It’s Simple, Really

The Setting

I was finishing my breakfast when two ladies entered the restaurant and were seated at a table next to mine. Both were white, in their mid-to-late seventies, well but casually dressed (appropriately for the place). They looked like a couple of friends, just out for breakfast and a chat, maybe to share news of the grandkids.

After a few moments, the waitress – who was Hispanic – approached and asked if they were ready to order food. One of them – I’ll call her the Spokeswoman – took the lead, ordering first for herself and then for her companion.

This restaurant is one of those places that offers several different fixed combinations and neither of the orders fit any of them. The server listened to what the Spokeswoman said they wanted and offered suggestions for substitutions to the “standard” combinations – again, first for the Spokeswoman and then for the Companion, as relayed by the Spokeswoman. The Spokeswoman apparently felt compelled to act as an interpreter of sorts, relaying the server’s suggestions to the Companion and, in turn, the Companion’s responses to the server.

During this exchange, everyone was speaking un-accented English at a volume that, while not excessive by any means, I heard clearly. The Companion never asked for anything to be repeated or clarified. So, there was neither a language barrier nor, apparently, any disability involved.

What Happened

Each time the server repeated an aspect of the order to confirm it, the Spokeswoman responded with something like “Yes, that’s what I said” or “Well, obviously, that’s right.” This happened four or five times, twice during the Spokeswoman’s order and perhaps one more time than that when the Spokeswoman ordered for the Companion. The Spokeswoman’s tone became more disdainful each time the waitress verified the substitutions to the standard combinations.

When the Companion’s order was complete, the waitress said to the Spokeswoman, “Now, on yours ….”

The Spokeswoman interrupted her. “I’ve already told you what I want, now go get it.”

The server paused, pen in hand hovering over her order pad.

“Yes, ma’am,” she replied, and turned and walked away.

So What?

Now, I don’t know anything about the people involved in this vignette other than what I’ve told you. I can’t be certain that there was a racial component to the behavior I observed.

Perhaps the Spokeswoman was stressed by caretaking an ill and aging spouse. Maybe the Companion suffers from acute social anxiety. It’s even possible that a previous unpleasantness of some sort had occurred between these ladies and the server (although there was no indication of any familiarity at the beginning of the encounter). Who knows?

What I do know is that the behavior I observed was discourteous, unprovoked, and inappropriate.

Is that judge-y? Perhaps. But the old adage “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waitstaff is not a nice person” comes to mind and fits the situation perfectly.

And, while tolerance is important, so is calling out unacceptable, hurtful conduct.

People decry the political and social divisions manifest in our country, wringing their hands and shaking their heads, certain that the vitriol eating away at our social fabric emanates from the other guy. And maybe it does.

Each of us, though, can play a part in stopping this slide. Little things, after all, can make big differences, particularly if they’re consistent and pervasive. The most important, the most effective thing that each of us can do is simple – not necessarily easy, but simple:

Be kind.