Tag Archives: rudeness

My Politeness is Not for Sale, and You Couldn’t Afford it, Anyway!: A Customer Service Rant

Customer service is one of the worst social interactions many of us engage in because it’s almost always a sham. And we know it. Knowing how fake the interaction is makes it that much more difficult (for me) to participate in sincerely.* 

In a customer service social interaction, politeness is for sale. Along with the (implied) purchase of a consumer good or a service is a built-in benefit of pleasantness on the part of the service professional. It’s a simple commodity-exchange relationship, but (in the U.S. especially) we expect to sugar-coat that with a false sense of cheer. In a normal social interaction, one not so directly contingent on the exchange of money, politeness is something that is almost earned: if one person in the interaction is polite, the other is more likely to be polite as well. But they are not obligated to be–no one is obligated to be. In contrast, during a customer service interaction, the promised payment of money obligates only the service professional to be polite. That person’s demeanor is being manipulated by money.

MY POLITENESS IS NOT FOR SALE! It SHOULD NOT be for sale! That drains politeness of much of its value, and maybe this is why society is becoming more rude in general. If we’ve commodified everything (see Strasser 2003), turning much of our dealings with strangers into fake social interactions that only obligate one party to be polite, and both parties know this politeness is fake because it’s being bought, then why should anyone value politeness in and of itself? Niceness becomes a perpetual sham, and no one will know how to feel it or genuinely be polite, anymore. A stretch, okay, but I see kids running around acting entitled to everything without even having to act polite or gracious, nevermind actually feel those things. And their parents let them! Is our consumer culture, which hinges on various commodity-exchange relationships like customer service interactions, ultimately to blame for this general slide into rudeness? Look me in the eye when we’re talking and put that goddamn phone away!

My main point is that customer service social interactions make me angry because they are so fake, and because they put a price–albeit unquantified–on the manner in which the service professional engages with a fellow member of society. Except, of course, the service professional is not the consumer’s equal, because the consumer has been taught to feel entitled to the service professional’s robotic smile and fake politeness. The service professional is a slave to capitalism’s social consequences. Their behavior is devoid of free will and instead dictated by the possibility of acquiring capital from the customer.

I say it’s time we called shenanigans, and started treating people well no matter what. Alternately, if you’re a service professional and a customer is rude to you, you should be able–even expected–to be rude in kind if the spirit moves you, because why should you have to take it just because the customer is the one with the money? It’s likely not going into your pocket, anyway, but that of the company you work for. And I feel it’s more important that we teach each other the value of engaging nicely with everyone regardless of their social position within a customer service interaction. Regardless of who holds the money, and where it might be spent.


*This is why my smart, rude customers will complain about my sarcastic attitude. They don’t appreciate that I’m multitasking by trying to teach them a lesson in how to behave and being metapragmatic by commenting on the fakeness of our social interaction even as we are engaging in it. So I guess they’re really not that smart–or they’d rather focus on how rude I’m being because they think they’re entitled to my smile in spite of their disrespectful attitudes because they’re ostensibly paying to be there. Which is bullshit. My attitude is contingent on yours, not how much money you make in a year, who you are, or how much you’re dropping on this visit to our store. Asshole.



Filed under Commodification, Contemporary

A Preemptively Curmudgeonly Prediction

Given the number of young people today who rarely look up from their electronic devices when in the presence of other people, and the lack of parental figures saying “hey, turn that off,” it would not be at all surprising if in the near future, this type of scene were no longer considered rude. Digital/electronic communication would gain primacy and precedence over face-to-face interactions. Tending to one’s far-off acquaintances via a mobile device would be prioritized over tending to one’s here-and-now relationships. Indeed, would the very meaning of “here and now” change, or merely be transferred over to those relationships that exist in the ether? Will anyone look at one another in the future? Will that be rude? Existence will be acknowledged primarily through electronic/digital/whatever-they-think-of-next media.

In the interest of forestalling evil cultural change and saving the hug as we know it, we must either institute some serious programs to teach kids-these-days some goddamn manners, or somehow stop them from gaining power and taking over society as they are destined to do like every generation before them. Hell in a hand-basket, I say! Who’s got an immortality pill?

Hey, you damn kids! Look at me when I yell at you to get off my lawn!”


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Filed under Sweeping Generalizations, Technology

Yes, I Went Out to Eat Tonight

Why is it one of the most predictable exchanges or conversations when dining in a restaurant goes something like this:

Diner 1: How’s your fish?

Diner 2: Not bad. A little dry.

Any food item and judgement thereof can be substituted, and the effect is the same: we ask about the quality of the food our companions are eating as if we’ve had anything to do with its preparation. As if we are somehow invested in how it has turned out, and our fellow diner’s relative enjoyment of it. (We might be monetarily, but the question of how the food is bespeaks a more producer-ist underlying concern on the part of the asker. And this is why such conversations struck me as odd.)

To contrast, rarely is such an honest review of a meal given in someone’s home, where the host or a family member has prepared it. It would be rude to say that your friend’s fish were dry. But somehow, in a restaurant, where presumably the cook cannot hear (although the wait staff certainly might) it is perfectly acceptable to be blunt. The spatial separation is key, here, in avoiding the rudeness label for such an exchange. That and the fact that the cook in a restaurant is a stranger with whom diners have no social relationship, while the cook in a home is.

Discussing food quality and the enjoyment of a meal with honesty is only acceptable in certain contexts. Contexts in which there is spatial and social separation between the cooker and the eater. So, basically, you can be honest about how well or little you like your food in the public sphere. In the private sphere, being honest (unless it’s positive honesty) is a faux pas; a snub at the edible gift.

It should be pointed about that dishonesty usually occurs in restaurants when the asker is the payer and the answerer is the receiver of the gift of the dinner. In this case, the asker of the “how’s your meal?” question is seen as having a vested interest in–and of having contributed to–the quality of the eater’s experience. To speak ill of the food that someone else has paid to put in your mouth would be to metonymically insult them via their gift. (But in most casual restaurant contexts, this does not apply. Diners feel free to speak ill of the food regardless of who’s fronting the money for it.)

All this is to say: how weird is it that we do not think about the feelings of the nameless cook in a restaurant as we bash their work and what they have made, but lie our asses off about the food a friend or relative or host has prepared? Upon deconstruction, it kind of makes sense, but it’s still odd. (And I really hope our waitress didn’t tell the cooks that I said their soup was salty and the cheese-bread smelled like chlorine.)

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Filed under Contemporary