Common Courtesy is Dead

Common courtesy has died a horrible death and common decency is on life support.

If I ever become President, I will mandate that everyone, I don’t care who your dad is, EVERYONE will be required to spend at least six months working in either a restaurant or in retail. I believe that will make a big ol’ dent in resolving the issue. Because as anyone who has ever waited a table, worked a register, or answered a phone can attest, people are the fucking worst.

I have worked in the restaurant industry, on and off, since college. I’ve also worked in retail and have answered phones for hours at a time. And the stories I can tell where people (men, women, young, old, black, white, Asian, Indian, you name it) were rude, condescending, dismissive, or belligerent are endless. I don’t know what it is about our country and culture that has led people to believe that the rules common courtesy and good manners don’t apply when dealing with someone who is waiting on you, ringing you up, or taking your call.

I had one instance with a customer while working at Buddakan that I will remember until I die. We’ll call him Dr. Robert Moses, because that’s his name and I still remember that shit 11 years later. He was calling because he wanted to change his party of four at 7 o’clock on Sunday night to a party of six. Now, for the folks who have never worked in a restaurant: a table for four people and a table that can accommodate six people ARE TWO DIFFERENT TABLES and, as such, may not be available at the same time. Buddakan was insanely popular then and getting a table for six at prime dinner time was usually impossible. But as luck would have it, there was a table for six available at 7:15. I was psyched. Dr. Moses was not as impressed. Actually, he was straight up pissed. No, you are not confused; he was seriously angry over a 15-minute difference. And he let me know it. Loudly. A grown man (a doctor, as he made sure to remind me a number of times) was so upset about a dinner reservation that he was yelling, actually raising his voice, at a woman he didn’t know. To the point that I actually said, “Sir, I’m going to need you stop yelling at me.”


He yelled about how ridiculous this was, that this was unacceptable, and my personal favorite, that he didn’t understand what I didn’t understand about the situation at hand. When he finally slammed the phone down in my ear, my inferiority complex was wide awake and my eyes were filling with tears. Please do not confuse these with tears of weakness. These were tears of rage. The kind of tears a woman cries when she’s vehemently angry and feels powerless to do anything about it.

Dr. Moses spoke to me the way he did because he assumed he had all the power in our customer/employee relationship. And for a moment, I was on board with the idea that I was powerless in the face of his mistreatment. But here’s a life lesson, Boys and Girls: Don’t ever under estimate someone’s power. Because you just never know. Yes, Dr. Moses had more money, prestige, and status than me.

But I had his dinner reservation.

Oh, I’m sorry, 7:15 isn’t acceptable? Then I’ll just go ahead and cancel it. Technically, I deleted it. Cancelling would have left a trail. Deleting the reservation made it as though it had never existed. So when Dr. Moses came in for dinner that Sunday night at 7:15, there was no record of his reservation. Nothing. It would be AT LEAST an hour for a table without a reservation. Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound so bad now, does it, Doc?

Another time, two particularly terrible girls came in while I was working in the coat room. People would hold their coat out to me while carrying on a conversation, without so much as a glance in my direction. I had gotten into the passive aggressive habit of not taking the coat from them until they acknowledged me, which would happen only when they looked to see why I had not taken the coat out of their outstretched hand. These girls were not amused by this and let me know it in some less-than-witty but totally bitchy way. As they walked away, I got pissed. Partly because those girls acted as if they were some how better than me. And partly because, for a moment, I wondered if they were right. As I hung up their coats, I couldn’t help but notice one of those plastic bitches had left the tags on her $700 coat. Ah, the old “wear it and then return it because you really can’t afford it” game. Not on my watch. I ripped those tags off and put them in my pocket. What was she going to say, really? “Hey, I was going to return that!” Nope, because that’s admitting to being super tacky. And that would make it harder to walk around acting so much better than everyone else.

I’m not telling you to be nice to the guy waiting on you at dinner tonight or to the girl at Target this weekend because they might screw with you if you aren’t. You should be nice because that is human freaking being who is worthy of your respect, courtesy, and kindness until they prove otherwise. Say “hello”, look at them while they speak to you, smile for Christ’s sake. You’ll not only feel better about the kind of person you are; you’ll make their day. The amount of times a sales person has been blown away because I simply asked, “Hey, how are you?” is just stupid. Common courtesy may have died, but I’m on a mission to revive it.

Who’s with me?

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