If we want our city to sparkle, it’s pointless polishing the pavements, wiping out the weeds and tidying up the tarmacs if we are not going to teach staff, officials and everyone who makes contact with clients and customers to be affable, cordial or professional, writes Lance Fredericks.
AMERICAN author Anne Lamott appeals to her fans because of her sense of humour, her deeply felt insights, and her outspoken views on a variety of topics.
Some years back, quite by chance, I came across one of her quotes that made me squirm – I will explain why a bit later.
She wrote: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I remember sitting back, taking a deep breath and blinking a few times. I was quite stunned.
“That means,” I reasoned to myself, “that every experience, every single thing that people did to me and for me … once they were done was my intellectual property with which to do whatever I jolly well please.”
That’s when I squirmed … you see I have never been a model of kindness, patience and virtue. I wondered what people were saying or writing about me behind my soiled, guilty back. I wasn’t worried much about the lies and exaggerations – the truth would be bad enough.
I remembered another quote: “Be wise today so you don’t cry tomorrow”. I recalled that wise choices, while I was growing up, were scarce, sparse and scattered.
On Wednesday, Lamott’s quote came back to my mind with force as I was being shunted around by someone who seemed – by my best estimation – to have a toothache and haemorrhoids simultaneously.
It had become necessary for me to renew my driving licence and I headed to the local office in Ashburnham. Getting to the courtyard there were chairs packed in socially separated rows in front of a few tables where forms were being filled in. Not knowing the procedure or protocols, I walked up to a young lady and asked her where I should go.
She was helpfulness personified. She told me what I needed to have with me, where I should go and what I should do. Even when I contradicted her, not understanding why I needed to go to a certain counter, she turned and briefly explained why she was sending me over there.
However, when I got to the person responsible for testing applicants’ eyesight and recording their fingerprints it was a different story. This person’s manners left a lot to be desired.
“Kom sit daai kant,” (sit over there) he barked, motioning with his hand, not even looking up. I looked around thinking to myself, “Maybe he brought his dog to work.” But I was wrong. He was speaking to me.
“Give me your papers. Give me everything,” came the next instruction, and I pictured armed guards at a Cold War border post separating East from West.
One does not expect officials and office workers at such places to be overly friendly, fawning over their clients. But they have to remember that, though they process huge amounts of applications each day, their clients do not.
I can understand the frustration of having to sit in a cubicle and give the same instructions to people over, and over, and over, and over, again all day. But to be dismissive, rude and officious is uncalled for. It was the last exchange that especially irked me.
“Sit back. I must take a photo,” came the instruction. This was when I thought I could lighten his burden a bit, “Oh, don’t worry about a photo. I had some made, you can use these,” I offered.
“Sit … back … I … must … take a photo!” He sounded like he was just barely restraining himself.
The last time I heard that tone I was saying it to a Grade 8 pupil that I had caught deliberately stabbing his fellow pupil with a pencil. “Go to the office,” I had said.
“No sir, we were only playing,” he responded and winked at the bleeding boy next to him.
“Go … to … the … office, before I tear off your head and spit down your throat,” I snarled.
I told you I wasn’t a nice person.
Look, let no one say that the DFA is unfairly taking a swing at the staff at Kimberley’s Driving Licence Testing Station. I am speaking about my personal experience in my personal capacity as a citizen of the city.
There are many kind, polite, friendly people working there – some whom I know personally. The problem is that I never dealt with them. I dealt with the ‘Incredible Sulk’.
The challenge here is that if we want our city to sparkle, it’s pointless polishing the pavements, wiping out the weeds and tidying up the tarmacs if we are not going to teach staff, officials and everyone who makes contact with clients and customers to be affable, cordial or professional.
I know that there is a possibility that the person that attended to me on Wednesday will possibly be offended. His friends may even rally around him and agree that I am just being facetious.
However, one day, a few years ago, I read a quote: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”