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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Why I am a hypocrite.

Because I obsessively check all my favorite blogs and if they’re not updated every other day, I’m pissed. Meanwhile, here’s my very own blog, which is so less than fresh that it needs some gentle guidance on blog hygiene, perhaps from an understanding counselor it looks up to.

That’s why!

Changing the subject:

My friend F. -- who, despite years of my undoubtedly creepy pleading for him and his wife J. to move to NYC, actually did so, packing up their San Francisco lives and settling down smack dab in Brooklyn, much to my unfettered delight—what was I saying? Wait! Yes! So F., a native Californian, has insisted since he moved here that New Yorkers are rude.

Rude! Us! Have you ever!

Specifically (and I don’t want to put words in his mouth although that’s exactly what I’m doing) he takes issue with the curtness of NYC service people—the cashiers and salespeople and waitstaff whose brusqueness and lack of cheer wear away at one’s soul.

When he first brought this up, my response was one of hysterical denial—“We’re so not rude you just have to get to know the way we are and then you’ll love it here because WE LOVE YOU DON’T LEAVE US”—but then once I calmed down and realized F. and J. were not about to pack up and scamper off in the night because a cashier didn’t say “Good morning,” I gave his complaints some serious thought.

And now, damn him, I keep noticing the horrible service I’m met with at every point of purchase. While occasionally you’ll find a chatty salesperson (like the cashier at the Container Store who was so damn sunny, someone in front of me demanded to know what they were giving her, to which she replied, “A fantastic workplace!” and every one else on line threw up), by and large when you purchase something in New York, you’ll be helped by Muttery McSullenhead or Sneery O’talksonhercellphone. (Yes—the rude salespeople are always Irish. )

I always assumed that salespeople were cruel because the territory on the other side of a cash register is a terrible, terrible place to be. I’ve done it. I was the worst sales associate ever in the history of Saks Fifth Avenue; I was a bank teller who routinely doled out the wrong amount of money to unsuspecting money-takers; as a waitress, I poured scalding-hot coffee on someone’s hand (accidentally) and a mixed drink on someone else’s head (also accidentally).

On the other hand. Wasn’t I always the friendliest incompetent? Wasn’t I grasping for some human connection across the gulf separating customer from employee? You can’t answer this, so I will: yes! I was so damn likeable! My customers seemed to regret it when they asked if I was disabled! My employers always apologized when they fired me!

So the misery is no excuse. Okay. But is it true that New Yorkers are necessarily ruder than people in other parts of the country? I can’t say I’ve noticed any dramatic difference in service in, say, Oklahoma. But I’ve never been to Oklahoma. So I need your help. Are sales staff in Boise kinder? Do tellers in Tallahassee mean it when they order you to have a nice day? Or, if you work with the public in NYC (and if you do, I am so sorry): why you gotta be like that?

Thank you. And have a nice day.

Reader Comments (57)

Container Store employees are paid pretty well as far as retail sales jobs go and they're practically brainwashed into really believing in the company and the products. I should know, I just quit working there last week.
August 8, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterpd
It is all relative, isn't it? Take a trip to Romania and then try the New York manners. In my customer service book, you guys rock
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterAdina
I grew up here, and live here again (NYC), and I don't care if people aren't friendly. Doesn't bother me none. I do, however, care if my business is treated as an inconvenience. Dude, I'm trying to give you my money! I'm not buying this cheese to insult you! No need to be so nasty and wounded!

...especially if you're going to put a little tin can for tips. Unless, of course, the tips will be contributed to your anger management classes. Then it's cool.
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterAbigail
I find that it's a valuable exercise to try to make friends with the service-folk; say hi, and the grumpiest cashier turns into a ball of light.

Let's face it, part of the reason service-industry folk are grumpy is the servicees. Most New Yorkers are creepily self-indulgent believers in their own entitlement, and their pissiness rubs off on service-types. It's sort of a recursive cycle. Boo us.
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Gutman
I've only been to the states once (to NYC as it goes), and found most people friendly and some people rude. I must admit though that when a complete stranger asks me "HOW ARE YOU!!" in a overly joyful voice, i get a little freaked out. I also often get tempted to tell the person in detail just how shitty or joyous i'm feeling, you know, just to freak them out right back, because frankly i know he or she couldn't care less about the state of my wellbeeing...
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered Commentermonica
I think it's interesting that there haven't been to many comments by people who have worked the other side. I've done a lot of customer service, both in MD where I grew up (Baltimore) and in Chicago where I now live. In my experience there are many people that do not treat service workers very well. (i.e. like dirt, or something that needs to be removed from a shoe) After many, many days of receiving ill treatment one begins to react negatively to everyone, even when they are being perfectly nice. When you are in customer service you can never have a bad day, and when someone is rude to you you are supposed to smile and take it as that is part of your "job" which you generally don't get paid too much to do. (This is why I got out of the industry!)My father used to suggest that everyone should have to do one year of Customer Service, sort of like mandatory military service in other countries, so that everyone would know what it felt like. That said, I'm sure there are plenty of people that are just rude and mean because that's their personality.

In a side note, I find the people in Chicago to be a lot friendlier than on the east coast! That whole midwestern mentality thing....
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterstef

August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterGertrude McFuzz
stef - you are absolutely right, service workers DON'T get treated well and I stand corrected. The exact reason I don't work in the service industry is because people are notoriously rude, so it is not limited to service workers or anyone else. Are we just one rude universe? Can't we all just get along? Why can't the world be made of marshmallows and candy canes? Tralalala......

Oops sorry - got into my fantasy world for a minute there!

I guess one could try the following:- Be polite and courteous to service workers- When treated the same, respond genuinely (good tip or praise)- Be happy and joyful for the rest of the day.

Another thing I have found works well is diffusing "rudeness" with extreme politeness. I have noticed that many people who have come across as grumbly have simply not been able to keep it up when you keep responding cheerily!

Just my two bits!!
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
Born and raised in Dallas. Everyone's pretty nice, except when it's been 100+ degrees for the EIGHTY FIFTH DAY IN A ROW!
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterTerri
Hmmmm, down here in South Florida, the bad service attitudes fall into two camps: ignorant and rude, and just plain crabby. The former from the locals, the latter, transplanted New Yorkers.

I suppose though, in defense of New Yorkers, that dealing with ignorant and rude people all day long will make you just plain crabby.
August 9, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterLynne
Unfortunately, I think it's safe to say that salespeople are much ruder in large cities. I used to live in Chicago before moving to Kansas City. I almost passed out with the niceties here. Recently, Southwest Airline ticketing agents overbooked three planes so my baby, my husband and I could catch a flight to my cousin's wedding in Portland at the last minute. Then they carried my luggage for me. I know. I couldn't believe it, either. I regularly write fan letters to service people here.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterRita
I live in Dc but grew up in Ohio, and when I go home it takes me days to get used to being nice to random people again. By the time I re-train myself to make eye contact, I have to come right back and start looking Too Important To Be Bothered again.

I was a waitress for a long time, and the best thing about quitting that job (besides getting anew one with health insurance and weekends off) has been being able to like people again. The public is a rude, nasty bunch of mofos when you get right down to it. I'm so glad that I can ignore them with impunity now.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterCara
Hi. found you through Audra. never comment but read religiously.

However, this one pertains to me! Your friend is a California Native. I am a California native. My parents warned me before leaving for college that East Coast people are "a little less friendly. Don't let it scare you." As in, they're actually frightening and will rip your lips off your face if you so much as smile at them, was the tone conveyed. I have found this to be true at moments, but most of the time it seems like East Coast people just don't feel like maintaining any kind of pretense about being friendly with strangers. Once you know them they can actually be much less reserved than Californians, who are experts at casual small talk (hence our retail skills). California is obsessive about maintaining its sunshine state reputation. People think we're being fake. Which is probably true, given the road rage. But other than's sunny all the time compared to New York, unless you live in San Francisco, and even there it's only really cloudy in July. The weather's just so nice there. It's hard not to be friendly.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterLis
Wow, that's a lot of comments that I didn't read. Anyway, I love rude salespeople because then I don't have to talk to them. I'm not here to talk, I'm here to buy, please facilitate my purchase and then disappear.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commentersac
they may be assholes, but they are at least expedient assholes.

attempting to get anything in less than the time it takes to find enlightenment is a lesson in futility.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterthe mighty jimbo
I've visited New York twice, both times staying in boutique hotels in mid-town. For the most part, I found service people to be courteous and friendly, except perhaps in some instances where there was a language barrier.

I DID notice that in certain establishments (Whisky Blue for example), there was a hint of 'tude... probably goes with the "trendiness" of the joint.

Also, (and I'm probably imagining this) it was almost as if some New Yorkers have this "I live in the coolest place in the world" aura...

Don't get me wrong. I (truly) love New York and would love to visit every couple of months if I could... (coincidentally, I blogged about it a week or so ago... see But I'm not sure I have what it takes to live there--- I like the relative peace and quiet of my much smaller city, and the proximity of expansive wilderness for those times when I really need some solitude.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Reinhart
I'm a native New Englander, so I am definitely more comfortable with our reserved and indifferent but fast and efficient mode of customer service.

I feel it's rude for a stranger to inquire about my day or my state of health when I'm merely trying to purchase some food or a DVD. How am I? None of your business, thanks.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commentermaurinsky
Am I the only one who finds most of the people in LA totally obnoxious and genuinely uninterested in helping me?? Except, of course, at Trader Joes. Those folks are without a doubt the nicest and happiest people ever. Oh and maybe In and Out. But everywhere else - Ralphs, Rite Aid, 99 Cents, Baja Fresh - total nightmare.And I grew up on Long Island - I know from obnoxious!
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterRee
i live in park slope, too.

duane reade checkout ladies in the city are the surliest people on earth, but then i get to come home to our new brooklyn target, where no one is jaded yet, and to the little schmalzty places on 5th ave and to the true value on 7th ave and everyone there is nice.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commentersuzun
I'm from NJ and live in MN now. Here I find there's more of a problem with service quality than with actual bad attitudes. It's as if the most important thing is the "Have a nice day!" at the end of the transaction, and not the quality of the goods you're purchasing. My favorite example was a restaurant owner who couldn't understand why I was unhappy that my steak had been microwaved. I'd rather they be rude and do a good job, but I think that's the East Coast talking there.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterspygeek
I live in the Seattle area. (Where passerby'ers smile and/or say "hello", and men and women alike hold open doors for you.) Every year I go to Las Vegas to visit my parents for a week. I always find it shocking how rude the clerks and sales people are (if you can find them. I think there's a secret cave in the back of every store where they hide out). Or, it could just be because nearly all of them are on the brink of death. I guess I too would get kinda cranky working in customer service/public relations when I'm 90-something years old.
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterShano
native to chicago, now in memphis. chicago is umm, a big city with people who have a lot on their minds. I was both the professional and the servant there and the way people talked to the servants well, was like we were....servants. Diff bw. chicago and the south (I think) are what I call "the professionals you need things from". in chicago dealing w/fellow prof in work related things, it was like you were asking for a kidney in order for them to do something for you professionally. South...its like people will at least be pleasant to your face and even sometimes (GASP) crack a joke.

My thing is, is it upbringing? job/life stress? or people who are plain ole'asses?
August 10, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterstella
I lived in NY for 12 years...and now i'm in rural ohio. People in the service industry are predominantly unhappy in their jobs. They're the same in MA when I go home to visit, rural and urban. I know I was when I waited tables. More of them are friendly here 1 out of 5 maybe, but many of them are fierce competition for my all-time favorite cluster f*ck service folks, the boobie heads in Au Bon Pain in Rockerfeller Center across from the Time and LIfe Building. Holy jackwads. Truly. Next time you're in midtown, go see for yourself. Tell them Kelly said kiss her ass.
August 11, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterkelly
That was one funny blog entry. A new on for my Favorites. (Thanks to the Mighty Jimbo and Dooce.)

In my experience, you have to know how to take New Yorkers (and East Coasters in general for that matter.) People from the East Coast are far more gracious, friendly and helpful than anyone I've ever come across here in Northern California where Selfish Aggression is a required course in middle school.
August 11, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterBob SF
Great blog!

I actually live in Oklahoma and was in NYC for a week last October, so I feel modestly qualified to comment.

(clears throat)

New Yorkers are not rude. They are quite friendly. They're just not particularly outgoing to strangers. With several million strangers packed on a tiny island, who can blame them?

You wanna make a New York service person happy? When it's your turn, know what you want, place your order clearly, have your money out, be decisive if they ask you questions, give 'em a quick nod and a "thanks" when they hand you your purchase, and them get the f*ck outta the way. Be a non-hassle. You don't mess with them, they don't mess with you.

In Oklahoma, people are usually outgoing, but not always "friendly" in the purely honest sense. And we're entirely too tolerant of idiots who stand in line for 10 minutes at the deli and then have no idea what they want to order once they get to the front of the line. That's not being friendly, that's being an enabler. Light that moron's tits on fire so the rest of us can eat and get back to work sometime this week...
August 11, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterAVERAGE JOE

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