In my spare time, I give tours at a museum downtown. I’d rather not name the actual location, but I basically work (volunteer, actually) in a three-story glass globe that lights up and talks. Seriously. I spend several hours each week in this massive stained-glass sphere talking about architecture, art and how the world has changed between 1935 and today. The map is a time capsule of the world in 1935 and includes countries such as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
Naturally, this type of job lends itself to customer interaction, and I encounter a lot of interesting people. For some reason, I also have at least one British person on my tours throughout the day, which is chill because I miss London. You might be expecting me to write about some nightmarish incident that happened with a strange customer, but surprisingly, in the year that I’ve worked at this museum, nothing notable has happened. Universally, the exhibit is loved by everyone who passes through it, and at the end of each tour, people thank me for doing such a great job of showing them around.
Different settings call for different levels of courtesy. When I was a waitress in high school, people treated me like complete s**t. I briefly worked at a restaurant in Brighton as well, but decided to quit because the pay wasn’t cutting it and I cried in the bathroom about every hour. I always thought I was being relatively kind and attentive, but some things — such as seating time, food preparation, the weather and your husband staring at my chest — are out of my control. Crabby customers are an assumed element of any restaurant job, but it was difficult for me to understand why so many people were in bad moods.
When I worked at a breakfast place, I’m sure people were just hung over, but still. Whenever I went out to eat with my parents, they were really nice to the waitress and would tip her well, being sure not to make too much of a mess and not placing an impossibly high-maintenance order.
But many of my customers were just pathetic soccer-moms completely discontent with their empty lives and hyperactive children. I’m sure there was some amount of envy whenever they had to interact with a 16-year-old who had minimal responsibilities and an actual life in front of her. Stop taking it out on me that your husband doesn’t love you anymore, there’s no need to passive-aggressively ask for a new condiment or utensil each time I walk by. But whatever makes you feel big for, like, half a second.
Creepy older men always tipped me well. It was so easy: I just had to pretend to listen to their stupid stories for a few minutes, and somehow I’d get a $10 tip on a $7 tab. But there was something perverse about that — even though I had all my clothes on, I couldn’t help but think that these guys had something else in mind.
I was once late for work on a rainy day and explained to a single man at our counter why I was soaking wet, and he gave me a knowing look and told me that “sometimes it’s good to be wet.” It’s not very kind or ladylike to call someone out on these kinds of comments (and I was only 16), so I just took it and anticipated his departure so I wouldn’t have to feel like someone was staring at me the entire time.
What did he honestly think would happen? “Thank you, sir, please tell me more! I’m so glad that you came in here to rescue me, would you like to go have casual sex?” Some people are pretty disgusting.
A lot of urban myths circulate about waiters spitting in a frustrating customer’s food, which I have been tempted to do but never actually did. No matter how mean the person was, I would just feel really guilty if I did something that gross.
Sorry that this is all so depressing.
Anyhow, social etiquette is a relative concept. The same friendly people on my museum tours would be quick to yell at me for not taking their order quickly enough if we were in a different environment. Working at a restaurant made me sort of cynical, so it’s hard to estimate someone’s true character in more pleasant, cultured settings.
Being treated horribly builds character. It shows a great deal of integrity if you can deal with terrible people in a classy way.
But really, there are some evil people out there.
Sydney L. Shea is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences Ancient Greek and Latin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.