve been pretty lucky with dining out as a vegan thus far (4 years) It always seems best to me to ask lots of questions and tell them straight what you do and don’t eat.

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      It’s something I can laugh about now for sure! I definitely agree with you…asking lots of questions is the way to go. I am definitely better about this kind of thing nowadays.

  2. Susmitha - Veganosaurus

    That was a hilarious story, especially with Roberto Benigni’s voice/accent in my head! Haha

    I can just imagine how uncomfortable you must’ve been in that situation, but it’s definitely something to laugh about and share now, in the future. 🙂

    The vegan world really has changed from what it was 10 years ago. 🙂

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story! It definitely is a laughable experience now as are most vegan “horror” stories.

      I agree that the vegan world has definitely changed from 10 years ago. While I don’t think I’ll ever see a vegan world in my lifetime, it’s exciting to see it grow.

  3. Kylie - FotV

    Awww, I feel bad for laughing, because I’m sure it was not funny at the time!

    My story doesn’t even involve travel, unless you count driving 5 miles. We went to a sushi place with some omni friends who told us they had a lot of veggie rolls. When we get there we tell the waitor we’re vegan and ask what we could eat.

    His response: “Hmmm, probably just the sashimi.”

    Because, you know, that white rice probably isn’t vegan. WTF?

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      Heh, don’t feel bad for laughing! I laugh at this story all the time when I tell people.

      And wth about the rice thing! That is so weird. Maybe he just groups vegan with gluten free…but wait, rice is gluten free no? I dunno. It still doesn’t explain the sashimi thing. People who call themselves vegetarian but eat fish are probably responsible for confusing the masses 😦

  4. cookeasyvegan

    This is one of those tales that is hilarious in retrospect, but can make you cry while it’s happening. I had something similar happen at a benefit dinner about two years ago right here in Seattle. We even had little “vegan” place cards but apparently no one knew what vegan meant. When the main course came and it was meat, it went back to the kitchen followed by chicken and then fish. It was so embarrassing, and I kept saying I really wasn’t hungry. Finally, the salad course was repeated to, I think, everyone at the table’s relief.

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      Yeah, it is definitely something I can laugh about…now! 🙂 Your story is extremely frustrating since there was no language gap. Why the heck would they even offer “vegan” options/placecards if they had no idea what it meant?

  5. Kate Allan

    Oh my! A lot of people still don’t understand vegan and/or vegetarianism though, regardless of travelling or being in your home city. It took my mother in law about two years before she stopped asking me if I ate chicken and fish, because she honestly thought vegetarians just didn’t eat red meat! It made for some very interesting family dinners.

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      Oh dear! I guess I can’t be mad at people for their misconceptions. I’ve met people that call themselves “vegetarian” and eat chicken and fish. *shrugs* I don’t get it but perhaps this is why people are so confused about what veg*ns do and don’t eat.

  6. An Unrefined Vegan

    This made me uncomfortable just reading it! I can think of so many little moments like this that have happened to me over the years. I just have to laugh thinking about people asking me whether or not chicken broth or fish “counts.”

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      It’s good to laugh about now though! When it happens over and over again, all you can do is laugh. And I totally have gotten people using that phrase “does this count?”. Like, exactly what do they mean? —Yes, yes that counts as point deductions against my veganism…I only need 100 more to reach level 5 veganism so don’t give me that fish broth. 😛

  7. Cadry's Kitchen

    Oh, that kind of situation is so uncomfortable, especially when you’re at a work function and/or with a bunch of non-vegans. I don’t want to make veganism look difficult or complicated, and at home or at many restaurants that are more accommodating, it’s not. However, when you’re totally not in charge of choosing the location or your order (and especially when there’s a language barrier involved), it’s trickier!

    The time that sticks out most to me when people misunderstood what vegetarian meant was actually before I went vegetarian. I had several co-workers who called themselves vegetarians but ate fish. I thought that was strange since fish are animals (obviously), but it really took me by surprise when another co-worker told me she was a vegetarian… who ate chickens. It’s so perplexing! It’s almost as if people just want to call themselves vegetarians for some reason, even though they aren’t. I half wondered if I’d eventually have a co-worker who was a vegetarian who only ate beef…

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      I totally am with you about the not wanting to make veganism look tough to non-vegans. Of course us vegans know it’s not difficult, but sometimes non-vegans will latch on to any small evidence of why they could never try veganism.

      I think your story about how people get confused about what veg*nsm means is a common one. I met a girl in college who told me she was vegetarian and I got really excited b/c I didn’t know many vegetarians. And then she ate a Chick-Fil-A sandwich for lunch 😦

  8. saplingvegan

    HAHA! I love your Tales from a vegan army. When I was meeting my then boyfriends grandparents for the first time he had told her ahead of time that I didn’t eat meat so she said, “ok then I’ll make chicken.”

    Him: No, Grandma, that’s meat…no meat.

    Grandma: Oh! OK fish!

    Him: That’s still meat, Grandma.

    So I get there and she gave me a salad. Great! But the dressing she had already mixed in had bacon in it (which I found out by tasting it and asking, “Is there bacon in this?”

    She she took my plate and gave me some asparagus but not before pouring the same dressing all over it!

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      Oh no! I’m not sure why fish and chicken are considered not to be meat by some people. Is it because they have less than four legs? I don’t get it.

      Your story sounds just as uncomfortable. Did she finally understand that the dressing was not okay either?

  9. Hannah (BitterSweet)

    Oh my goodness, this is both hilarious and horrible! The best part about it is that while I kept wondering “how can it can get worse next?,” I can completely imagine this happening. It all figures, right? Eek, I would feel badly for the waiter and chef, too!

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      Yes, it’s mostly hilarious now and slightly horrible back then. I felt awful for the waiter because he really was just like this super nice animated Italian guy that I could tell just wanted to make me happy. I’ve certainly learned from those days how to deal with situations like those. The internet and technology have also helped.

  10. Becky Striepe

    Probably the worst eating out experience I have had was when I went for pizza with some friends. I ordered a slice with no cheese, and a “friend” at the table started berating me to the server. I’ve never eaten with him since.

  11. ameyfm

    oh my gosh. situations like this can be so awkward. Back when I was vegetarian (not even vegan), and I was living in Italy… I was trying to explain to my friend’s family what i ate and didn’t eat. They were so confused. “Do you eat cheese??” (yes) “Do you eat fish???” (no) “Do you wear leather???” (no)… and finally, a look of horror came on their faces “Not even prosciutto!!!??” ha ha. I’ll never forget it.

  12. Maggie Muggins

    Ugh! I can’t imagine how awful that must have felt, but I’m glad you can look back and laugh at it now. I hate sending food back! I’ll still do it but I always feel bad for some reason. I had something similar happen at two different restaurants, except it was the same dish that they kept screwing up. First it came out cooked in butter, then it came out covered in cheese and the last time they put the meat back on, I just gave up and went and got a burrito someplace else.

    1. luminousvegans Post author

      Gah! That sounds awful. Sometimes I wonder when it gets that ridiculous, if the kitchen staff is just having a good laugh. I know, paranoia right? But c’mon…how hard is it? If it comes from an animal, I don’t eat it. I guess people have forgotten what classifies as animals these days.

  13. The Vegan Version

    What an awesome story! I have a million of them like that as I have to a lot of “fancy” work dinners. I just take it in stride, laugh and then eat when I get back to my hotel 🙂 Thanks for the chuckle!


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