Everyone can appreciate pleasant customer services, from both sides. Whether you’re the customer or the seller, friendly conversation and a smile can go a long way toward making you feel comfortable. I try to make a habit of offering basic civilities whenever I approach a counter. As simple as a greeting, a smile, maybe even compliment them somehow. Thank you’s and you’re welcome’s. It’s such a small thing to be pleasant for those brief few moments when you’re obliged to speak face to face with someone you may never meet again. After all, those in customer services have a hard enough time as it is; they have to deal with the general public. Unless you haven’t met them already, the general public are often either rude, difficult or, unexplainably weird. As in, walking onto the train with a friend donning a massive horse mask, kind of weird (and the irony is the friend who did that happens to be a horse murderer).
But there are some cases when you have to desperately get away from kindness. My grandmother could kill you with kindness. I risked my life with every visit. Kindness kills far more surreptitiously than anything else. It lulls you into a false sense of security and you become trapped by guilt, bound out of politeness and gratitude. It’s not until you realise that weeks have past and you’re still there. It’s not until you’ve eaten the 5th course of the day and considered it normal. It’s not until kindness has taken it’s toll before you realise you’re dying. But how do you escape that honey coated guilt? I have found that when someone offers me the smallest of kindness by being simply pleasant, I find it next to impossible to get away.
They say people from Yorkshire are particularly warm and I’d attest to that. Warm enough to kindly kill you. When they smile and pleasantly greet you in the street, they brandish their friendly sharpness. During my time in Sheffield I saw just how lovely and deadly they could be.
Board game shop:
I had to pick up a present for a friend’s birthday. A small errand on my way into town; it couldn’t take more than a minute. The nerdy guys were in full force inside when I arrived. Some sort of card game tournament by the look of things, and the shop owner was happily chatting away with them as they wandered from the tables and toward the counter. I picked up my present off the shelf when one of them came over to me.
“Are you here for the tournament?”
“Oh, no sorry, I’m not”
“Do you play Magic?”
“No, I -”
“It’s amazing! Let me explain…”.
A painful fifteen minutes roll by as I listened patiently through his long description. I had just enough energy to refuse a demonstration when his friends called him over to continue the match. I approached the counter at last and my next hurdle presents itself. The shop owner is in deep conversation with one of the other customers (a non-paying customer I might add) and unable to interrupt, I waited to one side. The talk gets more passionate and suddenly the two men turn to me to get my opinion.
“You think Marvel is great for that too right?” one said, spinning on me without introduction.
“I’m sorry, what?”
Suddenly I’m involved in the discussion and unlike the other two, I have no idea what’s going on. But it doesn’t stop me from nodding and humming at all the right times. Then it takes a severely bizarre turn.
“At the expo next month I’m going to buy a model of captain america’s shield. Life-scale. Handmade. Very few ever made”
“Oh, that’s nice. Very nice”
“It’ll be the jewel of my cosplay outfit. You see it took me over 7 months to collect the pieces…”
This other customer gave me his entire attention as he described in full vivid detail, the trials he undertook to gather each piece. The difficulties of getting to fit his body shape. The financial sacrifices he had to make to achieve this cosplay. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain my trial of trying to drop by a shop to buy a single item and then leave. To my horror, the shop owner left and wandered over to the tournament, leaving me to the mercy of this man.
Over an hour goes by. The sun is beginning to drop outside and my patience is almost completely spent. If I had stayed with them any longer, I’d be trying on cosplay outfits with them before being taken to the expo. The shop owner walks past us and I see my last chance to get out. Hope incarnate; symbolised by a middle aged man with long droopy hair and a batman T-shirt.
“Oh excuse me, can I get this please!!?” I cry louder than I intended to.
The shop owner looks back and sees me holding up the item. I’m pushing against the panic that he might say that he’ll need a moment. He reluctantly set down his toys and wandered behind the counter.
The two most beautiful words I’d heard in the last two hours.
This second hand shop had the best discount on DVDs that I could find and I greedily took advantage of it. They were relatively new films too and mostly good quality. There was only one catch.
I put the DVDs on the table and the guy behind the counter comes over with a smile. He asks me how I’m doing, he comments on the weather, on business. He even asks me about my studies while puts the discs into the DVD boxes. All going well. I take out the money in cash but he doesn’t take it yet. Instead he swivels the pile of DVDs to face him and scans across the spines.
“Let’s see if you have good taste in films”.
Of course I do! Ah, what I mean is, let’s not.
“Letters from Iwo jima? Never heard of it. Atonement? ….meh”
“Ah here’s a good one. Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Good choice. Have you seen it?”
I’m holding the money on the counter hoping he’ll get the message but he ignores it. I check my watch and I’ve only got twenty-five minutes to get to the post office before it closes. It’s only the building next door but suddenly I wonder if I’ll make it.
After some tough and completely undeserved criticism of my film preference, I’m finally let go just in time to watch the ‘closed’ sign appear on the post office front door.
If there’s any time to consider kindness important, it’s when the other person has a pair of sharp scissors to your head. The woman has a heavy Yorkshire accent and it’s a little tricky to catch every word but she’s chatting happily away regardless of my contribution. It was the first time anybody called me ‘duck’ as a term of endearment and I spent most of that time trying to figure out if I was being insulted or not. I have no idea of its origin but it seems ducks must have been favoured beasts up north.
Suddenly she gasps and the scissors stop for a moment. But as if nothing had happened, the scissors continued along with her chanting. I didn’t work out what had happened until it started to drip into my scalp. I checked the mirror carefully and sure enough, blood was steadily trickling from one hand down into my hair. I looked about in shock, unable to turn my head to face her as she cut and unable to interrupt her monologue. At last she asked me a question.
“How’s this? you want it shorter?”
“Ah, shorter please. But how’s your hand!? You’re bleeding!”
“Oh, sorry is it bothering you? I’ll get a plaster”
Is it bothering me? How can it not bother you that you’re leaking!? Oh I lop off a finger now and then, it’s no big deal. I can only assume she was intent on keeping to the 10min time limit to avoid disappointing a customer.
When I got home some friends remarked on the blood staining the top of my forehead.
“Poncho, your head is bleeding! Are you ok!?”
“Oh, don’t worry it’s not my blood….ok I know that sounds weird but I promise I didn’t hurt anyone. My barber was bleeding out of kindness. That’s all”
I just couldn’t get away to stop her.