Once, years ago, I got into a heated discussion with a someone over whether he should say thankyou when a shop assistant gave him his change. He was of the opinion ‘no’ and would not be swayed. He had some reasonable arguments to back up his position.
Firstly, he pointed out, he was doing them a favour by shopping there. He was buying stuff that they needed to sell. And by doing so he was contributing to the continued running of the shop and to the wages of the person currently serving him. Therefore *they* should be thanking *him*. I wasn’t quite sure of the logic for if they need to sell then surely he needs to buy? Isn’t the continued comfort of his life and ability to eat jaffa cakes at a moment’s notice down to their still being open and willing to serve him? OK yes, he could go to another business instead but then the discussion starts again in a different venue. Shouldn’t shop assistants be thanked at some point?
‘No!, he argued. There is no need to thank the person serving. They are being thanked by being paid wages by the shop owner. They do not require verbal thanks from each and every customer. Additionally there is a clear divide. *They* are serving, *he* is buying. If a person is serving then that is what they are there for. Thanks are not needed. Again, I wasn’t so sure. I’m not so sure about the implied inequality of status for one thing – shop assistants deserve as much respect as
bank managers doctors. So surely it’s just basic manners to say thanks when they pass over your change?
Apparently not. Because it’s HIS MONEY you see. And why should he say thankyou for not having his own money retained? I tried to point out that he wasn’t thanking them for not stealing his money but for the handling of the whole transaction, for being there to help him. He said he prefers those self-serve tills they have at the big supermarkets and eventually we dropped the subject.
I think this is a miserable way to live your life. Thinking up reasons to avoid saying one word* which will grease the wheels of social co-operation and make another person happy. I once worked in an office which was nice enough but where the managers were a bit reticent in the rewards and recognition department. So a small group of us decided that we would take on this task for them by thanking one another for turning up to work. This is a thing that even the best employers forget to do. It’s so obvious that nobody thinks of it. If you have a job you have to turn up – it’s a very simple premise and one which nobody thinks needs extending. But isn’t it wonderful when you’ve woken up exhausted and with a headache and you’ve realised you’ve no milk so come out without breakfast into the lashing rain and freezing wind and missed the bus and ended up on the next bus sitting next to the man who smells and trudged into work ten minutes late and there’s someone smiling at you and saying honestly and sincerely ‘Hi, Thanks for coming in today, I’m so glad to see you’?
So that’s what we did. We didn’t do extra thankyous for work done. We didn’t do extra ones when someone did us a favour. Those just got the normal amount. No, we just said thanks for turning up.
It’s hard to do at first because you feel a bit self-conscious about it. Especialy in an environment where nobody else does it. But we persevered and it soon became routine to turn around partway through the day and say ‘Oh hey, John? I just wanted to say thanks for being at work today. It’s always nice when you come in’, and then to turn back round and continue working. It’s a word that makes both the giver and the receiver happy. You should try it sometime.
I decided that I was going to extend this practice. When I was just a Minor Delay and lived in Snowy Parts we frequently had to take the bus places (on the days I wasn’t playing in the coal bunker, natch). It was the kind of small place where you likely knew the bus driver or his dog or at least knew his aunt’s friend who taught at your school. So you minded your manners and said hello and please and thankyou. But when I moved to London it seemed that nobody said thankyou to bus drivers and so naturally I followed the crowd. After our office conversion I decided to change but was confronted by a problem – these days you board a bus at the front and get off at the back. You can’t just yell down the bus at the driver and you can’t just stop as you get off and wave via his mirror cos you’ll block others getting off. So I’ve taken to saying thankyou as I board and swipe my Oyster. (Note for the timid: This does involve eye contact and a smile. Outrageous I know for public transport in London.
I’m trying to persuade a friend to follow suit. Trouble is he didn’t grow up in Snowy Parts so I’m battling against decades of urbanism. It’s not that he intends to be rude or dismissive. It’s just that it’s not been trained into him to automatically thank a bus driver so it’s easier to forget. People can be strange about forgetting things. It seems that they think if they forget to do a nice thing once then they should be embarrassed and never do it again in order to avoid drawing attention to the fact that they used to do nice things regularly. I consider this piffle and think that people are allowed to forget now and again without having to completely forego the whole idea of pleasantries.
And it is pleasant to be treated nicely. I love zooming into a platform and seeing a toddler leaping up and down and Waving at me. So much so that I’ll often return the nice by tootling on the whistle for them. I’ve blogged about this sort of thing several times already but it never gets old. It’s also nice when I hold on the platform or reopen doors for someone racing down the stairs and get a thanks or a smile or a wave as they leap on board. Aside from the warm-n-fuzzies it also makes it much more likely that I’ll do it again for others. Everybody wins. From a half-second nicety.
*Yes, ok, technically two. Sod off!