Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are You Being Served?

Originally uploaded by ariadust
The encounters with America´s service culture from the last couple of days that do not stop baffling me.

1. Gas Station
As we pull out of the car wash at Shell, a Mexican man steps in front of the car. He takes his cloths and swipes the car windows clean. He does not speak a word of English. As he finishes, the driver opens the door and hands him a couple of bucks.
"Is this guy working for Shell", I ask from the back seat.
"No, no."
"So are you obliged to pay him, like can you drive just by?"
"You can but that would be rude."
"So Shell is fine with him being there?"
"I guess, he might be like a friend of the owner or just someone needing to make a living."

2. Taxi
"You know the flat rate, yes? 45 dollars to the airport, 5 dollars for tolls", the driver explains as we head towards JFK. "And of course the tips", he says with a grin. "Tips are important."
The man turns up to be Ukrainian and to put it mildly, social. He tells us about vodka drinking, holidays at the Krim, complains about New York drivers - whilst constantly jumping the line and causing near-death experiences for us all in the back seat. He just does not stop talking.
This turns up to be the worst taxi ride during our couple of days in New York. We take a deep breath as he unloads our bags.
We tip him 10 dollars. "You have to", I am told.

3. Clothing shop
A young man walks over to me as I go through the pile of pique shirts.
"Hi, how are you? Let me know if you need help in finding your size. If you wanna try on those shirts on your hand now, I can just go and set up the changing room for you. My name is Mark."
As he heads off to set things up, another salesperson walks up to me and starts:"Let me know if I can help you in any way, we have more sizes in the back."
"Thanks. Your colleague was actually helping me already."
I end up buying one of the shirts and head to the register. The chirpy sales girl calls me to her.
"Hi, how are you? Having a good day?"
"Yes, thanks, you."
"Great, great. Did you find everything OK? Was someone helping you today?"
"Uhm...Yes, I think his name was Mark."
She glances down to the staff list next to the register and puts in the code. "Great, thanks. Here´s your bag and have a good one!"
At the door a lively woman greets us farewell. "You guys have a great day now."
I am being told outside that Mark just got a commission point for my shirt.

4. Restaurant
A young African-American woman greets us and checks that our reservation is OK. "Welcome. My colleague will show you to your table. Have a good evening."
The white young man dressed in a skinny suit walks us over to our table and seats us - and leaves. Another man dressed in a light blue pique shirt comes over. "How are you all doing? Good. My name is Miguel and I will be your waiter tonight. Here are the menus. Would you want something to drink to start with?"
"Just ice water, thanks."
As Miguel sets off, another Latino man walks over and silently fills our water glasses. As he sets off, another Latino man comes with the forks and knives. In the course of a dinner two other Latino men pass by to fill glasses and clean finished plates. Midway through the dinner a white woman in her thirties dressed in a Hillary-like pantsuit stops by to check that everything is OK. The skinny white man walks around with a notepad, looks at our table and makes some notes as my dish is delayed.
I taste my dish. The duck meat is lukewarm. I feel embarrassed to bring up the subject to the restaurant staff but my American dinner companions encourage me. "You´re paying for it." The previous evening one of them asked to change the ordered dish as she was not fond of the taste. The waiters did this enthusiastically, without charging extra.
They holler Miguel over.
"Everything OK here?"
I go red and feel uncomfortable but cannot escape anymore.
"Well, uhm...sorry to bring this up but my dish feels kind of lukewarm, like it is not straight from the over hot."
"Oh, I am terribly sorry. Let me just take it back to the kitchen."
"Sorry to bring this up."
In the end of our dinner the restaurant fills up and the Latino men - including Miguel - run around like crazy. It takes ages for Miguel to bring our invoice. During all this time the woman and the man at the door look incredibly bored with nothing to do - right next to our table. The young man notices the delay and writes something on his notebook.
We leave a 15% tip.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

This clip is insane

I don´t know whether to feel sorry for CNN´s Anderson Cooper for having to try and make sense out of Sarah Palin´s PR officer Meg Stapleton or for Ms Stapleton having to explain the actions of her erratic boss. But one thing is for sure: this 5 minutes 49 seconds only proves that no normal logic works for Sarah Palin as a politician.

Next move: we just sit and wait for Levi Johnston´s tell-it-all book on the Palin family.