One redeye, Danielle and I sat on the two mid-galley facing jumpseats. We began discussing cultures, people, life, and travel. Danielle began telling me about an experience she had on a recent layover in London. The subject caught my attention, and I found myself intensely interested and intrigued. "Danielle! Will you please write about this?" She thankfully agreed, and so today, this blog is a treat. Hope you enjoy! Many thanks to Danielle for writing.
An Anthropological look into London’s ‘Dans Le Noir.’
“There is no darkness, but ignorance.” –William Shakespeare
Being a part of the world of aviation creates large opportunities in exploration. Pursuing a dream career in flight attending was a recent achievement and dream that I desired for myself. Originally receiving a Bachelor’s Degree focusing on the discipline of Anthropology from the University of South Florida a short year ago, it was my upmost passion and goal to travel and explore every crevice of the world. The hunger for learning different cultures’ national, cultural, and individual identities were my driving factors. Becoming a flight attendant gave me the opportunity to take what I had learned about bio-cultural anthropology in the classroom and apply it to real life situations to see those factors in first hand encounters.
On one particular overnight, I was to stay in London for two days before my next departure back to the United States.
(O.ver.night- noun. ˈōvərˌnīt/ (1). A stop or stay lasting one night. (2). A term that flight attendants use to describe the place that they rest their heads to escape insanity from their recent ten hour flight of filth, angry passengers, delays, and time zone shifts.)
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Having stayed in London approximately ten trips prior, there was only so much of walking around Big Ben, taking photos in front of the Buckingham Palace’s guards hoping that they’ll move or blink, or visiting West Minister Abbey that one can handle without tiring. My goal, anytime that I visit a location, is to take the time to adventure out past the tourist locations and take a deeper look into the actual day to day lives of the country’s local inhabitants. Why visit a country if we are just going to bring our own national ideals in practice and ignore their customs, way of life, and people? We might as well stay at home! Traveling is an exemplary teaching tool and way of learning, IF we allow ourselves to open up to different ways of thinking. It is one of the largest eye-opening experiences to other ways of life and to ending ignorance, discrimination, and ethnocentrism.
Presented with the opportunity on this particular trip to have two nights in the city, I had the pleasure of exploring the side streets of London. Behind all of the hustle and bustle of this Metropolitan mix of a modern and historical city, lies a hidden cultural gem, Dans Le Noir. If one adventures just beyond the historical King’s Cross Station populated by enthused tourists hoping to have a photo opportunity with Britain’s iconic feature, Harry Potter 9 ¾ platform, one can find this ironically “eye-opening” experience, Dining in the Dark.
Dining in the Dark, or Dans Le Noir, is a recent popular dining phenomenon whose implementation was credited to the Ethik Investment firm. With the support of Paul Guinot Foundation for Blind People in 2005, this idea not only spread through France, but through Europe and all around the world. As a result, this company has created a massive opportunity for promoting awareness of people of disability worldwide.
When I first entered into the dimly lit building, my party and I were welcomed by a hostess with sight who offered to place our things in a locked compartment- taking away cellphones, coats, flashlights, and anything else from the outside world that would emulate light in the dining room or distract us from the experience inside. Then, we were presented with a menu to choose either a two course meal of a Starter and Main Dish, a Main Dish or Dessert, or a third option of having three courses of all of the above. Once we had decided on which courses we’d prefer, we were then asked to choose one of four food categories, Chef’s Surprise Dish, Seafood option, Vegetarian, or Meat-Eaters. We were then told that the chef would even accommodate our needs if someone had dietary restrictions. After choosing the Chef’s Surprise Dish for a main course and dessert, we were then escorted into a progressively darker hallway; this is where we were introduced to our vision-impaired waiter and guide.
We were escorted by the visually impaired staff and guided from the hallway into a room where we would dine in complete darkness. In doing so, we were forced to open up to our other senses besides the dominantly used sense we were so used to–sight. An overstimulation of the senses occurred after walking ‘blindly’ into the dining room. To not lose one another in the darkness, our waiter placed each of our right hands onto the right shoulder of the person in front of us, forming a train to where we would follow one another in a unified march. Winding around tables, people, and chairs, we had ‘blind’ faith in our waitress and guide to sit us at our table in the proper places. Once we were seated, we had to be taught how to find our plates, cups, and utensils located on the table. My respect for these talented waiters escalated as our waitress, without waiver, grabbed our hands and placed our hands on the EXACT location of the materials we were looking to find. These individuals made it seem effortless. The actual effort involved and the limitless extent of their talent became apparent when my flight attendant colleague whom I brought with me spilled an entire vase of water down the table and onto our laps. Also, it was displayed yet again from another dining guest further down the table from me. In the efforts of trying to locate his plate, he dropped and shattered a wine glass along with his plate onto the floor. I had the upmost respect for their mastered craft of working in darkness as my table group of people had trouble conquering what had once been a simple act for us of eating.
As challenging as this experience first seemed, the true magic lay in solely relying on our taste buds, touch, and smell to judge and experience the cuisine. More importantly, we were forced to rely only on conversation to judge the strangers around us. What an amazing inclusive experience to promote equal opportunity in the work force by incorporating the blind community, while simultaneously having an amazing sensory dining experience. These dining establishments throughout the world are making large strides for diminishing stigmas of ableism and disability.
Why Should We Care?
Comprehensively studied in Cultural Diversity courses, the contributing factors of inequalities stem from power, oppression, and privilege. Examples of the oppressed can be found in the forms of sexism, racism, religious oppression, ageism, and the one rarely talked about- ableism. Ableism is a form of discrimination based on the notion that able-bodied is the superior and normal condition (McLean 2011:13). Disability is associated with dependence, ill health, and incapacity. These concepts become institutionalized and perpetuated in culture within beliefs and language. In result, it casts ‘otherness’ upon disabled individuals. Cultural imperialism becomes a factor in oppression with the notion that the privileged able-bodied group’s beliefs are universal and the world-view of disabled individuals is rendered invisible (McLean 2011:13).
It is important to understand the cycle of socialization in society. The Cycle of Socialization starts even before an individual is born. People are born into a world in which the mechanisms, roles, and structures of oppression are already in place. Based off of the cultural and social constructions of power, disabled individuals are born predisposed with an oppressed position within society. After birth, individuals are socialized by the adults and families that they love and trust the most. These people help shape the self-concepts of emerging individuals and reinstate the norms and rules that society tells people they must follow. The families that continue the cycle are limited, themselves, by their knowledge and backgrounds from which they were first taught. Beliefs about privilege and oppression are often passed in a cyclical pattern through generations this way.
Along with the influences from families, there is a socialization that occurs from institutional and cultural forces. Institutions such as education, law, medicine, and government help teach people of who should have power- able-bodied individuals, and those who should not- disabled individuals. Culture helps shape these notions through brainwashing a society with stereotypical images (Adams et. al. 2010:48). This reinforces the divisions, reconstructs otherness, and justifies discrimination and prejudice. The lack of understanding of disability issues and the medicalized view of disabilities as something that needs “fixing” are negative cultural assumptions about disabilities that are embedded in educational settings (Storey 2007:56).
Food for Thought
It is very difficult for a group of people who are so ingrained and focused on their dominant sense of sight to understand a working and operating world outside of using that sense. It is transparent even after only spending two minutes in Dans Le Noir that these ‘impaired’ groups of people have so much to offer and might have an insight and understanding of the world that we do not because we are hindered by our dominant dependence on sight. These people and organizations have provided an experience in which we can greater appreciate the art of food and conversation. By visiting these establishments you are not only opening yourself up to a whole new world of sensory enriching experiences, but you are also spreading awareness of people with disability in the workforce. These inclusive establishments throughout the world are making large strides for diminishing stigmas of ableism. A new awareness or consciousness gained is an important aspect in forming a direction for change (Adams et. al. 2010:51). Socializing with diverse members of different identity groups offers people different perspectives and outlooks that can make people think about things differently.
For an ‘eye-opening’ experience, do yourself a favor and visit Dans Le Noir in London or in another part of the world.
To find out more about Dining in the Dark and The whereabouts for each destination that this experience is offered, visit Dans Le Noir’s website, http://www.danslenoir.com/
Bio- Danielle Stevens is a Cultural Anthropologist and Former Flight Attendant. She currently resides in South Florida.
Adams, Maurianne et. al, eds.
2010(2000) Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge Press.
McLean, Margaret A.
2011 Getting to know you: The prospect of challenging ableism through adult learning. New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education. 132:13-22.
2007 Combating Ableism in Schools. Preventing School Failure. 52(1): 56-58.