I was out getting some pizza for lunch. The guy gave me my slices, I paid, took a few steps toward the door and then thought, wait a second, I should have bought a soda. So I took a step back toward the counter, but now the pizza guy was facing the other direction, standing over by the oven, having a conversation with one of his coworkers.
He didn’t see me. He had no idea I was still there. I was really hungry, and I wanted to get home and eat that pizza as soon as possible, but I didn’t want to be a jerk. Still, one second turned into two seconds, and I began to fear that I might be stuck there in pizza counter limbo, my food getting cold, nobody realizing that I hadn’t actually left the building, that I was still standing there, patiently waiting to be noticed, just a soda, please, I’ll be on my way.
By the third or fourth second, I remembered this one time I was at a bagel shop on Long Island. There were maybe four or five people ahead of me in line, but the guy right in front of me, you could just tell he wasn’t in the mood to be waiting, he kept fidgeting, looking around. As soon as the person in front of him paid and walked away, there was this two or three second pause where the cashier didn’t automatically turn his way and ask, “Yes? Next?”
She closed the drawer on the register, she took a bottle of Snapple out from under the counter, and she took a sip. As she was putting the cap back on the bottle, Mr. impatient in front of me, he screamed out, “Can I please just get a sesame bagel with butter?” like really nasty, it was a yelling, he yelled out his order, like a total crazy person.
And I have no idea what this guy’s life is like. Maybe he had some sort of a family emergency back home, maybe he needed food in his stomach immediately. It’s pure conjecture, but I don’t know, regardless of whatever it is that you’re going through, I can’t find it ever acceptable to just shout things at people, “You! Give me a bagel!”
She didn’t even say anything. She just got him the bagel, put it in a bag, and he walked out in a huff. It was one of those moments where I really wanted to say something, a, “Take it easy, buddy,” something not too aggressive, but just aggressive enough. But in the moment, I always get afraid of these random confrontations. It’s like, when I’m at work, I always think, man, if I didn’t have my job to worry about, I’d totally say something to this rude person or that inconsiderate guest. But then I get an opportunity like this in real life, and the moment passes without my having even mustered the courage to do or say anything.
And I get it, all the time at work, sometimes people have to wait, sometimes people refuse to wait. Anybody who’s worked in any sort of a restaurant job knows the certain type of person who sits down and, while you’re in the middle of saying, “Hello!” or, “How’s it going today?” they’ll cut you off and bark out, “Diet Coke. No ice.”
Whenever I complain about stuff like this, or whenever I hear conversations regarding rude customers and their lack of pleasantries, there are always a few sure rebuttals, stuff like, “Well that’s your job,” and, “I’m not paying to be friends with you. I’m paying for a Diet Coke.” Yeah, you’re paying for a soda, you’re paying for a bagel.
And this argument is total bullshit, this idea that because you’re paying, because you are exchanging your money for something, that you don’t have to be nice. “Sorry, I don’t care about being polite, I’m hungry, and it’s my money involved, and so if you don’t like my acting like a dick, I’ll just go ahead and spend my dollar fifty for a bagel somewhere else.”
Business is business, and so if push ever did come to shove, if that lady at the bagel place decided to assert herself or fight back, it would have turned into a screaming match, the owner probably would have gotten involved, “Please, sir, I’m so sorry. Please, have this bagel, on the house. We appreciate your business. Please, I beg you, I’ll fire this lady. I value your patronage, don’t leave, here take another bagel, a free dozen.”
Unfortunately, this is the reality of customer service. I’m paying, so even though I shouldn’t be a jerk, I don’t have to not be a jerk. Because I’m paying. If you try to distill every human interaction into a monetary transaction, this is the natural result, where it’s perfectly acceptable to bark out orders or chew out the man or woman behind the counter.
And then the fifth second turned into the sixth second, I snapped out of my daydream at the pizza place, the pizza guy finished his two-sentence conversation and turned around. “What’s up boss, you need anything else?”
“Yeah, can I just get a soda please? Thank you.”
“You got it.”
And I went home, my pizza was still hot. Sure, I think I lost like seven seconds total, and yeah, I guess you can’t really put a price on time. Time is money, right? But everything was cool, I didn’t have to shout out, I didn’t have to interrupt. Everybody just needs to chill out and take a breath. Just count to five, man, just count to ten or eleven.