Hodgepodge of Thoughts   4 comments

The world is interesting, you guys. People are interesting. Societies are interesting. I have some thoughts on this. Are you surprised? Some thoughts are directly related to feminism and suchlike; some are more general and/or rant-y and/or some sort of rambly “hey, what’s going on here?” musings.

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How to be an Actually Nice Guy, as opposed to a Nice Guy(TM), an anecdote:

I got flirted with while I was on the bus the other day. There were several elderly people waiting in line, plus me and one attractive youngish guy. A few moments after the bus had pulled away from the stop, the young guy (who had been sitting a row or two back from me and across the aisle) moved to the empty seat next to me and struck up a conversation. It was quite definitely flirtatious on his side; he was extremely complimentary of my looks, my Spanish, etc. But here’s the thing: he wasn’t pushy. He didn’t ask me any personal information. He asked questions about what it was like to be an American student here and how it was different from home (he didn’t even ask where specifically that was!), and we discussed what we’re each studying in university (he was also a study-abroad student, from a Spanish-speaking area of Morocco). He actually listened to and engaged with my responses and questions.

Just before I was going to get off the bus, he asked if I’d like to hang out with him sometime and said he could give me his phone number. I said sorry, it’d been lovely chatting with him but I have a boyfriend and I don’t give my info to strangers. He laughed, said basically oh, well and it was nice to meet me anyway and he hoped I had a pleasant day. I got off the bus.

There was no anger, there were no slurs, there was no pushing. It was pleasant, personal but not invasive, comfortable, eminently human. Once we started talking he was complimentary of my physical appearance, but it was very clear that he was interested in what I had to say, not just in getting a date or related attentions from me. If I weren’t already attached, and if I were going to be here a longer time, I’d at least have considered the possibility of going on a date with this guy, because he treated me like a human being, up to and including the point where I rejected him, instead of railing at me when I failed to deliver what he was looking for.

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How to be a Not-Nice-At-All Guy, a list:

  1. Yell at me from your car window or motorcycle.
  2. Yell at me from across the street.
  3. Yell at me from anywhere, really.
  4. Put your arm around me, without knowing me or asking my permission.
  5. Touch me in any way, really.
  6. Call me bitch, whore, tramp or slut.
  7. Call me blondie.
  8. Call me anything except my name or a formal business-setting salutation, before you actually know me and know what nicknames I’m comfortable with, really.
  9. Bark at me.
  10. Growl at me.
  11. Howl at me.
  12. Whistle at me.
  13. Make any sort of inhuman noise at me, really.

All of the above are good ways to be a Not-Nice-At-All-Guy in whatever country you encounter me.

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On Bullfighting:

So, I went to a bullfight a week ago. It was upsetting.

I’m not much of an animal-rights activist. I eat meat with a great deal of pleasure. I basically only give money to human-oriented causes (though I am glad there are people who advocate for animals in horrible conditions). Consequently I didn’t really expect to be in much distress about the fight. But… I was.

We saw six fights. Two fighters got hurt in startling ways. As a show, it was thrilling and dramatic and entertaining on some level, certainly. But I didn’t like it. The bulls were clearly suffering, in whatever capacity they have for that — I personally don’t really think they have a very high level of sentience, so pain probably doesn’t affect them in the same way it does us, but still, it was pain and rage and ultimately death. It was cruel, brutal, senseless. Six bulls died, unknowing, hurt, angry, bewildered, all for the sport and pleasure of a crowd of humans.

Overall, though, my discomfort was not so much about the bulls themselves. The problem was sitting in a stadium full of people who were reveling in the sensation, the blood and gore, the genuine danger in which the fighters placed themselves and of course the genuine suffering the bulls experienced. The problem was experiencing a culture in which the most macho thing one can do is kill kill kill. Certainly it involves a great deal of skill, but there’s no question the bull is always going to die.

It seems that in many (most?) cultures, killing is a highly-valued expression of masculinity. The ability to kill means dominance — over animals, nature, other persons. I suppose that makes some sort of twisted sense, but honestly, it’s not all that impressive to me. I appreciate the skill and work that goes into becoming an expert bullfighter, or a top-notch assassin, or a great military strategist. But what would happen if all that talent and effort were directed toward creation and healing? Isn’t it far more radical, transgressive, impressive, strong and admirable to defy traditions and rules and expectations? Everything that lives, dies. That’s the way the world works. Becoming part of that cycle doesn’t strike me as all that valuable.

I’m reminded of what Opal McHone said to her husband in Catherine Marshall’s Christy: “Tearin’ down or killin’, that thar’s easy… It’s fixin’ that’s hard. Takes a heap more doin’.” I respect women and men who take up the hard and dangerous task of defending their lives, their homes or their countries by fighting. But I have more respect for people who take up the hard, endless task of building families and societies without violence and cruelty, creating love and beauty and joy in cultures full of hatred and ugliness and despair.

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Customer Service?:

I think there are many things wrong with capitalism as practiced in the U.S., but one thing I do not find fault with is the general idea that businesses should treat their clients well and endeavor to make their experiences pleasant, in order to attract their continuing support as consumers.

That doesn’t really happen here, at least not in the same way. I went to buy a mobile phone, and it took almost an hour. To begin with, when I was wandering around looking very lost, none of the many employees came over to ask me if I needed anything. Then, when I went over to the phone section, I had to (actually my roommate did it for me, as she had already been through the process) ask the worker in that area of the store to tell me about the options. The long part came in when she was trying to use the computer to fill out a form with my personal information and print out a paper that I would have to take down to the cash register to pay. Her computer was crashing repeatedly and she took an extremely long time trying to restart it over and over, finally ending up filling out the form by hand and then finding another computer to use to print my payment ticket.

There were several issues here. One was that this employee was hardly interacting with me personally at all throughout the process. No apologies, no explanations of what was going on, no assurances that everything would be worked out soon. Another was that she spent quite a bit of the time (e.g. while the computer was starting up again) ignoring me and going over to have chats with another employee who was stocking shelves and whatnot in her area. Another was that when she left a couple of times, to have such chats as well as to look for someone to help with the problem (I think), she simply left my passport sitting on her unattended desk. (I took it back or stayed within two inches of it at all times.) Another was that it took a freaking hour.

I’ve worked in customer service, so I generally try to be a very forgiving, patient and non-demanding customer when I’m on the other side of the register. But the lack of communication, the lack of concern for my time or comfort (if I’d been elderly or disabled, standing at that desk for an hour could’ve been a serious problem) — I felt disregarded and disrespected. I’ve had other disconcerting experiences: sitting at the counter in a coffee shop when the manager was loudly and angrily chastising a waiter, having to try multiple times to get a waiter’s attention to obtain my check, walking into a bank and also a government ‘services for citizens’ center and being completely ignored until I got right in front of a receptionist’s face and started talking… It’s weird and uncomfortable.

Part of the point of a store is to make it easier for the average consumer to make purchases, right? That’s part of what we pay for when we buy a product — if not for stores (and restaurants) and their facilities and employees we’d all have to go right to manufacturers (or make our own food all the time), and maybe we’d get things cheaper but it’d all be more of a hassle. Right? That’s what I always assumed. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m generally laid-back about time (hah! Laid way, way back is more like it) I don’t care about things taking longer, and much of the time things are fine, and it’s just me being a reticent introverted Midwesterner reluctant to ask for help. But still, I often feel like I’m paying for a level of ease and comfort in transactions that I’m just not getting. It’s frustrating, and I don’t like feeling like I have to make things happen for myself when I’m spending money at someone else’s business. I especially don’t like being ignored and treated as if my time and my money and my concerns don’t matter.

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Final Note:

I’m tired of people saying “I’m not racist, but…” or “I don’t care what you believe, as long as you don’t…” or “It’s not sexist, it’s just…” and then following up with really bigoted things. I’m just tired of it.

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Posted September 19, 2010 by skreps in Feminism, Gender, Sexism

4 responses to “Hodgepodge of Thoughts

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  1. This is a purely cultural thing. The U.S. is the only country I can think of that sees customer service the way you do and it’s actually one of the highest reasons on my list that I don’t think I could really spend most of my life in a different country. Americans have this ingrained view that things should be convenient and that it’s intrinsic to how and why we spend money. This is actually a really unconventional view, and while many Americans say they don’t like Walmart, that store is pretty much the epitome of what American capitalism strives for. It’s also probably part of why American retail workers are so miserable – even if you’re bad at your job, you’re still expected to spend much more of your time actually focused on customers than workers in other countries.

    One of my favorite stories about the particularly American mentality that servicepeople should, well, serve you, is from when I was living in England. A British girl at my school was talking about going out to dinner over the weekend and how her waitress came over to her table, brought them menus and cheerily said, “Hi, my name is ____ and let me know if there’s anything I can do for you!” The girl telling the story then sneered and said, “Ugh, what was she, American? Who cares what her name is!”

  2. Oh yeah, I definitely understand how American the view is. I expected it would be different, but I don’t think I expected to be as deeply irritated by it as I am. Like I said, I try to be pretty patient with servicepeople, firstly because it’s the decent thing to do, secondly because I’ve been one so I have a lot of personal sympathy, and thirdly because I’m not naturally an uptight person who’s very concerned about time and details and whatnot. And again, much of the time it’s not really an issue — having to catch someone’s attention, having to wait awhile, having to pay cash when I’ve been told I could pay by credit card… none of these things are really a big deal.

    But being actively ignored? Being in an environment that feels uncomfortable and hostile due to employees’ conflict (that’s happened more than once)? Feeling like no one involved has any concern for my time? Those things don’t come off (to me personally of course) as just bad business, they come off as discourteous and unpleasant on a personal level. I just don’t want to spend my money at an establishment that doesn’t respect me at all.

    You definitely have a valid point about why workers in the U.S. are so miserable — since my customer service experience was a small business with a pretty great work environment, I haven’t personally had that, but I can definitely see (and have heard from others, of course) that not being able to interact with co-workers, having to focus all your energy and be 100% positive for customers all the time, is difficult and for many who do it well there should be better compensation. I’d be all for retailers, service businesses etc. allowing more break time and not isolating employees from each other so much. But not to the exclusion of respecting the needs and wants of the customer who also plays an important role in the business cycle.

  3. I know where you’re coming from – I didn’t mean to say it was unusual and therefore wrong. It’s one of the few parts of American culture I thoroughly appreciate and wish were more widespread, though perhaps without the aforementioned negatives of destroying workers’ morale.

  4. Pingback: La corrida de toros « Sevilla Suz

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