(Not So) Common Courtesy

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handshakeBy S. Friedman, Matzav.com

Call me old fashioned but I think some people nowadays leave a lot to be desired as far as manners go.  In particular, I’ve noticed a steady decline in quality in matters related to intrapersonal business services.  We know that in the 21st century the world is only more uncouth and obnoxious than ever, but the lack of care to how we treat and interact with people has infiltrated our community as well. 

Within the context of a business interaction you would think that people would act more formal.  To the contrary, it seems that once commerce is involved then all civility is subsequently dismissed.  It is a two way street; both the customers and vendors perceive each other as nothing more than inconvenient obstacles in their paths.

What do I mean?  Let’s take two different ways for a business situation to play out.  For instance, people will call a babysitter and as soon as she picks up the phone and offers “Hello,” the rapid response is, “What are your hours, and how much is it?” 

After a quick pause in which the babysitter realizes that she isn’t talking to a familiar someone that she knows (i.e. a “person’) but rather a potential customer, replies in kind, “9-4, $4 an hour no lunch, no snacks.” 

Now that the caller determines this particular babysitter’s schedule and/or price doesn’t quite suite her needs, she thankfully ends the poor excuse of a conversation with an abrupt and muted “Thank you, bye (click).”

This is how it used to (should) be:

“Hi!  I saw your advertisement in ____ (insert paper) for babysitting.  How are you?”

The babysitter then responds cordially, “Fine, thank you, and yourself?” After the caller responds that Boruch Hash-m they’re doing ok as well, the babysitter then offers, “So how can I help you today?”

“Well, I have a really hectic schedule and I wanted to know if your hours worked out with mine.” 

“Let’s see if I can accommodate you- when would be the earliest that you can drop off, wait, are we talking about a little yingeleh or a maideleh?”

Etc…  You get the point.  I know it’s more time consuming to be polite and personable but isn’t it worth it?  Whether we are engaged in procuring services or offering them, the way we act towards people influences the whole cycle of treatment.  When a business is encountered by customers who begin their phone calls in a friendly non-hurried fashion, it causes them to act likewise.  The opposite is obviously true with businesses who want to be helpful to their customers.

I don’t know where the cavalier attitude towards others comes from.  Maybe it’s a sense of entitlement by those spending money (“I’m paying them!  They’re lucky I’m talking to them at all!”).  Or perhaps it’s a mutual rationalization:  “We’re all in a rush; both the customer and business want to do away with pleasantries and move on.”   Either is unacceptable. 

It is a matter of middos.  That’s like saying “I’ll grab a lemon from Shoprite- who has time to go to esrog sellers?”  Worse, it isn’t just a bad personal habit to be hasty and discourteous; it is something that changes the face of an entire community.  If even minute aspects of bein adam lechaveiro get thrown by the wayside, people can become insensitive and downright rude to each other, causing their fellow Yid anguish or worse, a chillul Hash-m.

Vendors should focus on how they are performing chessed along with providing services.  Customers can keep in mind that they are helping out a fellow Yid with parnassa.  People’s cynicism may trivialize the message and aspiration of this column.  It is precisely that cynicism that I’m addressing.  It’s not being naïve; it’s being a mentch.

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  1. I think people just arent interested in connecting to others on a personal level if they don’t obsolutely have to. They think that they have their friends and family and don’t want to make the investment of respecting and caring about others.
    What people forget is that we’re all tzelem Elokims and we should act in a friendly manner no matter what.
    Don’t be everybody’s best friend- just smile and ackowledge them like real people.

  2. Much depends on where you are located too. I get around and see that it does matter. Even a simple “Hello” can be met in kind or abruptly with a “Do I know you?”. It’s not an exception. There are simply places that are not friendly. I don’t think I have to name places. You know who you are. From the posts here so far I can pretty much guess where they are located.

  3. To #3. I was in a fast food restaurant and was throwing out my garbage when a worker from the restaurant asked me to please leave it on the table. She said that if everyone cleaned up like I was doing she would lose her job. You never know!

  4. Another restaurant issue: people being rough with waitresses. They think they’re being tough guys and getting their money worth by sending the food back or complaining about the wait etc… They’re just jerks. Be nice to waitstaff.

  5. While your point is well taken, it may be time to adapt to the new world we live in. Simply remembering the days of old gets you nowhere. Try understanding today’s generation.

  6. With everyone texting the art of conversation has disappeared. People would rather send e-mails and text than have to speak to someone. It is also very rude when people chat on their cell phones while you are in their company.
    We old folks should try to teach manners to the younger people by setting good examples.

  7. I walked into a shul in NY one night and as I got to the door, a elder gentleman was right behind me. As we got closer to the door, I gladly opened and held it open for him, so he can enter first. He smiled after we walked in to shul, said thank you and you must live out of town….

  8. This is a decline that I’ve noticed too. Perhaps it’s related to the general drop in civility that’s been so evident nationally in recent years.

  9. Yesterday I saw a boy just stand there while someone struggled to get through a door with a carriage. I had to call to him to hold the door for her, but it was too late.
    When I got close, he held up a raffle book to me, trying to get me to give tzedakah to his yeshivah. I said, “You wouldn’t do a chessed to hold that door, but you expect me to do a chessed and give tzedakah?” (I would have anyway, buit I didn’t have any cash on me.)

  10. don’t make it about tit for tat with a little boy- you’re just teaching him bad middos too. I would say why give money to his yeshiva when clearly they don’t produce little mentches.

  11. Daily, self-centeredness gets greater and greater. One thing I realized though, when behave nicely it DOES influence others to do so as well and the opposite is true as well.


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