Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Service with a smile?

Life is short but there is always time for courtesy.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you often encounter rude and obnoxious people at the coffee shops, the hospital, the stalls at the kaki lima? Is rudeness now a ‘living’ skill? Something one needs to pick up, like a tool, to use to attack or to fend off an attacker?

I know I don’t get poor services just because of my age because other people much younger than me are complaining, too. They grouch about the bold behaviour they’ve encountered with sales assistants, medical officers, the brassy young girls who work for the towkay in the coffee shops. If this kind of conduct is directed at even beautiful, young people, what chances have decrepit oldies like me to escape the same treatment?  Or be subjected to worse?

Just this morning I was at the gerai fronting this coffee shop. As I was the only customer, I took my time choosing from the array of rainbow-hued local cakes piled up on the long table. There were kueh wrapped in banana leaves, bamboo leaves and tiny plastic wrappers. There were fried cakes, steamed cakes, grilled cakes and baked ones. The cakes were sliced, cubed, sitting atop little bits of banana leaves and even cut to look like onion rings!

It took a few minutes to decide what to buy.

The young thing manning the stall must have run out of patience waiting for this old woman (me) to make her choice. So when I finally asked her if the kochung (dumplings) contained groundnut fillings, she said yes and started throwing a few into a plastic bag.

“Hold on,” I said, “I’m looking for those with soya beans!” With an audible sigh, she emptied the bag and said they had run out of those. I quickly bought three pieces of something, paid her and managed a small smile which she returned with an impatient flick of her head so her hair fell behind her shoulders instead of on her cakes.

Someone told me that young people are rude to old people. And old people are rude to other old people.

I remember reading about this beautiful, young actor who disguised herself as an old lady for a study… to see how strangers would treat her. The result showed that people reacted very differently when she was an ‘old lady’ vis-à-vis the young person she really was.

People are drawn to youth and beauty. They shun old people as though age, wrinkles and liver spots are contagious. This overly concern with beauty and youth is not confined to the western world only.

In Asia, old people used to be revered and looked up to. Grandparents were sought out for their opinions which were valued and respected. Not anymore.

Maybe the rudeness and impatience we encounter today has something to do with stress and the pace of living. People are always in a hurry and even if you can afford the luxury of time, they will not let you dictate how they should behave. So if even the young folks are complaining about hostile, impatient people, imagine what the oldest generation has to endure.

My natural reaction when faced with hostility had often been ‘an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth’. But in my own little way, I now want to help reduce the number of toothless and sightless people groping around. So I listen to the guy who said: If someone is too tired to give you a smile, leave one of your own, because no one needs a smile as much as those who have none to give.

So bring a bagful of smiles whenever you leave your house. You'd never know who would be desperate for a smile. Cheers!

Note: All photos sourced from Google Images.

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