It's like I'm not in a cafe any more, but rather receiving a diplomatic corps from a nation I'm at war with. The woman has a "stern and serious fucking business" look on her face, and another waitress is standing alongside her right flank with arms crossed.
I shake my head and try to wave them off, doing the universal "I'm on the phone" gesture, holding up a thumb and pinky finger.
She starts speaking anyways. She's loud and insistent.
"Hold on, Marcus."
I take my headset off. "Yes?"
"You can't eat in here."
I've got a tiny bowl of shrimp and vegetables. I patronize this cafe a lot - I've been in here every single day for the last 10 days, working. I'm friendly with all the staff. I spend a lot of money here by any country's standards, and a lot by Chinese standards. Yesterday was my diet cheat day, and I had six coffees, a pizza, french fries, a piece of cake, and a bowl of fruit.
I treat everyone well and get along with everyone - we laugh and joke around. I'm the only white person in the place that I've seen, and I laugh and joke around with the staff. Sometimes I'm the last person in here when they're closing up at 2AM, and a couple of the staff play the piano. The first time one guy played, I gave him a standing ovation (kind of silly, but he was really good at the piano) - and after that, they ask if there's any songs I want to hear.
And now this idiot woman is in my face. Despite the fact that I might be the biggest spender at the whole cafe this month. Despite the fact that I'm friendly with all the staff, and quite cool. Despite the fact that people regularly eat in here with no problems, both Chinese and me in the past. And I'm on the goddamn phone on a business call, you could wait 10 minutes.
"No problem," I say and go to put the food away while on the call. She walks off, raising and lowering her legs with the forced imposing precision of a self-appointed stormtrooper.
We could look at it from the other point of view. Maybe she doesn't know I'm quite the regular here, very good to all the staff, very friendly, quiet, polite, in here every day, and a huge spender. Maybe there's a rule against eating in the cafe (though broadly speaking, in Asia it's socially acceptable to mix food from different restaurants/cafes as long as you're spending whatever's normal and the place isn't completely full).
But this doesn't excuse the bad attitude, nor the ignoring someone on the phone to get your message in.
I forget it and go back to my call. The call goes well, business is going fantastic, but now I'm trying to think - I'm hungry and she doesn't want me eating here.
I walk outside with my shrimp and chopsticks and I'm about to walk a little bit away from the building when I see there's a bench right in front of the cafe. Like, right in front of the cafe. And the cafe has these huge beautiful windows that are open right now.
So I plunk down on the bench in front of the cafe, conspicuously, and start to eat. Yup, the biggest spender and every-day regular at the cafe eating on the bench directly in front of the place. Anyone who notices is going to be embarrassed - except me. I'm laughing it up and enjoying my shrimp.
The manager of the cafe walks outside.
"You can eat inside."
"The girl said I couldn't..."
"You can eat inside as long as I'm around."
"Okay, that's kind of you. What's your name? ... okay, nice to meet you, I'm Sebastian."
Another waitress has walked out and joined our little group.
The manager says, "She's the boss's girlfriend. Everyone hates her, but we can't do anything about it because..."
"I see. Yes, that's a problem. Well, I'd hate for you to get in a conflict with her because of me..."
"No, it's fine. She's just like that. Boss's girlfriend..."
I make a joke about doing kung-fu on her and they both laugh, and we chat for a while. Yeah, I'm an American. Nope, not my first time in China. Fourth time. Yeah, I like it here a lot. You're from Beijing originally? Etc.
Passive aggression is normally stupid as hell. It usually makes sense to just confront people when they're being idiots, or to shrug and move on. But sometimes you can do it while having a laugh about it and it sorts situations out.
I really do like this cafe a lot, besides the dumb boss's girlfriend that has no tact. Man, people who have no natural authority are dangerous when they have artificial authority, eh? I've long since resigned myself to the fact that it's often not possible to engage in direct conflict with these people, but embarrassing them while simultaneously getting what you want is pretty satisfying.