“I don’t eat any meat, fish, chicken, or eggs. Does this dish have any of those in it?”
“Ah, you’re vegetarian. I understand. No, that dish has no meat in it.”
“Are you sure? No meat, fish, chicken or eggs? Not even oyster sauce?”
“I’m sure. It has only vegetables.”
“Great. I’ll take it then.”
Halfway through the dish, you find what looks like pieces of meat all throughout the dish. You call the closest waiter and point to the pieces of apparent meat and ask if it is meat. He wasn’t part of the earlier conversation so doesn’t know you don’t eat meat. Without missing a beat he says, yes, that’s meat.
You call over the waiter you ordered from, point out the apparent meat, and ask what it is, if it’s meat. She says no. You ask if she’s sure. She says the dish is totally vegetarian. You say, are you sure because it looks a lot like meat and the dish has these little bits all over it.
She asks you to hold on and heads off, presumably to the kitchen. She returns and says oh yes, it is meat and heads off to help other customers as if nothing of consequence was communicated.
For the record, the conversation like this I had at dinner tonight was mediated by a bilingual Chinese person, so language difficulties didn’t contribute to the miscommunication. Outside of Manhattan, vegetarian often means with extra vegetables, saying nothing about having less or no meat. Sometimes it means most of the meat was removed.