In any relationship there is bound to be at least one or two disagreements that stem from fundamental differences in each person’s upbringing and outlook on life. One topic on which The Keeper and I have one of these fundamental differences of opinion is “politeness”. More specifically, being polite to people in customer service type situations when we are the customer and the service has been extremely frustrating.
The first time we realized we weren’t in accord on what exactly it means to be polite in such situations was a little over a year ago. We were on our way to visit friends at Virginia Tech, and it just so happened that his sister (who was 18 at the time, but mentally about 12 or 13) was enrolled for a trial period at a sort of college/assisted living community for the developmentally challenged along our route called the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center. We decided to make a brief stop there on the way to check up on her and see how she was liking it.
Now, this place is in the middle of friggin nowhere.
And the day we were visiting must have been an off day for, like, 90% of the staff because there was nobody around. The Keeper’s dad had told us we would have to sign in when we got there, so we followed his directions and went to the main administrative building first. When we pulled up there were no other cars in the parking lot and the only other human being we could see was a gardener, but we went ahead to the building to try and sign in. When we got there the automatic doors opened just fine, but inside all we found was an empty reception desk and empty halls. Back on the doors was a sign with a cell phone number to call for assistance, but every time we called it just rang, there wasn’t even a voicemail.
At this point we were more worried than anything. We thought maybe we were in the wrong place or something. So we started driving around the campus, hoping we would see someone who could help us figure out where we needed to go. We drove around for half an hour without ever seeing a single person. No staff, no campus guards or police, none of the residents of the place- nothin. It was scary, and extremely frustrating.
Finally, we went back to the first building and decided to take a shot at asking the gardener. We didn’t have much hope that she would know anything, figuring she was just someone that was hired from a local landscaping company or something, but it turned out she did know where we needed to go and we finally got some directions. It turned out that we had actually already driven past where we needed to go and all the people that we weren’t seeing were in this little enclosed courtyard area that wasn’t visible from the road.
We asked one of the residents who was out in the courtyard where we needed to go and he pointed out a door, but when we got inside we, again, couldn’t find any staff. There were plenty of residents around though, so we asked one of them for directions again. He took us out the other side of the building we were in and pointed us toward another building. We walked over to the new building and finally found an office with someone in it who seemed to be working there. He had someone else in his office when we got there, so we waited patiently until he was done and then went in to ask where we needed to sign in. When we got in there it quickly became apparent that this man was a high functioning resident of this establishment, which was actually kind of cool. The Keeper very nicely explained our situation and what we were looking for and the guy walked us outside to point us in the right direction.
He pointed to the building we had JUST come from.
At that point we had been trying to find The Keeper’s sister for about 45 minutes to an hour. The main administrative building had been deserted. The only sign that had given any indication of what visitors should do if they couldn’t find a staff member had been the one with the phone number that no one answered. When we finally found the place we were supposed to be it was just as deserted of staff as the main building had been, and when we finally found someone who worked there he pointed us back at a building where we had seen no one but residents of this place. I felt that we had legitimate reason to be upset, so I ran through this list of grievances to the man, calmly but in an obviously annoyed tone. My tone did seem to bother him a little, but he agreed with me that there should have been signs for visitors and that someone should have picked up the one phone number that had been given. Then he directed us again to the other building and said that he would radio the people who were supposed to be there to sign in visitors to make sure they were there when we walked back over.
The Keeper was astounded by the way I’d treated this guy. He felt I had been incredibly rude, simply because I had made my agitation known in my tone of voice. This is that fundamental difference I was talking about. The Keeper believes that being polite means never, ever showing it if you’re annoyed, frustrated or angered by the service you’ve been given. He thinks that to be polite means you must be sweet as pie in any interactions you have, no matter what the other person or organization has done. And he finds it extremely embarrassing to do anything even slightly more aggressive than that.
I believe that one can be polite while at the same time making it clear that there is a problem, something has been done wrong, or whoever you’re speaking to has not done their job in a satisfactory manner. It is not rude to show displeasure unless you show it with personal attacks, yelling, screaming, cursing and the like. If you are calm, speak in a normal voice and you don’t attack the person you’re talking to or call them names or anything like that then I don’t see a problem.
Unfortunately, my perspective on this issue embarrasses The Keeper.
Fortunately, I very rarely find myself in situations where I feel it is necessary to react this way. In the two and a half years The Keeper and I have been together I can think of two instances where I have embarrassed him in this way. Considering how many entitled assholes there are out there who do worse than I do on an almost daily basis, I can’t bring myself to feel bad about using an annoyed tone once or twice a year.