Miles and I finished our night out with empanadas, the Medellín equivalent of hotdogs in Seattle, pizza in New York, and falafel in London. I was so thoroughly engaged in my empanada that I missed the exchange between the woman behind the counter and two customers, which Miles described to me later. Two guys came up to order and yelled “Oi, mujer” or “Hey, woman!” to get the employee’s attention. The woman turned around with an expression that made it clear she couldn’t quite believe what she’d just heard and said “What?” The guy had the gall to repeat “Oi, mujer” one more time. The employee served them but was obviously very displeased at being treated so rudely.
I completely understand how “Hey, woman” would be offensive. Especially given the tone in which it was delivered, reminiscent of a “Hey, woman, get back in the kitchen” type comment in the US. What I find strange is that the polite way to get a female server’s attention is to call out “Niña!” or “Girl!” This is the case regardless of age. Even though I know that this form of address is totally acceptable and expected, I still find myself reluctant to call out “Niña” to a woman who is clearly my senior. But at risk of offending an unmarried woman by calling her “Señora,” I find my hands tied. I do know, though, that based on the woman’s reaction last night, you can be sure I won’t be calling out “Mujer!” anytime soon!