April 16, 2008

Service With a Sneer


Maybe I love where I live too much to move; but, I am tired of the crassness, the rudeness, of the people in the area where I reside. Much of my travels have brought me up and down the eastern seaboard, as far north as New Hampshire, and as far south as Florida. The furthest east I’ve pushed has been to Pennsylvania into the Poconos. Outside the New York, metropolitan area, a strange transformation takes place: people become polite.

On Tuesday, I had a long day planned. Several errands needed to be attended to at the bank, the supermarket, the orthodontist (my daughter had her braces taken off) and then my wife and I took our kids to pick up the new car we bought. In the past two and a half years, I have not taken two days off in a row; so I used a vacation day to handle these matters. In my early day fogginess, I put my kids on their respective school buses and then set about my day.

My plan was to pick up my daughter from school at about ten thirty a.m. and bring her to her appointment. My first stop after that was to go to the bank where it was obvious that something devastating happened the night before. Crime scene tape was spread across the front, pieces the front-end of someone’s car were strewn across the parking lot along with sparkling, jagged shards of a windshield. Inside, I was told that the night before some drunken teenagers plowed their car head first through the front of the building at speeds upwards of ninety milers per hour. Thankfully, they were not severely hurt as the car’s airbags deployed; but, it was shocking to see such wreckage and think of what could have happened if they weren’t so lucky.

Then, I picked up my daughter from school and off to the dentist we went. After a much anticipated and exciting moment when the braces were finally removed, I decided to take her to a nearby pizza parlor for a mini-celebration. This restaurant makes some of the best pizza around, and I hate going there. Why? Because the staff there is so damned rude, that’s why. Yogi Berra is credited with a great line. When remarking about a particular nightspot he quipped “No wonder no one ever goes there anymore; it’s always so crowded.” The same can be said of this place, except that it’s busy because they sell tasty pizza; and, with that in mind, the owners do not feel it is necessary to be nice to the customers anymore. They have a product which is in great demand, and if anyone hates the service, tough. There are plenty more suckers in line, myself included. It’s a perfect Long Island tragedy and self fulfilling cultural phenomenon. No one likes impolite service, but we reward it with our patronage.

We ordered slices from a guy with a terse attitude and a waitress stepped behind the counter to ring up the sale. She blinked at me and merely said “Eleven ninety-five.” Then she held out her hand for me to fork over the cash. She did not say please, thank you, or anything else remotely gracious. The waitress merely announced the total and that was it. End of transaction. I’m used to this sort of behavior. On certain days, I am just as happy not to converse with the guy or gal behind the counter because this type of casual rudeness has been bred into me as well. But, the capper to my day happened when we left the pizza joint and went to a specialty supermarket to make a specific purchase.

My daughter is learning Italian in school; and, the Italian club is sponsoring a small event where they experience the culture of Italy; i.e. music, foods, art, etc. Each student is assigned to bring in one item for the event, and my daughter was to bring in Panettone. Served around Christmas time in Italian families, Panettone is a round, dome shaped cake which resembles pound cake in consistency; but, it can have chocolate chips, fruit, or creams added for flavor. My wife is 100% Italian (that makes my kids half Italian, and half of the rest of the world) and I am used to enjoying this cake along with holiday cookies and hot cocoa. The store we went to is a large supermarket catering to Italian culture. Knowing that we were way out of season, we took a chance, my daughter and I, and went straight to the bakery.

We'd been there before and the staff was pleasant and helpful on the few occasions we'd asked for assistance. Tuesday would erase some of that benevolence between me and this establishment.

Did you ever look at somebody and immediately think to yourself “Hey, this guy is a jerk?” Well, I had one of those moments when I saw the guy behind the counter whom fate guided me to in order for him to get me annoyed for the rest of the afternoon. At first, I chided myself for being judgmental as I had not even spoken to the man up to that point. Yet, my assessment of him turned out to be correct.

The employee in question was busy goofing off with a much older man while they brushed some yellowish fluid on what appeared to be unbaked bread. Right away, the guy saw me, and yelled to a young woman in the back room to come out and help me. He was too busy giggling with his buddy to assist some idiot customer.

The girl was nice enough, and I asked with the same confidence as if I inquired about purchasing a hamburger at McDonalds if they had any Panettone.

Pound Cake? Sure, we have some.” She said, and then she started to walk away.

No, no I need Panettone. Not pound cake.” I said. That stopped her in her tracks. By then I realized that she had no idea what I was talking about. She looked over her shoulder and deferred my request to the Jerk who already sized me up and eyed me as if I asked for something as out of place as communion wafers.

Panna-what?” He said with an “I can’t believe this moron” expression on his face. He squinted and raised an eyebrow and seemed almost amused by what he thought was my stupidity.

Panettone.” I repeated showing my impatience through clenched teeth.

There’s no such thing.” The guy stood defiant, with his balled up fists on his hips, glaring at me.

It should be noted that I do not suffer fools lightly. If I was in an ordinary supermarket and I asked for a specifically ethnic food and the guy behind the counter was unaware of it, jerk or not, I could live with that. But, this was an Italian store, with an Italian name, catering to Italians, and this man, a baker no less, not only never heard of Panettone, but he declared that it did not exist. The ensuing argument, which consisted of me marveling at the obvious, that he damned well better know what Panettone is because it is the same thing as walking into a Mexican restaurant and the waiters not knowing what a taco is. The conversation was futile.

Another employee came up to me from behind, on my side of the counter and said “Oh, you want Panettone? I have some over here.” This gentleman politely guided me five feet to my left and showed me two or three packaged loaves which had seen an awful lot of daylight since this past Christmas. We opted for the Italian cookies instead, and I made sure to say goodbye to the dumbfounded baker before we took our cookies to the register in order to purchase them.

The whole way home I fumed. I could see if the baker never heard of the cake, like I said, but he was arrogant, poorly trained, and resentful of the very people whom he needs to make a living, and they are customers. Like just about everyone I know, he and others like him feel they are owed a lot more in life. That no matter what they are doing for a living, it is not their dream job and they deserve to be rich and have an easy life of luxury and expensive travel. This thing that they are currently doing; serving pizza, baking at the supermarket, is only a means to an end, or, worse yet, what they are stuck doing until they win the lottery and get out of “this shit-hole.” Customers are to be dealt with, tolerated, and occasionally mocked.

Maybe I care too much about what I currently do and what I did in my former profession, and I am projecting my professionalism on others. But, I have a trip to Nashville coming up soon, my employer is sending me to a conference, and I know that I will be hard pressed to find someone as bad-mannered and nasty as some of the desultory malcontents I am forced to deal with here in my town.

Here's a quote which is appropriate for this article: “You know you’re a Long Islander when you don’t realize you love the place until you leave it.” Yes, that is true; but, there are plenty of strong reasons for wanting to leave in the first place. A longing for nice folks to interact with is at the top of that list.

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27 comments:

Paul Burman said...

I'm with you all the way on this one, Mike. I don't like bad manners but I hate rudeness. Often, it's either a result of ignorance or self-indulgence. The world's so much more pleasant when people take the time for one another. Fortunately, I live in a part of the world where people are generally friendly and welcoming. Mind, it's one of the reasons I moved to this part of the world and settled here.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

You should name the places. They don't care about you and it might do some good.

Things are getting just as bad here in South Jersey as we are being invaded by the Nawt Joizy types from above and Fillies from the left.

8 more school years until my youngest is done with school and we are out of this over crowded, overly expensive corrupt state.

Mike French said...

My local Tesco is like this. Some of the checkout staff are fine and they talk to you, others just ignore you and carry on a private conversation with their mate whilst they bleep your shopping over the scan. It's like you're not there! I used to work in a bank where if you had done that you'd been sacked.

I mean what's wrong with people? If you are in a public service industry you should at least be polite to your customers!

Mike, Mike are you listening? O for goodness sake.

Poetikat said...

This sort of behaviour is not exclusive to Long Island. We see it far too often in our area - in fact I would venture to say it is pretty widespread in Ontario.
"Customer Service" has become an oxymoron with a stress on the second syllable.
I can't count the number of times I've been at a checkout when the cashier is involved in a conversation with another worker to the exclusion of serving me, or serves me and carries on that conversation. (I'm not sure which is worse.)
Most recently, what we get at our local grocery store is checkout ladies who set you up with a "And how are you today? Only to use it as a jump-off point to share a catalogue of woes about how tired they are, or sick, or needing a vacation. Give me a break! They're not impoverished. We don't live in a ghetto. If they're that unhappy, why don't they move on and get a different job? Why? Because they like eliciting the "Oh, that's too bads" and "Really, I'm so sorrys". Well, they don't get that from me. I just pretend I didn't even hear them.
I understand exactly whereof you speak, Mike. (Now we're sounding like our parents. Oh God!)
Kat

The Supplicant said...

(Now we're sounding like our parents. Oh God!)
I have to agree with Kat ... LOL
Myself I don't have a problem with rude individuals ... I give it back to them twice as hard. I know this post and most of the comments are from the point of view of customers and from what you wrote and the other comments your anger is well justified, however since I do have a small part time job that deals with customers, some people expect hand and foot servitude from an employee in a two bit job...to the point of being condescending and extremely rude. I for one don't tolerate it and push the limits to the utmost with these kind of customers and always get them to back down. I don't see how you managed to stay collected. I think I would have lost it. I treat people how I like to be treated. If I don't get it they find out pretty quick. Everyone here in my area are thankful to have employment and generally there is rarely a problem with service.
Well on that note I realize I'm rambling. Mike, as always, great post.
~JD

asecondlook said...

People not doing their job is constantly irritating to me - you get your car 'fixed' it comes back worse; you have building work done, your roof starts leaking; you pay insurance they find a way not to pay you (although that's probably them doing a good job) The flip side of this is that some companies are great and their people likewise - so I try to remember the good times!

1st Lady said...

There seem to be certain shops in my Northern Virginia area that dont care a hoot how their employees treat customers. Then there's shops that obviously do care. Harris Teeter make a huge effort to please the customer, it's such a pleasant, friendly place to grocery shop. What a difference a smile makes in the shopping world.

Poetikat said...

Supplicant, I hear ya! I would just like to say, that I personally go out of my way to be pleasant, patient and considerate of all who serve me. I chat with the girls in the grocery store - I remark on their new, funky hair colours, latest tatoos, or piercings (in a good way), smile and get to know them. I don't snark at the ones who irritate me, but they can forget about being on the receiving end of any pleasantries.

1st Lady - "Harris Teeter"? Wow! That name in itself is worthy of a poem or a cartoon character, or something. Stop by Poetikat's, I'd love to know what you think.
Kat
(P.S. Are you a fan of "the boys", Colin and Justin?)
Kat

Bob Johnson said...

Hey Mike I hear ya, we have a real problem here in Saskatoon with rude people, reason being there is a job glut, you can quit your job and within an hour have another, it is an employee's market and they know it, which sucks for the customer, great post.

HANNA said...

Ciao Mike!
Panettone with cappuccino!
gname gnam...
Italian cooking is excellent.
Buon fine settimana!
;P

Kathy at The Junk Drawer said...

Mike, I feel your pain. It seems to me the entire country could use a lesson in civility. Even though I'm tempted to speak up about rude service, I usually back down and instead just talk with my feet. I believe in second chances, but if I find the same place gives lackluster service over and over, I'll take my business elsewhere. We all work hard for our money and I'd like to spend it where I get service with a smile. Is that too much to ask?

p.s. I'm sure your daughter is thrilled to have her braces off. Good for her!

Winter said...

There are too many places that do not believe in offering their customers good customer service. My place of work is not one of them, thank goodness. However, the customer service initiative at my office has really pointed out to me which companies I deal with believe in caring for their customers.

I've had every cell phone carrier out there, but I've been with T-Mobile for 4 years now. Why? Because they have the best customer service EVER. It's so good even my teenager will call them. Verizon may have better, clearer coverage and fewer dropped calls, but they totally ripped me off and their CS didn't care. F-them. Sprint - teaches their employees how to lie to customers so that they can eventually rip them off for a new phone. Grrr. And I won't talk about ATT.

It's true that it's hard to find nice people or good customer service. However, I still think that eventually, the only customers a business with bad customer service has, are the people who aren't nice.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Paul,

"Fortunately, I live in a part of the world where people are generally friendly and welcoming. Mind, it's one of the reasons I moved to this part of the world and settled here."

First I want to say that this post in an uncharacteristic rant, and I typically do not post such items here. With that said, thanks for your comment, and please tell me which community it is where you live so I can pack my bags and head there, pronto? He he. Thanks for stopping by.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike,
"8 more school years until my youngest is done with school and we are out of this over crowded, overly expensive corrupt state."

I think I'll be following you along. I'd like to move out to some mid-western state where it isn't too crowded and buy a massive piece of land. Then I can sit on my front porch with a shotgun and warn off traveling salemen, ha ha. Thnaks for the comment.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Poetikat,

"Customer Service" has become an oxymoron with a stress on the second syllable."

The good news for me is that it is comforting to know that this behavior is not confined to where I live. The bad news is that this behavior is not confined to where I live. oh boy, are we all in trouble. I love you rline about customer service being an oxymoron. It's so true it made me laugh...then cry afterward. Thanks Poetikat. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike (M1)

"Some of the checkout staff are fine and they talk to you, others just ignore you and carry on a private conversation with their mate whilst they bleep your shopping over the scan. It's like you're not there!" You're right, to these dopes who do not care about their bleak and miserable jobs, you're merely an apparition. That's when all of the mistakes are made at checkout, when they are paying more attention to their bussies than the customer. I hate shopping. Thanks Mike. -Mike (M2)

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
I too worked reatil for a while while in college and before I joined the police department. let me tell you, many of the folks shopping are just normal folks going abouthtie business and don't cause too much trouble. But, one jerk can ruin your whole day. Good for you that you are able to stand up for yourself. I was a teenager when I worked at some of these places and I needed the money and I couldn't get too mouthy with the jerky customers or they'd have my ass canned. But, what does not kill you makes you stronger, right? let me just say that my experiences in retail molded they way I handled people when I was a cop. If I pulled someone over, I imagined them at the customer service counter in one of the stores I worked in and tried to dicern if they'd be a jerk to the help or not. That weighed hevaily on whether or not I'd write them a summons. Many times that type of person would do all of the work for me and be so disrespectful that I'd write tham more than one summons...a lot more. He he. Oh well, those were the days... and I won't miss those days either. Thnaks JD. -Mike.

Swubird said...

Mr. Grudge:

Good story my friend, and my heart goes out to you. But, if it's the absence of rudeness your longing for, your in for a big surprise. There ain't none.

I've lived most of my life in the West, except for the years I spent on the East Coast while I was in the service. I've visited most of the states in between, and I've seen most of the world. And it's all the same - people are rude. In all fairness, though, I do have to acknowledge a few nice folks I met in the mid-west - just to be nice. They were wonderful, and they told me that politeness is part of their old fashioned culture. I don't know. It was a small sample.

So, keep up the search. And if you should find that hidden place where people respect each other, and actually care whether or not their neighbor is having a nice day - pack your bags and moved there forthwith. But whatever you do, don't tell anybody else, because as soon as it becomes crowded - your paradise will be lost.

Have a very nice day.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi A Second Look,

"The flip side of this is that some companies are great and their people likewise - so I try to remember the good times!"

Unfortunately, the good times are few and far between lately! I shouldn't let 9 out of ten experiens ruin my mood about humanity, given that that is the ratio of bad experiences to good where I come from. Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi 1st Lady,
"Harris Teeter make a huge effort to please the customer, it's such a pleasant, friendly place to grocery shop."

I think that with all of the competition out there, that the only way for businesses to make a name for themsleves is to have excellent service. Food shopping, often a pain in the first place, can be made a better experience with proper, attentive, service. Thanks, 1st Lady. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Bobby Johnson,

Hey, the other night I was watching the Discovery Channel and their talking about sending an inter-galactic craft to explore a newly discovered star named "Bob." I immediately thought of you, lol.

"Hey Mike I hear ya, we have a real problem here in Saskatoon with rude people, reason being there is a job glut..."

I'd have thought that there wasn't a place in North America with a job glut, but what the heck do I know? Still, that's a good reason for poor service. I feel your pain, Bob. Thanks for commenting. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Hanna,

"Panettone with cappuccino!
gname gnam...
Italian cooking is excellent..."


You're right, that's why I married a beautiful Italian woman! Thanks Hanna! -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kathy,

"...but if I find the same place gives lackluster service over and over, I'll take my business elsewhere."

I feel tha same way. I once got rude service in a restaurant near my home that was so bad, when the place changed ownership, I didn't go in there for years after they wer re-established. the scars ran that deep. BTW, my daughter walks around with a big, fresh, smile on her face now that her braces are off. Thanks, Kathy. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Winter,

"...However, I still think that eventually, the only customers a business with bad customer service has, are the people who aren't nice."

You know, I never considered that...you have an interesting thought here. water does seek its own level. Thanks for sharing, Winter. I appreciate it. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Swubird,
"...But whatever you do, don't tell anybody else, because as soon as it becomes crowded - your paradise will be lost."

True and wise words, my friend. i think of all of the little villages on the North shore here which are becoming over-run in the summer time as the Hamptons have become intolerable as far as pricing and congestion is concerned. No place is secret anymore, and rude jerks are everywhere. Thanks swubird. -Mike.

Jack Payne said...

Ah, yes, the basic courtesy thing, a problem which goes endlessly on--in all walks of life--it seems. You cover most sides of it well.

Am honored by your MW invitation, Mike, and, as I said in an email, I unhesitatingly accept.

I ran into a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, which I ignored, in trying to email you. If it didn't go through, why don't you get back to me through my email address. Just go to my web site:

www.sixhrs.com

...and click on my photo. Your email will go right on through (no mumbo jumbo). There are a few technical problems which must be handled before I can come aboard.

--Jack