Service with a smile...

>> Tuesday, 15 November 2011

This post first appeared over at my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' on The Moscow Times website

I spent the last four days in London, without my family. This was an interesting experience because not having the children to entertain and wrangle freed my attention sufficiently to notice a few things that I wouldn't normally remark upon. Perhaps it's because I used to be too close to the city — it was my benchmark of "normal" — whereas now, nearly two years after leaving, my expectations and measures of "normal" have changed.

Once upon a time, for example, I would not have been at all surprised by courtesy as a part of everyday life. On this visit, however, I was impressed to see how many people were polite to each other. And I'm not just talking about the service culture being a little more established over there than it is here, no, this is politeness as a two-way street. Not only were cashiers, servers, waiters and suchlike helpful and polite to their customers, but — get this — their customers were polite back!

No grunting, no muttering, no avoidance of eye-contact, no shouting across restaurants waving your hand in the air for service. Instead, people were politely chatting at tills, exchanging pleasantries (invariably about the weather; the British do run true to type on this one), and even smiling at each other.

There could be any number of reasons for this difference in day-to-day life between what I experience here in Moscow and what I saw in London. It could be that I just happened to strike lucky while visiting the latter. Certainly, if you speak to a Londoner, they will say that it is a very unfriendly place to live these days and remark on how standards have dropped. It could be that that people are simply glad to either have a job selling products or the money to spend on them given the economic gloom in the country. Or, it could be that my benchmark for common courtesy has been significantly lowered by my time here.

At the risk of offending a city of 16 million people, I suspect that it is the last of those.

I understand that Moscow is a hard place to live. Money is tight everywhere, the traffic is terrible, the weather is often inhospitable. Families live in close quarters, competition is fierce, you never know what's coming tomorrow. The world is a frightening place, and it's tempting to batten down the hatches and simply conserve the energy it takes to engage socially with another human being at the supermarket, the petrol station, or the cafe, and save it for the fight.

I also know that many people believe there have been great strides in recent years, and to a certain extent that's true. Certainly the goods and services you can access here nowadays are not so different from those "back home." But a decent service culture is only a part of the puzzle and is unlikely to be achieved without some positive feedback from those on the receiving end.

Moscow is a great and exciting city, as I'm constantly telling those who've never visited. But from my limited viewpoint, I would venture to say that life could be so much easier if we were all a little nicer to each other.

It's all very well to expect service with a smile. But you can expect it all you like; you won't see anywhere near as much of it if you aren't prepared to give one in return.


MsCaroline 15 November 2011 at 07:13  

One of the beautiful things about living in a country in which courtesy is woven into the very language structure: people are really very nice to each other. Of course, that won't stop them from pushing you out of the way getting into the subway car, and driving here is madness; I guess you can't have everything...

Mwa 15 November 2011 at 12:41  

I have to admit that most of the Russians I've met (not all) have been very very scary in their demeanour. Especially on the ski slopes - I ended up actually scared of them.

A Modern Mother 15 November 2011 at 14:15  

The courtesy wave goes a long way.great tom see last week. xx

A Modern Mother 15 November 2011 at 14:16  

Sorry for the typos, I wrote that on a train on my iPhone!

About Last Weekend 15 November 2011 at 20:48  

Even here in California I notice how my father (a Kiwi) says hello to everyone as he walk around the neighbourhood and people are quite shocked....its getting to where people are too stressed to acknowledge one another.

Expat mum 15 November 2011 at 20:55  

I read (and commented on) a pretty dreadful post the other day listing ten reasons why the blogger didn't like Americans. Apart from some of them being factually incorrect ("false prices" - because the blogger didn't realise that the sales tax gets added on at the till), some of them just made my jaw drop.
One of them was that Americans smile too much! Really? Is it actually possible to smile TOO much? And I've noticed that because Americans do smile a lot, they get things done for them more quickly and with less unpleasantness. Even if this were the sole reason for smiling, it works!

Nora 15 November 2011 at 23:44  

I think the kindest people are Californians. I miss their daily banter and chatter. The Dutch are uncaring in comparison.

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