Family-Life Experiences

I love old-fashioned greasy-spoons, diners and breakfast joints. I love them even more when I’m the first customer of the day. I’ll never forget the day I went to the Shawsheen Luncheonette, in Andover, MA at the crack of dawn one Saturday morning on my way to work. As I was heading to the counter, a waitress approached from my left and I stopped to let her pass in front of me, despite the fact that I had the ‘right of way’. We both hesitated, and after I insisted that she go first, Amy, the Irish owner who had been watching and working the grill, offered, So polite. I replied, I grew up with a lot of fear. We shared a laugh and a mutual understanding that there was more truth to my quip than a lot of people could ever know…

There’s no mystery that who we are is an accumulation of all of our observations, influences, and life experiences. Who we are and how we respond and interact with each other is a result of what’s been modeled, taught, observed, learned and absorbed over the course of our lives. Our influences include our parents, siblings, extended families, neighbors, teachers, preachers, friends, coaches and peers, to name a few. Everyone we come in contact with and everything that we have endured helps to shape who we are. As much as I jest about growing up with fear, there was a certain element of fear and respect that was always pervasive in our home. There was no question about who made the rules, and little doubt about the repercussions of not abiding by them. My parents were old-school and you always knew where you stood. No never meant maybe. My Mom and Dad modeled and worked hard to instill respect, loyalty, pride, responsibility, work ethic, honor, integrity, accountability, compassion and love in all of their children. They believed and lived the old adage, Charity begins at home, and taught us the importance of fiercely caring and looking out for each other. To this day my siblings and I often repeat the question How did they do it?, when current circumstances prompt nostalgic reflection about raising 10 kids in such a small home with one bathroom. Believe me, we had our volatile, rough and tumble, knock-down drag ‘em out battles, but I’m grateful for where I came from. Growing up in a big family was a very humbling experience. I’ve often said that I’m thankful to have come from a disciplined childhood and learned my way from there. It wasn’t ideal, but with ten children, it worked.

In an interview in Reader’s Digest, Dustin Hoffman was asked if he had any child-rearing advice, to which he responded, You can’t outreason them. (He quotes his children) “Why do I have to? So-and-so doesn’t have to.” Finally it hit me, and I blurted out, The United States of America is a democracy. This home is an autocracy. What I say, or Mommy says, goes. That means there’s no why. Sounds like he knew my Dad…

I was walking home from the gym on a beautiful, unseasonably warm day in May, when I passed by two young girls in their early teens, one of them pushing a child in a stroller. As I started to walk past them, one of them casually tossed a large, empty McDonald’s cup onto the sidewalk. I approached her and asked, Excuse me, can you please pick that up? She asked, Who are you? I replied, Just a guy who lives in the neighborhood. You know it’s not right to litter.  She brazenly retorted, I pay taxes, implying that someone else should get it. I wonder where she learned that line? Something tells me the apple didn’t fall too far from that tree…

Here are some of the answers I received when I asked the question, In your opinion, why is it that some customers are rude and treat people in the service industries poorly?

Matt Nestor (Assistant DA and Attorney)

Upbringing. If someone is brought up with a sense of entitlement then other people are simply not important. They may be nice to people in order to get something, but they have a profound lack of respect for others. If I see this in someone I am with (friends or family), I occasionally remark, ‘Isn’t it hard to believe that God loves him/her as much as he loves us?’ Said with a laugh, it sometimes makes people ease off their high horse.

Massi (11+ years and counting in the restaurant industry)

It’s a mystery to me. I think some people were brought up to think it’s ok to treat your waiter like a slave.

JW (10+ years restaurant server and manager)

In the restaurant industry bussers, food runners, bartenders and servers are often considered an inferior class. It’s assumed that you’re working in a restaurant because you can’t do anything else. The other assumption about waiters is that you must be an artist, actor or student, because waiting tables is not a profession.

There was a great article in Boston’s most popular daily newspaper, The Boston Globe, on March 12, 2007. It was on the front page of the Living/Arts section, and the headline read, SPOILER ALERT, with the title: Are today’s parents enabling their kids to be self-centered? The article was written by Barbara F. Meltz;

With a new study last week showing that today’s college students are the most narcissistic and self-centered in decades, a small chorus of professionals is offering a bold response: We have no one to blame but ourselves.

‘Things went too far,’ says psychologist Jean Twenge, lead author of the study and a professor at San Diego State University.

What she means is that parents overcorrected for the harshness of a previous generation that preferred children to be ‘seen and not heard.’ She points to the soccer trophies that coaches hand out to all team members just for showing up rather that to a few for outstanding athleticism, and to a song taught in a colleague’s daughter’s preschool to the tune of ‘Frere Jacques’: ‘I am special/I am special/Look at me.’

‘If you’re that child, it’s not surprising that pretty soon you start to believe it,’ says Twenge, whose new book, ‘Generation Me,’ examines feelings of entitlement among young Americans.

In her analysis, which uses a questionnaire that has been administered to college students periodically since 1982, a nationwide sample of 16,000 students choose among 80 statements to best describe themselves – for instance, ‘I think I am a special person,’ or, ‘I am no better or no worse than most people.’ Thirty percent more students had elevated narcissism in the 2006 survey than in 1982, although the numbers have been steadily creeping up over the years.

Called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the study does not directly link children’s increased entitlement to parenting style, but the connection is inescapable, says social psychologist and researcher Robert Horton of Wabash College in Indiana. Parent educators have long identified four styles of parenting: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and passive. The styles are based on a combination of how loving and restrictive parents are.

In the authoritarian style, parents are not very affectionate but very controlling, says Horton. Permissive parents tend to lavish love but are barely able to impose limits or consequences, and passive parents tend to be literally unavailable as well as unreliable and unpredictable.

‘The ideal is to express affection and sets limits in a way that respects a child’s feelings,’ says parent educator Nancy Samalin, director of the Parent Guidance Workshops in New York City. She’s describing the authoritative style, probably the most labor intensive. It demands a careful balance between loving and restricting a child, between being involved but not suffocating. ‘It’s a parent who sees the need for limits and is willing to be unpopular,’ says Samalin, author of the bestseller ‘Loving Without Spoiling.’

Interestingly, being unpopular makes parents uncomfortable, says psychologist David Walsh of Minneapolis.

‘Humans are born hard-wired with certain drives,’ he says – for instance, to fight or flee, to seek pleasure rather than pain, and to seek connection. ‘Think of the drives as a team of horses. If you learn how to hold the reins and manage the horses, they take you to wonderful places. If the horses get out of control – if one drive dominates – you end up in a ditch.’

Today’s college kids are in the ditch called narcissism in part because the popular culture glamorizes the drive for pleasure above all others. ‘More! Fast! Easy! Fun!’ Walsh says, ‘That translates to parents as an allergic reaction to our children’s unhappiness and an inability to say no for fear it will destroy their self-esteem.’

Discipline Deficit Disorder – a term he coined – is the result. ‘The symptoms include impatience, disrespect, self-centeredness, and rampant consumerism. Guess what? Those are also the characteristics of narcissism’, says Walsh, author of ‘No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It and Ways parents Can Say It’.

The article ends with a quote by Jean Twenge: We live in a very individualistic culture. Telling each child he or she is special is based on the premise that building self-esteem leads to good outcomes. It works the other way around: Good outcomes lead to self-esteem. What people thought builds self-esteem turns out to build narcissism.

Here are a few answers to my question of, In your opinion, why is it that some customers just ‘get it’ and are very polite, respectful and courteous to employees in customer service positions?

Dinah Adler ( Sales Rep and Real Estate Appraiser)

Usually they lack a sense of entitlement and have had to work hard for their success. Often they have generally good upbringing with polite, intelligent, civilized parenting.

John Taxiarchis (Bouncer, Bartender, Lawyer)

Because their parents loved them and taught them to respect everyone no matter what they look like or what they do.

Kim McCabe (Mall Tenant Coordinator 8 years, Sole Proprietor)

There’s a saying that if you want to see someone’s true character, watch how they act towards a service person. I think if you have a general understanding that everyone is the same, you will never treat anyone as though you are better than them.

Paul Conceison (My Nephew, College Student, Donut Shop worker)

Because of how they were raised. I think parenting has a lot to do with how people act toward other people. I think it starts from a young age. If kids see their parents being rude to servers then that child is more likely to be rude to servers than a person who grew up with parents being nice to them.

JK (Restaurant server, Hostess, Maitre’D)

Usually they are polite and respectful in any situation…not just for service industry people. And some people are just empathetic and realize that it must be tough to make people happy. And some people are just grateful to be out to a nice dinner. Thank god for those people. There are not enough of them.

Here are a few additional responses to my question asking why some customers are rude and treat people in the service industries poorly;

– They feel they pay your salary (teachers), and thus are your superiors (those few that are indeed ‘rude’). At my other jobs, many look at you as from a ‘lower class’ than them, unless of course, they happened to have done that type of work in their past!

– Because it is the only stage they will ever act upon…Most of the time they sit in their house with their ugly spouse and pet, eating pasta from a can…

– I think they are just miserable people as a general rule. I imagine that they have a terrible life (cheating spouse, estranged kids, low self-esteem, impending financial doom,…etc.) and this accounts for their terrible treatment of others.

– Some people are just plain unhappy or bitter in their lives, and unfortunately bring all that baggage into the restaurant. Some people who lack power try to create it falsely by turning waiters into slaves. Some people are distrustful of waiters, suspecting of us trying to con them into dining choices, probably because they can’t be trusted themselves. Some people view waiters as members of a low caste.

I believe the key word is ‘service.’ I guess these people see us as modern day slaves. (Which I find almost humorous because we may be making more money than them.)

Power. Feeling they’re paying more than a product is worth, they justify the difference by expecting extraordinary service, often unreasonably so. If they don’t get exactly what they expect, they are unfairly rude and condescending. I think they are too often pissed off at the cost of going out to dinner and take it out on the servers because they believe they’re in a power position as the controller of the tip.

I have found that some people don’t know the difference between service and servitude. Some are CEO’s, managers, etc. who bully people around all week at work and they adopt this behavior outside of work also.

They feel entitled through wealth or pedigree.

I believe that most people would answer this with the word ignorance, but I think it’s more than that. People are mean, throw alcohol into the mix and they become assholes, add a few friends or colleagues into the mix and they have to show off.

I personally believe that this trend is most prevalent in people who have never worked in the service industries, or never had to work… The trend also comes from years of the customer ALWAYS being right. For a long time restauranteurs allowed customers to have whatever they want, giving them free-reign to change menu items, sit wherever they like and behave like boors.

From Questionnaire: For customers who are rude to service employees, what might influence a change in behavior? (Aside from working as a server themselves or “walking a mile in my shoes.”) Sample responses;

A slap in the face (just kidding). Sometimes being extra nice/killing them with kindness helps them to realize how mean and rude they are being.

I believe that the only way difficult customers will change is if employers stand by, and support their workers. If I owned a company and customers mistreated my employees, I would back my workers. Customers are not always right. There are some that are full of shit.

If the manager or owner called these people out for their poor behavior instead of kissing their asses.

Eye contact, providing a greeting, introducing myself-they all seem to help humanize the ‘object’ that a server is usually classified as. Making a personal connection with the customer also helped as well; complimenting a coat or saying hello to the kid. This is tricky because too personal of a compliment or introduction may come off as creepy or intrusive. But the point is to somehow make a human-to-human connection with the customer so they don’t view you as just an object.

Having them picture a loved one, particularly a child, as the server, and then visualizing how they’d want people to treat ‘their’ server.

Therapy, a good look in the mirror, and spending some time in a 3rd world country.

I would equate it to terminal cancer, because I’m not sure it’s correctible. Comity, civility and manners are all instilled in individuals at a formative age by their parents. The ‘problem’ customers are likely a handful in all other aspects of their lives as well. I’m guessing they were a discipline problem in school, often outcasts, and rarely high performers in the workplace. God forbid they have children.

Getting a life. If they need to treat service staff like a group of slaves in order to feel good about themselves, there’s something important missing.

A video of their performance shown the next day on TV.