Dumbing Down

The general public, when they set foot inside a store or eatery, are stupid. It doesn't matter what degrees they have, what books they've published or how well they are paid. Almost everyone leaves their brain at the door. For us lowly service monkeys it's INFURIATING.

It's as if they expect not to have to think, that the service peeps are being paid to think for them, to lead them by the hand through every tiny step and decision. Well, this might be just dandy if you're talking to the maître d' at some high class hotel. For the most part though; this isn't the case and you're dealing with a minimum wage slave.

I've had customers ask me where the cutlery is, when they have just walked straight past it.

Why do people think that I can guess how many sugars they want in their drink? Simply saying "yes" when asked "do you take sugar?" is not helpful and requires me to ask yet another question.

I get asked every day how much something costs, when the price is clearly labelled right next to the name of the product, which I KNOW they've just read because most of them can't tell the difference between eggs and mozzarella unless they've read the card.

I get asked if we're open when the doors are up, the lights are on, the food is out...

Why do people assume I'm not going to tell them how much their order comes to? Honestly, do they think I'm going to stand there and make them guess? Just give me chance to add it up.

I've had people ask me "there's no meat in it is there?" in a vegetarian cafe >_>

And then there are the people that stand in line for five minutes, staring blankly at the menu board but don't actually start deciding what to order until they get to the till. They then have to wait for me to ask for their money before looking for their wallet, which is invariably at the bottom of their bag.

Don't take any of this as insult. It's simply what happens to people, almost all people, when they enter a shop. The only ones that seem immune to this are fellow and ex-service monkeys. They know what it's like. They know how infuriating it is to see the human race reduced to idiotic, monosyllabic puffballs. When someone rattles an order of five items off to me, with exact details on how they want everything, I know they've worked in the service industry.

That's not the main point of this post though. Oh, no. Human stupidity is a well known and extremely well documented phenomenon. No, this post is about a little problem that may very well be peculiar to me.

When at work, at this particular oh-gods-someone-else-accept-my-application job, I go into autopilot. The many questions I have to ask to get ANY information out of customers get reeled off with practised politeness, the answers duly recorded and stored for the briefest moments. And then some horrid person decides to throw in a previously unimagined question and I stall.

I absolutely blank. Then I probably pull a confused face, say "erm" for a while, blink, erm some more. I might finally be able to answer them if they don't give me any additional queries.

The reasons for this have bugged me for a while. I don't have trouble talking to strangers. Goodness knows I can make friends anywhere. I'm not shy. I certainly will have an answer for them somewhere in my head. It hit me the other day; I'm trying to dumb myself down.

Let me explain.

As I said; people cross certain thresholds and their IQs drop by significant levels. They could be perfectly sensible, well rounded, bright people... they'll still, for the most, lose IQ points. I know this. I put myself in a mindset to deal with this (if I don't, I just get angry at the world and the idiocy it contains). I store all the stock answers on a little board in my head, on little darts ready for me to pull off and lob at the customers. Look, it's that or I actually start throwing things.

When a question is given for which I have no dart I need to move past the board. It's a heavy, thick board though, containing a lot of darts. I then have to dig up the answer. Usually that's pretty easy, unless someone asks "is this nice?" I never have an answer for that. Well, I do... but I'd get sacked if anyone ever heard it. My honesty will defeat my sense of self preservation one day... that'll be fun.

So, I have the answer; now I need to attach it to a dart. Herein lies the problem. Those darts are designed for the stupid as well as foreign customers (of which we get many) whose understanding of spoken English (in my god-awful accent) is definitely better than my understanding of their language, but still rather limited.

I have to reformat my answer for an idiot audience. Or at least, at that moment, I think I do. If I tried to speak to the middle aged, balding CEO in the same way I speak to my friends, not only would he cringe at all the glottal stops, but he'd not understand half of what I said. Blame Buffy, and a variety of other cult shows and genre books. I'm like a sponge for quirky speach patterns.

Let me give you an example, the one that led me to this conclusion. I asked Mr Suit if he would like his baguette (it's not a roll, sandwich or bagel!) toasted. He replied "is it crispy?" and when I made my confused face (it's a baguette, of course it's crispy) he said "I like them crispy."

I understood this as "will toasting it make it less crispy?" Which, it turned out, was what he meant. My response to a friend would have been, after the sarcasm about it being a baguette and therefore crispy, more sarcasm; it's a toaster, it makes things toasty. I honestly think this would have gone completely over his head (and have been rather impolite). Maybe if I had pushed him out of the door, past that IQ dumping spot, he would have understood, but not standing inside the doorway.

I realised I was shifting the words around in my head, trying to find a way to say it that he would understand. Small, basic, mostly anglo-saxon words. This, however, would require a very long sentence; "The baguettes are already very crispy. The toaster will make them hot and crispier. Though if they are put in there for only a short period they might be a little softer and only slightly warm."

Mr Suit would have stopped listening at crispy and I would have had to have explained it all again, in different words, letting him think about each sentence before moving on to the next.

There I was, rattling my brain around in my head forming a short sentence out of small words, looking confused while Mr Suit looked just as confused. *sigh* Fortunately my ever so optimistic (he thinks everyone is special, in the good way) workmate stepped in with "they're much nicer hot."

This solved everything. Unfortunately, my honesty wouldn't allow me to formulate such an answer. I simply don't like the nasty cheddar cheese. Though now I have a new stock answer on my dartboard... not sure I'll ever manage to use it.

Please, even if it's just to kick me and every other service monkey out of this "everyone is stupid" mindset; stop at the doorway to any shop or eatery, cover all major orifices in your head and then walk in. Now, try out a little mental arithmetic. Did you manage it? No? Well, go out there, find your brain and don't come back till you've got it firmly secured in your head.

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