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Why working-class people don't like you

"We are not here because we like you," wrote a restaurant worker. "We are here because we have to be."
Register-Guard
March 25, 2004

Bob Welch: It's a matter of wanting to matter

By Bob Welch

Columnist, The Register-Guard

When I wrote recently about bad service, then ran responses from those who work behind the counters, I made a mistake: I thought the two columns were about lack of speed and unfriendliness and talking to one's girlfriend when you should be helping a customer.

After further review, I've realized that that's shortsighted.

What this issue is really about is respect.

It's about how we regard - or disregard - one another as human beings.

It's about corporate food chains in which the folks pumping your gas or checking you out at the store feel as if they're insignificant minnows.

It's about fear. Of working in dead-end jobs without benefits. Of bosses whose eyes have become a video surveillance camera. Of "customers" who might be reaching into their pocket for more than money or keys.

It's about how cold we've grown toward one another, how dehumanized we feel, how hungry we are to have significance. To matter.

I know, I know. You're thinking: He concluded this after some extra-long wait for Cornuts? Get a life, pal.

No, I concluded this by reading between the lines of more than 100 e-mails, most from those who serve others and some from those who are served. In some cases, the lines themselves said it all.

"You are not a customer," wrote one convenience-store worker. "You're just a face. You are one more face in an endless line of faces. Having spent more than a decade managing a convenience store, I feel more than qualified to explain to you why you don't count (and) your opinion is meaningless."

If you can get behind the guy's anger, you can learn something here.

"Working behind the counter of a convenience store makes you a target. Anyone at anytime can come into your store and say or do anything. It can be an underaged person working for the OLCC trying to catch you in a liquor sting. It can be a shoplifter, a robber or someone who just wants to make sure that someone else has a bad day, too."

This issue, I've realized, is about perceptions - for example, the perception that if I'm a customer, I must be better than the person who's waiting on me.

It's about subtle prejudices. About upper classes and lower classes.

"We are not here because we like you," wrote a restaurant worker. "We are here because we have to be. We wish we could be eating mahi-mahi in a restaurant where the waiter is rude to us. Instead, if we get to go out once a month to Taco Bell, we consider it a big deal."

The root problem in all this isn't a lack of service; it's a lack of significance, sometimes felt by customers, who want to matter, and sometimes by the folks behind the counter, who want to matter, too.

"There is a good reason you are ignored," wrote the convenience-store worker.

"If I ignore you, you can't hurt me. If I ignore you, you might go away. If I ignore you, you won't realize that I have no idea what I'm doing. I have no idea because I've had no training. I have no training because I have very little value to my employer. My employer knows that there are plenty of others willing to stand here for eight hours selling beef sticks and beer for minimum wage."

So, from my vantage point, a three-way dynamic emerges from all this - and I'm generalizing here: customers are angry at clerks who are angry at employers who are obsessed with bottom lines.

"We, as a society, have forgotten the `Golden Rule,' " one e-mailer wrote.

Or expect it only of others - and not ourselves.

The answer isn't simple. But I'm convinced that it begins with this: Each of us - whether customer, clerk or employer - seeing one another as more than just a face in an endless line of faces.


Bob Welch can be reached at 338-2354 or at  bwelch@guardnet.com.
you mean 27.Mar.2004 03:05

more than

a globalized economic cypher

Verschuer Verschuer 27.Mar.2004 05:51

Igg Drizzle

People ARE angry, but to blame "corporations" is infantile/infanticide.

If people would use a few brain cells they'd figure out just how they've been screwed by these absolutely revolting progressives who scream about "imperialism" while making a "living" pimping the poor. I'm SICK of East coast imperialists who come here & completely take over. Take Roey Thorpe for instance...came here from NY just 2 yrs ago to make an absolute joke of "experiment lab" Whore Again....Homotopia if you will.

Who's paying these imperialists anyway? Can help but notice most of the "robber baron" trusts give huge grants to the likes of this den of thieves (like Innovations Partnership's GWEN BALDWIN, or ROPs Dutch Jew-saver [Amsterdam sold out more Jews that any other European country],or PICUNs plantation master, or the Free Speech TV founder, etc ad nauseum).

Golden rule 27.Mar.2004 08:00

He who has the gold, makes the rules

I believe that since the dawn of time, power allays fear by perception and/or reality.

We should make a decision, what is more important, heart or desire?

Why is that important? All people deserve respect, but do we think they always deserve it and are we always ready emotionally to give respect, for we are only human.

I like the quote from a Portland writer, Michael _____ (Someone please provide):

If you want to check someone's character, give them a little power.

I agree With Golden Rule 27.Mar.2004 09:08

former server

I was also a food server because of the need for money to pay my bills. I was sometimes angry over the prejudice of some and the greed and selfishness of others. But what really made me angry was the disparity between the rules for me and my earnings and the rules for others who made the rules for me.

Covergage of the PCASC/CBLOC forum: "The Gloves Come Off: The New 27.Mar.2004 10:06

Speakers from N.W. Haitian Association and Bolivarian Circle

Coverage of the PCASC/CBLOC forum: "The Gloves come off,
U.S. Intervention in Latin America"
PCASC/CBLOC Summary_32404
PCASC/CBLOC Summary_32404

Servers 27.Mar.2004 10:06

Heir Dozer

Entry level jobs for entry level people. You have to start some place. This is a starting place for people starting in hte work place. As we become educated and learn skills we move up to better paying positions. So if you want stay on the bottom of the heap, be lazy and quit bitching.

Bob is just stiring up the pot for those money for nothing low lifes.

Another thing, I don't hesitate to tip 15% to 20% as well as be cordial to those who serve with a smile. I'm sure those are the people who will move up in life.

It's all in how you approach the situation 27.Mar.2004 11:09

A member of the "working-class"

I never have any problems with people pumping gas or whatever. I think that's because, first, it is very settled in my mind that I am one of them --- one of the "working-class" --- and, second, I always approach the situation with patience and appreciation for what the people working at the gas station or whatever are doing. From my own working experience, I know that there are customers who are just great and there are customers who just want to come and go without much hassle and, then, there are always a few customers who are ass-holes. So, maybe sometimes, one of the ass-holes makes his or her "contribution" to life and then that fans out like when a rock is thrown into still water and then the "working-class" people are tired of how shit flows downhill so they react a little and . . . so just take it on yourself to absorb the wave-action, ride it out, mellow out, be as positive as possible. It's easy.

William Buckley, the billionaire Republican publisher of the conservative "National Review" once wrote a little piece about how he had blown it when he had gone so some sky resort and some old guy behind a counter had just sat there and did not jump up to do his working-class duty of serving the great Mr. Buckley, who was the paying customer. In his description of the event, Buckley went on to explain how his yelling at the old guy was drowned out by the noise of a helicopter landing behind him --- medics rushed out and picked up the old guy and flew him off to a hospital, because what was happening the old guy was having a heart attack. So Buckley said in his editorial that even though he had been maybe a little insensitive in that particular instance --- all the same, he wasn't going to change his editorial all that much, because the fundamental point that working people are slouches and the working class needed some shaking up, that was still true, according to the eminent Mr. Buckley. I wondered what ever happened to the old guy? As I recall, Buckley did not mention that. I don't think he much cared.

Wow, I'm so happy that Mr. Buckley and other billionaires keep getting their tax "burden" reduced ! ! After all, it's people like that who create all the wealth and all the jobs, isn't it? You know, jobs for us (if we're lucky) and wealth for them.

Anyone can be treated badly 28.Mar.2004 16:21

In this circle

Anybody can be treated badly by someone working in customer service, if that worker was treated badly by another customer and decided to pass it on. Customers pass it on, workers pass it on. In this regard there is no class difference. It is up to individuals to see past their particular treatment and stop the negative flow right then and there. We are all human, we can all forget that, and we can all remember that.