December 27, 2009

Reunited and it feels so...awkward?

It's been a couple years since I've made a cappuccino or served a meal to anyone, but I still run into old customers occasionally. Quite often at parties, a friend (mostly the ones who live in St. Paul, which is where I last worked in food service) will introduce me to their friend and the conversation will go like this:

Friend of friend: "You look so familiar. Did you go to [name of college - they usually guess art school if I'm wearing my glasses]?"
Me: "Nope."
FoF: "Hmm. Did you used to be friends/roommates with/date [name of another friend]?"
Me: "No, I don't think I know that person."
FoF: "Weird, I swear I know you from somewhere."
(awkward silence)
Me: "*Sigh*...Well, did you used to go to [place I used to work], by chance?"
FoF: "Oh, yeah, I live right by there! That's where I know you from. You used to make my coffee!"
Me: "Yep, that's it. I worked there for eight years."

It's at this point that the conversation goes one of two ways. Choose your own adventure!

1. The person is cool and has other things to talk about besides where I used to work, or will actually be interested in my non-food service life in addition to talking about what kind of smoothie they used to like. I like when this happens, as sometimes I make a new friend.

2. The person is kind of clueless and will then try to have a conversation with me about nothing but my former workplace. I've had people grill me about whether they are hiring, why the price of something has gone up, bitching about how the menu has changed. I usually try to take it with a grain of salt, but some people revert to customer mode when they find out I used to serve them, and it's kind of irritating.

Although it should be noted that I absolutely love it when people tell me how much worse the food/service has gotten since I left. Because it's TOTALLY TRUE ;)

December 21, 2009

Servitude abroad

I just spent a week on the lovely little island of Anguilla (and if you're wondering how I can afford such a vacation, it's because my boss at my office job owns a home there and is very generous with his Christmas gifts).

As much fun as the vacation was and as relaxed as I felt, I still got a little uptight over the whole "rich (um, relatively) white person travelling to mostly black country to stay in huge house and lay on the beach while being served by the locals who live in shacks and work for peanuts" thing. I believe this is generally described as White Guilt, however I attribute my feelings more to class issues than to race. But I digress...

Just about everyone we encountered on the island was remarkably friendly, especially the servers. As this is kind of a spendy island to visit, these folks are used to dealing with celebrities (OMG Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt totally broke up there!) and other wealthy people. There are no cruise ships or flocks of fanny pack-wearing tourists coming in, and no "Give Up the Booty!" shot glasses with drawings of a pirate's hook dangling a thong - you have to go to St. Martin for that. So since I wasn't really there on my own dime, it was kind of hard for me to reconcile my own serving experiences with the experience of being waited on hand and foot.

When we thought the rental car's tire might have a leak, the chef from the restaurant we were visiting came out of the kitchen and promised to change the tire or take care of whatever we needed. The chef! When have you known an American chef to a) not be a sociopath and/or drunk and b) ever in a million years take it upon him or herself to actually provide customer service?! "You go to the beach and have all the fun you need," is what he said to me when I started to freak a little. "We'll take care of whatever you need." Go, James! Our server at another place, Jerell, remembered us and the plans we had told him about four days prior.

I kept trying to figure out if people were being nice to us because we were white, and therefore presumably rich tourists in need of coddling, or if it was because we were nice, and therefore presumably not assholes. It's kind of an uncomfortable thought, but maybe there are people who can just truly be happy serving other people, race and class aside. Maybe the servers of Anguilla are proud of their country and of the fact that people come there to experience paradise. Maybe they don't get any bitchy customers because it is paradise. Hell, if I lived there I wouldn't mind slinging rum punch on the beach, even if the customers were dicks. And if Minnesota somehow became a sought-after vacation spot and Anguillans like James and Jerell were my customers, I would go back to serving in a heartbeat.