Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I have stepped away from my daily column while I work on my next book, a memoir, which is scheduled to be published in the fall. While I’m away, I hope you’ll enjoy these topical “Best Of” questions. Today’s topic is rudeness.

DEAR AMY: I am a 21-year-old college student. To help pay the bills, I work at a coffee shop (it’s a little family-owned place — not a chain). I frequently work by myself. I deal with customers who are rude, disrespectful and patronizing. I have customers who demand that I provide beverages and snacks that we don’t serve. Some parents come in and let their children roam free while they catch up with their friends. My employer and all of my co-workers respect and encourage this. But when parents leave, they make no effort to help clean the mess their child has left. When I have to deal with customers who lack manners and civility, I get aggravated. I ask readers to take into account the way that they treat people who work the counters at their favorite hangout. We work hard to dispense whatever luxury item they are paying us for. All we ask in return is a little common courtesy and respect.

Tired of Rude Customers

DEAR TIRED: I agree. I’m tired of rude customers too.

Recently I was in my local Starbucks and was horrified to hear a fellow customer chew out the staff over a botched order. I was wondering what this person would think if somebody burst into her workplace and hurled expletives at her.

The staff, however, was polite and unflappable. They showed the sort of calm exhibited by hostage negotiators. They told me that when it comes to dealing with unpleasant encounters, their training kicks in.

Your question prompted me to call Sanja Gould, a spokeswoman for Starbucks. I asked her how they train their employees to deal with rude customers. (Gould started out as a barista for the company, 11 years ago.) “Our baristas are trained to understand that many different elements come into play in any given situation. Each customer is an individual. Our job is to try to make that person’s day better. We try to create an environment where everybody is treated with respect and dignity.”

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It might help if you remember that part of your job is to treat all customers as if they have the potential to be wonderful. It might inspire them to behave well. (February 2006)

DEAR AMY: One evening, a few days ago, our neighbor came by to “collect” his children, who were playing with our daughter. He parked his car and went to the back patio where he spent several hours with my wife, but he never bothered to step inside to say hello to me. I feel hurt by his blunt disrespect toward me. It is clear whom he came to visit. I am also hurt by my wife and that she didn’t (after a few minutes had gone by) even bother to say something like, “Excuse me but I have to go put another load of laundry in. You can go inside to talk to my husband.” Obviously, they were very comfortable with each other and I was not needed. I would also like to add that this is not the first time that they created this sort of situation. When I confront my wife, I get ridiculed for being too jealous. She says that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Am I losing it, or are they out of line? Which one of us needs a book on proper manners?

George

DEAR GEORGE: You need the book on proper manners.

And I would like to deliver it to you, right upside the head (metaphorically speaking). Unless you are somehow unable to exit your home because of a physical disability, the proper thing to do when a neighbor swings by to collect his children is to walk outside to say hello and to welcome him to your home. Respectable people also offer neighbors a cool drink of water or iced tea from time to time.

If you suspect the gentleman of having designs on your wife, your desire to be the perfect host should increase, not decrease. At this point, you are making a terrible tactical error in remaining in your home, stewing in your own juice when you could be outside, charming your neighbor and reminding your wife and him (by your very presence) that you are married. (June 2006)