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No One Deserves This

When I was in Venice with my sister and her husband, we stopped at an outdoor café for lunch. The wait staff, all women, were Chinese. I don’t know if they were having trouble with the language or were just inexperienced, but they were struggling — getting orders wrong, forgetting to bring silverware.

At one point, a man sitting at a table near us yelled across the restaurant, “YOUNG LADY! BRING ME A FORK!” The server rushed to his table with some utensils wrapped in a napkin, which you would think would end the uproar. But no. The man continued to berate the woman in a booming voice. Everyone turned to stare, startled and uncomfortable.

He was an enormous man, with a large, florid face and gigantic pink hands that looked like puffy down gloves. His accent was Dutch. And he was on a role—or thought he was. His voice roared across the café and into the street. I glanced over to see a little boy on the sidewalk look at the man in stark terror, and pull at his mother to get away.

The manager of the restaurant did what any good manager should: He hurried over and asked the man how he could help him. But the big pink man was not to be appeased. “This place is CRAP!” he bellowed. He turned to passersby on the street. “Don’t eat here! It’s shit!” On and on he went.

I wondered if this puffy pink man thought of himself as some kind of king. Did abusing young women and terrifying a little boy make him feel righteous? Powerful? Important? How wrong could he be? Everyone in the café was staring at him, but not in admiration. They were rolling their eyes, shaking their heads. This loudmouth was no king: he was a clown.

Unfortunately, he isn’t alone in his belief that, if someone isn’t doing their job right, you have a god-given right to insult them. He may have been an unusually egregious example, but he was far from the only person to bully a worker.

People in service jobs get it the worst of it. Wait staff get barked at even when the problem has nothing to do with their own job—such as the food not being well prepared. I’ve seen a bank teller reduced to tears by an enraged customer simply for following bank rules she had no choice but to obey. And I once witnessed a shopper, ticked off about the price of a product, call a supermarket checker a “fat heifer.” I wanted to take that checker in my arms. She looked as if her spirit were going to cave in.

But you don’t have to be in the service occupations to be abused by customers or clients. I know physicians who’ve suffered terrible language from patients, and have a clinical-psychologist friend who was seriously threatened by one.

We college professors get it, too, sometimes, although not usually to our faces. There was, for example, the student who called me a bitch on some professor-rating website. The actual phrasing she used was “angry b-woman,” but only because the site wouldn’t let her use the word she wanted. Apparently, she didn’t realize that calling someone an angry bitch on the Internet made her sound, well, angry.

Now, God knows I’ve taught my share of crappy classes in my long teaching career, and infuriated a few students along the way (my philosophy of teaching is that if you don’t tick off an occasional student, you’re not doing it right). But all I could think when I came across this student’s comment was, Wow. A woman in her twenties, and she’s handling anger like a 2-year old.

That’s the thing with all these yellers and swearers and pink puffy men. They get the wrong pizza or take a bad class and instead of saying, “You know, you really must improve your performance. I’m paying for this service and deserve better,” they throw temper tantrums. It’s as if they don’t know how to be grown-ups. As if they haven't learned that insulting people never got anything done.


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Your post touched a nerve.  I

Your post touched a nerve.  I have been teaching, on and off, for about twelve years and, I must admit, I have been very lucky with almost all my students.  However, I do find that there is a growing sense of entitlement among them.  More and more, their attitude subtly states, "I'm paying, therefore, I have rights."  I don't believe we have rights, in this life, but privileges.  The world does not owe us a living.  Nothing is owed to us. except what we earn through hard work and respect towards others.  

What you witnessed it Venice is unforgivable.  I would, however, ask why staff who do not speak the language were put in such a vulnerable position by the owner/manager of the establishment. 

This episode reminds me of a job as a wine waitress, which I had when I first moved to London, about eighteen years ago.  Nearly all the patrons were men, mostly bankers, stockbrokers and other finance whizzkids.  The older men were always polite and respectful.  The younger ones were often brash and looked down on a "mere waitress".  Once, one of them, trying to get my attention in order to have more wine, shouted, "Hey, you!" I pretended I hadn't heard.  He shouted again, "Oi, waitress!"

I turned straightened up, turned around slowly, smiled politely and said, in the best Queen's English I could produce, "Oh, were you addressing me, Sir? I do beg your pardon – I thought you had your dog with you.  Would you care for a drop more?"

He crumpled, saying nothing.  His friends/colleagues looked very amused.  Amazingly, I didn't fired – but then, those were the days when we did not kowtow to clients/cutomers, like we do nowadays.

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Thanks for sharing your experiences

Yes, this all seems to be part of a general loss of civility and good manners. People seem to think they have the right to say anything they want. Insults, and rudeness are fine if that's the way they feel. It's truly sad.

I love your anecdote from your waitress experience. Good for you for standing up to this lout!