The Right Kind of Service (Plus, a Bonus!)

Posted: 26 February 2008 in observations, other folks, the fantastic

One of the first things I learned while working abroad was that my American sense of equality didn’t translate.  I’ll smack the usual disclaimer up front here so that you can read without feeling horrified by how completely unlike your family and friends and everyone you know I am.  Or, how like them I am.  Whichever suits your fancy.  Aside from our glass ceilings, our racial barriers and the other things that keep parts of our society down, in general, we claim to be a bootstraps kind of a place.  We say, anyone can make it if they try hard enough.  I’m skeptical as to whether or not that is actually true, but fortunately, that isn’t my point here.  My point is, that a historical foundation of bootstraps has left us on the low side of snobbery. 

If you look at America alone, we’ve got our elitists and snobs.  People who won’t give other people the time of day because of how they look or what they do for a living.  But it is less of a societal prerogative than it is in some other countries.  I got accustomed to seeing that sort of thing when I worked in other places (although not all) and, I hate to say it, it was mainly women who perpetrated the nastiness. 

The best example was seeing a customer service hierarchy at play.  A well-dressed woman would enter a store and would require assistance checking out, making a purchase, returning an item, etc.  No matter that she could more quickly or ably be helped by a floor person or stocker or manager carrying a trash bag, she would refuse to talk to anyone but the person standing in the appointed place doing the appointed thing.  It could be the store president, for all she knew, sweeping the floor, but if he was, she wouldn’t deign to lower herself by speaking to him.  Until today, I thought I’d left that safely in the southern hemisphere.

At the local Starbucks (why I go is another post, I promise) the barista politely tapped a tall light caramel frappaccino onto the bar.  The woman waiting fit a visual stereotype that I was familiar with from my days working overseas and then wrapped it around herself like a mink coat when she made an awful face at the barista, backed away and flounced back to the counter, cutting off the next person in line, even as he asked her repeatedly and politely, “Was that not what you ordered?  Can I make you something else?”  I thought for a moment, perhaps she doesn’t understand him, until she spoke in perfect, if accented English, to the barista working the till.  She wanted a  tall skim vanilla latte.  Interestingly, in no accent, do those two drinks sound alike. 

For me, the whole transaction could have been saved with a smile cast in the barista’s direction.  After all, it probably wasn’t his mistake, he probably made whatever the till person told him to make and, judging from the look on her face, she had no idea that caramel frappaccino could sound so much like vanilla latte.  I suspect it happens everyday.  What I doubt happens everyday is the imposed hierarchy on the staff by the customer.  She made the till worker more important by refusing to talk to the barista.  I think he might even have been wearing a black apron indicating more coffee expertise, at the very least, he was the supervisor on the board.  The customer imported her own cultural values and left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. 

You read through that and so you might need a little something to make you smile.  I bring you this:

  1. Who could not smile at a pooch like that? I will admit to some real bitchery sometimes when coffee and food retailers get my order wrong, usually because they can’t speak english and don’t repeat the order back. I try not to go apeshit, but if they don’t give a damn, then I do. Unfortunately.

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