The story of Steve Slater, the flight attendant who made a dramatic exit from his profession via an airplane intercom and an emergency slide has already been beat to death in the media. He’s part folk hero, part stressed out employee who took things to far, part lawbreaker. Slater’s actions, be they over the top or not (personally, I can’t blame him) have placed a large elephant front and center in the spotlight of public debate – our contempt for service workers.
Steve’s story might be unique in its highly public manner and because it was on a plane, a very touchy subject in American’s eyes. However, the sentiment is anything but. Many Americans have worked as waiters and waitresses, in retail outlets, at call centers, bars and countless other locations and positions where dealing with the “public” isn’t only required, but the main function of the job.
I spent my time serving the public – as a bagger/cart wrangler, later in a hardware store, plus a few years in a sales environment. Who among us that’s worked similar jobs can say we’d mind a chance to careen down the aisles at a retail employer in a shopping cart with a megaphone loudly informing “guests” of their flaws? Who among us would love a chance to find innumerable ways to severely inconvenience and teach poor tippers a lesson? Every person that spits in a street canvassers eye should be given a clipboard and sent out into the street on the coldest day of the year, and so on.
Sure, we’ve all experienced shitty baristas, dealt with tech support folks we can’t understand and have been shortchanged by idiot cashiers. None of that gives a “customer” the right to belittle someone or disrespect a person because they’re on the other side of the counter or wearing a paper hat. We all have our bad days where we snap on folks, but just because some of us don’t wait tables doesn’t mean we shouldn’t show a little empathy. You’re not the first person to make that snide comment or joke, not the first person to curse a worker out, not the first to ask for your bartender’s phone number, not the first person to shout in the phone and hang up on someone and certainly won’t be the last. Show some dignity and have a little empathy.