I am the first to admit that I live in a ‘bubble’, privileged, fortunate, and removed from many of life’s troubles, much of its harsher realities, and a lot of its drama.
I reside in Paris. I’m healthy. I do work that is meaningful to me. I’m financially independent. I come and go as I please.
Annoyances are hardly worth mentioning, and usual come with a disqualifying caveat. Teenagers play their music all night on the banks of the Seine. (My apartment overlooks the Seine.) A barrage of French holidays tseem to warrant the abrupt closure of boutiques. (I shop for clothes in Paris.) The hoards of tourists who crowd my favorite cafes. (I drink coffee and waste time in Paris.)
First world problems, as they say. Trivial complaints that I make in jest, knowing just how lucky I am. And complaints which bring a good, well-deserved verbal thrashing from my friends in the states when they hear me begin to moan about my lot in life.
Still, I am troubled by the service I’m receiving in this post pandemic world. I think it’s because the level of service we receive is indicative of the mental well-being of the persons serving us. They may not be delighted to bring us our lunch and refill our water glass, but they are at least happy to be employed, productive, and responsible members of society.
I equate good service with self-esteem. People do a good job–even a job as a bank teller or a waiter in a restaurant–because they think that not only are you as the customer worth it, but that they, too, are worth it.
Subtle differences are telling. In the United States, when I say thank you after being served, I often hear in response, “No problem.” Well, I think to myself, I’m glad it’s not a problem because I just paid money for the product or service. Occasionally, I’ll hear, “You’re welcome,” or a “Thank you,” in return.
In finer establishments here in Paris, when I thank someone, I often hear them reply, “My pleasure.” This I find charming and delightful. It was a pleasure for someone to serve me. Not simply an obligation and certainly not a ‘problem’. This is most often the reply of professionals, which I define as someone who gives more to their job than their job gives to them. This happens in the neighborhood chocolate shop as well as the destination white-tablecloth restaurant.
The trouble is, after the pandemic, I don’t know what kind of service I’m going to get, even in the most esteemed (and expensive) venues. My wife and I celebrated her birthday at the Ritz a couple of years ago (pre-covid). The service was an absolute joy and world class, as was the food and drink.
A recent date in the hotel’s al fresco dining area sadly found us among baseball cap-wearing hotel guests glued to their mobile phones, being waited on by disinterested, inattentive, and inexperienced staff who seemed to be, ironically, out to lunch as well.
My experience at Ralph’s, the restaurant located within Ralph Lauren’s boutique in the Saint Germaine district of the city, was not quite as disappointing. The food was excellent, but getting a waiter to refill our water glasses (and later bring the check) was almost impossible. (When paying 50 euros for a veggie burger and fries, is it unreasonable to expect flawless service?)
On a more practical level, the United States postal service has simple fallen into an abyss. I’ve heard all sorts of theories about why this is. An incompetent and/or corrupt Trump appointee as postmaster general who was hell-bent on destruction of the institution is the most popular of these.
I really don’t care why the post office can’t seem to deliver packages and letters in a timely or reliable manner anymore. I just want to get it fixed. As an expat, and to most people I speak with in the US, this is by far the most disturbing and frustrating of service issues. And, as I say, I believe it hints at a deeper issue.
Federal Express is no better. My wife ordered handmade cookies for a friend in the states and paid the vendor for overnight delivery in order to guarantee fresh and delicious goodies arrived in a timely manner. They arrived, most certainly, but a week later. The vendor, upset beyond belief, was at a loss. She confided to my wife that she would no longer use Federal Express, but had no other reliable vendor to turn to.
Amazon, a vendor very dear to my heart (and wallet), has not been able to sync the product detail pages for my latest book, How To Be A Rich Man…or Woman! Despite making a request to have this done in mid-September, I hope my second request will be sufficient to motivate someone to click a button and merge the two listings. In the past, this process was finalized two to three days after publication.
I know a lot of people are angry about the pandemic, the economic, social, and psychological havoc it reaped. People lost their jobs and businesses. Conversely, many business owners complain that they have positions open, but people don’t want to work now.
The rich seem to have made the most of the opportunity, as they usually do, as many of the working middle class watch inflation eat at their budgets.
None of these phenomena are new or unique. They remain troubling. I don’t have any answers, as unusual as that sounds.
But let’s do our best at work as we try to figure it out. Let’s also be patient with others. If they don’t give us the best service, perhaps it’s because they’ve already got a lot on their plate.
And there’s no need to complain. I do enough of that for all of us.