Missing Manners

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Starbucks barista gives her musings on how people treat strangers these days.

Submitted: April 20, 2011

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Submitted: April 20, 2011

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What has happened to our manners? Living in the Northeast, I’m very accustomed to people walking briskly by, making no eye contact, and ignoring strangers in line as if they aren’t even there. This is normal to me. I do it myself. However, when we’re forced to interact with strangers, why are we finding it harder to be courteous?
As a barista at Starbucks, I encounter strangers all day long, and for me my job has turned into an unofficial study on human nature. It’s actually quite fascinating—and at times utterly annoying and insulting—how people are willing to treat strangers. This happens most often when a customer is talking on his or her cell phone. It’s as if, once we have that phone attached to the side of our heads, our civic responsibility to be polite turns off. 
I have had people bark an order at me, throw their money on the counter, and snatch their change out of my hand without taking a breath from their conversation or even looking me in the face. I have had people ignore my greetings or questions because it is interrupting their time. Still others merely mouth their drink order to me so as not to be rude to the person on the other end of the call. I feel like I need to whisper so they can carry on, unhindered by little ol’ me.
How great does that make me feel? It’s ok to be rude to the stranger, but heaven forbid they be rude to their friend. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t a friend be willing to stick around on the phone long enough for you to have a 30 second conversation to properly order a cup of coffee?
This is one side of the coin. On the flip side, there are customers who, still talking on the phone, let me know that they value my service to them and regret the rudeness of their multitasking.There’s more than one way to convey that. Some literally tell the other person to hang on mid-sentence, hold the phone against their shoulder, and then place their order. Others make exaggerated faces, raising their eyebrows high in apology, grinning extra big in greeting. They make up in their facial contortions for what they can’t say with their words. That’s fine. What do all of these have in common? They almost all involve some sort of apology, making eye contact with me, and allowing me to do my job without feeling like I’m either a horrible person for being rude or an idiot for talking to myself.
I’ll admit: I multitask as much as the next person, and I’m sure I’m not perfect about it either. But hopefully I’m not so wrapped up in my own little world that I forget to be kind to my fellow man when life throws us together for a few moments in a day. I mean, cell phones may be taking over our lives, but it doesn’t naturally follow that they should steal our manners. “Please” and “thank you” are as much our basic responsibility as they were when our mothers taught them to us as toddlers…and still as effective. That’s all it really takes to show some respect, to bridge the gap among strangers.
So when I’m at work, taking the order of some rude customer, I guess I just have to grin and bear it. I don’t give them the best service that I can because they don’t let me. And that’s a shame for both of us. Perhaps I should move to the South and get a good, healthy dose of that Southern hospitality.
 


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