‘There are many wonderful things about the United States of America that deserve praise- The Bill of Rights, the Freedom of Information Act and free bookmatches are three that leap to mind- but none is more outstanding than the friendliness of the people.’ (Bill Bryson, Notes from a Big Country)
Now I have never lived in America (but I have been numerous times) and this wasn't written really recently (the mid-90’s), but it did make me remember the friendly experiences I have had in the US. The reason that this chapter stood out and made me think was because this was in stark contrast to the service I was receiving whilst I was away and reading this book. It may seem like a big generalisation but unfortunately friendly service seemed to be the exception not the rule. On this particular trip we spent the majority of our time in Croatia, but also went to Slovenia and Italy. It became a running gag that the waiter/waitress had been to the ‘Croatian School of Customer Service’, no smile, no chat, just blunt sometimes rude exchanges. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that the Croatian people are unfriendly (we meet plenty of friendly and helpful people) just that the service was lacking in friendliness.
On one occasion there were 8 of us sitting outside a bar having a drink. We hadn’t finished but the waitress came out and said ‘you must pay now’. We hadn’t asked for the bill or been given it yet. We may actually have stayed there for another drink but that made the decision for us. One of our party then tried to use the toilet in the bar and got told she couldn’t she must buy a drink, she then pointed out that she had just had a drink. If the bar was really busy you could have understood that they missed this but there were only two other tables in use.
Another time we sat down for a drink at 3 in the afternoon at some tables outside a bar/ restaurant. Again there were 8 of us. The waiter come to take our order, and when someone mentioned that we were only having a drink and not eating he abruptly put his pad away and said, ‘No, goodbye’ and walked away. At first I actually thought it was a joke. Some people may say that this could be down to a language barrier, and yes that was my first thought, but this guy’s body language told us exactly what he thought of us. Of course if they have a policy of being a restaurant only (which wasn’t clear) that’s fine, it was just the way it was dealt with.
We had the same experience time and again.
I have travelled and holidayed in Europe many times and I must admit this isn’t something that I have consciously registered before, but this time it was unavoidable.
I think what all this really highlighted to us was how much we appreciate service with a smile, and there is no one better at this than the Americans. I don’t care that they do the same with every customer, I don’t care that everyone is told ‘Have a good day’, or that they are friendly because they want a good tip. I don’t want a long conversation, that’s not what I’d like at all, but someone that smiles when they greet you, maybe asks if you’ve had a good day, what have you been up to, or just looks after you for that short period of time, makes a big difference. So when you walk out of that bar or restaurant you think that was nice, or maybe you think nothing at all, but at least what you come away with is not a negative experience. So for me I’d take the waiter/waitress from the ‘American School of Customer Service’ every day.
What do you think? Have you had similar experiences?