Service with a Smile
June 12, 2014 10:49 PM   Subscribe

 
She is a great writer. The comparison with the fictional Amèlie is interesting because I think one would have to trawl the cafés of real life Paris very thouroughly to find a serveuse who smiled without obvious cause.
posted by rongorongo at 1:55 AM on June 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


holy shit, her boss sounds sounds like an almost movie-perfect archetype of the platonic ideal entitled, condescending, low level infuriating, wrong side of dunning-krueger retail/food service boss. Especially in an expensive location. So many little details like the "no real set hours" thing. I feel like something like half of my friends have worked for someone like this. It's always the places where the owner is there nearly or all the time to micromanage, too.

god, the shit bosses like that make people invest in utterly worthless dead end jobs that perpetually leave you teetering on the brink of being underemployed. It really reminds me of this thread.

I mean there's a lot of real shit here about the expectations of women, especially pretty young women in service jobs. And that's something i've seen plenty of from a 2nd person perspective... but i just had too many PTSD flashbacks of jobs like this and the bullshit bosses i and my friends endured. And i'm not the one to write something meaningful about any of the lady-specific stuff, anyways.
posted by emptythought at 2:55 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


The barista I remember from my last visit to SF was tripping balls - eyes like dinner plates.
posted by thelonius at 3:19 AM on June 13, 2014


I adore this article immensely. I came out of college with some ideas about jobs that seem crazy now: I really thought that working as a college radio DJ, a clerk at Cult Cineaste Video Store, a guitar player, or a TA in English Lit were so obviously preferable things one could do that it was perfectly reasonable to close the doors that were opened by my boring Computer Science degree. Why the hell did I believe that? It's almost incomprehensible to me now! And the author of this article nailed it ... the need to feel like you "belong" to the inner circle of the place you live, as judged by your peers, just like you really belonged at your college by your Senior year.

There's also a word unspoken throughout, but it matters: love. What her job required was nurturing the smallest bits of love in the people she served, doling out pinches of the fuel for attraction and affection. For instance, one thing that distinguishes someone you're attracted to is the way they "occupy this nook in [your] brain"; you think about them more. (The refrain of so many nice guys & girls: I'm totally pleasant and comfortable to be around! Why are folks more attracted to those loudmouthed personalities who take such outsized positions? Answer: because they aggravate us enough that we can't get them out of our heads.) "But it took its toll," she says, rightly. Making everybody love you 5% plays hell with the way you negotiate real love, of friends, of work, and even of the customers whom in another job you'd have normal human inter-relationships with.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:25 AM on June 13, 2014 [16 favorites]


emptythought--seems a little tough on the boss and the folks who work full time in positions such as this. This is the way the world is for most people--there is a certain arrogance, particularly calling it an "utterly worthless dead end job". Believe it or not--in some people see a "service" job as a career--may not fit for you but that hardly makes it a utterly worthless shit job. You don't leave much room for people to enjoy some aspects of work such as this.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:37 AM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think the condemnation of her boss is deserved. Georgina sounds like she was running some unpleasant mind games on the young women in her employ. The author says she recovered some of her sanity when she took another barista job later, for a woman who acted like a normal boss rather than a Den Mother. It's natural in your early 20s to want to find some vocation to dedicate your love and attention to; but to twist one's employees' energy into working on their days off is a bit gross. I mean, I remember volunteering to do the same thing in my first job -- oh, I have to stay here all night to get this software bug fixed! no, I didn't, really, but it felt like I was important, better than another night watching TV -- at least my manager didn't nurture that psychological weakness.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:50 AM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Believe it or not--in some people see a "service" job as a career--may not fit for you but that hardly makes it a utterly worthless shit job.

I don't think America can have it both ways - a culture that demands that workers in "service jobs" are paid like crap (ie. below the statutory minimum wage) and are forced to rely on tips at the whim of customers, is not a culture where those jobs will ever be respected as potentially a real career.
posted by Jimbob at 4:04 AM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Harvey point taken--yet not only was there a boss/employee gap but also a cultural gap. Georgiana may not have been the best boss but I would stop this side of condemnation and ridicule--relationships are reciprocal. Granted there is always a power imbalance in employee/employer relationships but there was some mutual ingratiation and manipulation. The barista was not completely powerless--hardly a disadvantaged recent immigrant with little or no skills. I would not want to work for a den Mother for long but "condemnation" still seems strong. By the writers own statements she states Georgiana could be wonderful etc. But perhaps there is a generational gap between myself and the writer. regardless, I enjoyed the article and her writing.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:09 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


JimBob--was she being paid below the minimum wage, not all service jobs are tip dependent--but you are right--it is a conundrum in many U.S.service sectors. I absolutely believe that anyone working 35 hours a week should be able to live independently, support themselves and one dependent, have health insurance and paid time off. I know this is not always the case in America but it is also is not just the exception.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:14 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


sad
posted by evil_esto at 4:46 AM on June 13, 2014


I think the condemnation of her boss is deserved. Georgina sounds like she was running some unpleasant mind games on the young women in her employ. The author says she recovered some of her sanity when she took another barista job later, for a woman who acted like a normal boss rather than a Den Mother.

I don't think the condemnation of the boss is deserved - it sounds more like a cultural gap than anything else. When I was in Korea, a lot of places operated like this - more like a family than a boss/employee sort of dynamic. People would always try to fix your flaws to show they cared. I knew I had achieved regular status at my favorite bar when instead of smiling at me, the owner sat down with me to discuss my love life and what I was doing wrong in it. The author says she was the only non-Asian in the entire shop - it seems more likely that she is the one having the cultural mismatch of expectations.

That said, there's still a lot to be said here about emotional labor, but I don't think blaming it on the boss is really fair.
posted by corb at 4:58 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Interesting article..... thanks for the post... I found her photo at the end to be amusing. Did she intentionally try to look like, or has she become, Amelie?
posted by HuronBob at 5:08 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


The two coffee shops I worked at in my 20s were worlds apart in terms of how they were run in so far as bosses went. The first was run by a brother and sister who moved from Seattle to Atlanta to introduce their bit of coffee culture to the city (they started back in the mid-90s). The brother eventually moved back to the West Coast, but his sister stayed and took on the entire business herself. She was a pretty nice boss. She was firm, direct, but kind. The world of baristas in any business can be sort of rotating--you work at one place for a while then pop up at another joint, and so on--but Aurora held a pretty good track record of longtime employees. We weren't coddled, but just treated well in terms of being listened to. It was a sad day for all of us when she sold the business. But she took us out to dinner, had a few drinks with us, and laughed about some of the more memorable incidents during her ownership. (She did keep herself in reserve, though, but we wouldn't have expected any less.)

Well, I didn't end up liking the new owner very much and quit not too long after. One of my best friends had accepted a management job with a local competitor. He brought me on. The way things were run was so different. Everything was mico-managed. The owner was highstrung, easily angered, overly creepily chummy guy. His wife was the kind of person where the smile never reaches the eyes. You were worked pretty hard--no big deal, that comes with the territory--but you were constantly monitored. Schedules were constantly changed and surprise inspections from either one of them were the norm at any of their three locations. I didn't like them but I needed the work, so I remained pleasant. It wasn't until I announced that I was getting married and in six months I would be moving to another country to be with my future husband that I didn't even get to put my notice in. The owner picked me up in his truck to run an errand with him under the pretense of having a friendly chat. The friendly chat was telling me I was unsuitable for the job that I had been working at for the past four years and maybe when I moved to Canada, I should find some work I would be better at. They were so sorry but they tried to help me and I guess I didn't want to be helped. (?????) Then he dropped me off at the shop, told me to get my things, my shift was over.

So yeah, not all bosses are jerks, but there are some who seem to delight in it.
posted by Kitteh at 5:23 AM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Kitteh... "...the kind of person where the smile never reaches the eyes." a great phrase, I believe I will steal that and use it often....
posted by HuronBob at 5:44 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is so illuminating. I don't work in a public-serving position (cubicle ahoy!), but I do have a boss who pushes us all to be like family and is friendly-friendly with everyone, yet switches to inflexible & flinty at the most unexpected times, leaving me feeling constantly monitored. It's unsettling and I couldn't put my finger on it.
posted by psoas at 6:37 AM on June 13, 2014


It's all family and friendly when they want you to sacrifice for the company, and then flinty when you don't give up enough.
posted by sudasana at 6:49 AM on June 13, 2014 [12 favorites]


After reading numerous stories like this one, I am full of doubt as to how to treat service personnel.

"Treat them like a real person instead of a decoration" is the common response, but the reverse conundrum is true: I as a customer have zero connection to this stranger. I know first hand the misery of service industry personnel. Therefore I feel obliged to try to be the best customer possible, to cheer them up and make their days better.

Sometimes this means trying to engage them in conversation. But I always worry that they are reciprocating not because I'm making them happy, but because they feel obliged, as this article discusses.

Lately I feel like the best thing I can do is to project an air of indifference to them - a face that says "please do not expend any emotional energy on this customer." but doing that feels so damn rude and harsh.
posted by rebent at 6:57 AM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


I very much identified with her experience of her boss. My first job after college was in retail, working for a woman who owned a second-hand store. She hired only young women, many of whom were vulnerable or exploitable in some way she has a sense for. We were alternately micromanaged and then abandoned for days. When a group of us started going for drinks after work, we were told we were no longer allowed to do so, ostensibly because we weren't inviting her favorite (the one who told on us all the time), but also likely because she suspected (rightly) we talked about what a nightmare she was. We were often scheduled for long shifts alone in the store and forbidden to use the bathroom. She had a mangy dog she brought to work and once it bit me when I reached under the counter for a bag for a customer's purchases. I got screamed at for that and fell even further out of favor.

None of that was a cultural misunderstanding. People are very mistaken if they think think there aren't bosses out there, often ones who own a small business, who are super manipulative, try to consume and control all aspects of their employees, and bully them into whatever their whim is that day.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:41 AM on June 13, 2014 [14 favorites]


I am a children's librarian, and I do a lot of whimsical smiling. I really love my job, and I enjoy joking with kids about Minecraft or Superheros or whatever. But I find myself being really short with my family when I get home and feeling really lonely. I'm super-amped, slightly-madcap, ever-so-helpful Miss Biblio all day, and it's like a mask that never slips, because my interactions with people are so short. We never get past the pleasantries, nor do they want to. So I come home and spit nails at my poor family.
posted by Biblio at 7:45 AM on June 13, 2014 [16 favorites]


Did you catch that bit about flight attendants? Back when they were called stewardesses, they were certainly expected to smile. Now? Not so much. I don't think anyone minds. We all know they are a bit overworked, and don't need to fake a smile for three hours.
posted by kozad at 8:22 AM on June 13, 2014


in the '80s we were waiters and making espreso drinks was one of the many duties we had to do..nothin special
posted by judson at 8:41 AM on June 13, 2014


Retail stinks. Service work stinks. Customers are not your friends, and neither are management. You are underpaid, overworked, and being worked over. Dealing with people all day is tough (I, talkative but an introvert, have worked as a waitress, and I've been a teacher for a couple of decades). I seem to have read a few things lately about how hard it is to be a barista. I'm not sure how it was supposed to be different from working in Howard Johnson's to work in a coffee shop, though. Is that a thing?
posted by Peach at 9:08 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have never held a service position like that. But, increasingly, I rarely, leave a counter without feeding the tip jar (and I always wait until the person on the other side can see this) and offer my brief but sincere thanks.
posted by Danf at 9:26 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I could not easily reveal any part of my true and at that time rather angry self.

Not every job is an avenue for self-expression. Why would I go buy my coffee from a barista who thinks the essence of being a barista is "expressing her true and rather angry self"? In fact, pretty much the "job" part of any job (i.e., the part that means they have to pay you money to do it rather than have you do it for the love of the thing) is doing something that's not "a true expression of your self."

And I don't mean this in a "you peons shouldn't get above yourselves" way. This is true of high-prestige jobs and it's true of "expressive" creative jobs. If you're an actor playing a bubbly, high-energy character in a play you play that character as bubbly and high-energy even if you're feeling shitty and feel like sitting alone in a room listening to country music. If you're a surgeon talking to a dickhead of a patient you can't just say "fuck you, Jack--either you listen to my advice or you can just piss off"--even if that's a "true expression" of your feelings. I'm balefully eyeing a pile of exams to grade as I write this. A "true expression" of myself would be to chuck most of them in the trash and go for a walk.

I guess I just don't understand quite what the producers of this genre of "OMG I had a job making and serving coffee to people and it wasn't the most thrilling, self-affirming experience imaginable!!!" writing (and there seems to be an astonishing amount of it) expected, or what their version of an "ideal" work experience would be. About the only 'good' version of being a barista or a waitperson one can picture when one reads these pieces is something like the equivalent of a pure-research position in academia; you're paid vast sums of money to perfect your "self-expression" in the form of the perfect shot of espresso or what have you, but nobody actually drinks any of them or disturbs you in any way whatsoever. But until such time as the Macarthur Genius grant people realize what fools they've been for failing to recognize the Achievements in Shot-Pulling category, you're pretty much going to have to work in places where a modicum of polite and pleasant engagement with strangers is a requirement of the job--even when you're not feeling particularly perky inside.
posted by yoink at 9:42 AM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


I really loved this piece. I was a waitress for a few years, quite good at it if I do say so myself, and the endless charm was exhausting to perform. It was a bit of a relief when I started working at a more fine-dining establishment where, although tables required more attention in the way of changing silverware between courses, the whole wine ritual, and crumbing, they expected a more classic serving relationship where you didn't have to pretend to be chums, you just had to do your job as unobtrusively as possible. It let me maintain a kind of dignity I didn't have at the other restaurants, where I had to pretend to be everyone's friend. In either case, we both know who's the boss, but in fine-dining you don't have to pretend otherwise.
posted by Aubergine at 9:45 AM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'll take a contrarian view here. Why do we even go to coffee shops for our coffee? It's not just for the coffee; with the plethora of high-end machines available for home use, we can make a fantastic cup on our own for far less money (and given the lines at some shops, for far less time too). Rather, for some of us, a brief chat and a smile with the person behind the counter is the only adult conversation we're going to have that morning, and I always like it when I can share a few words with Felipe down at the donut shop or with the black-haired girl at the coffee place. It doesn't mean we're BFFs or even friends, but it does mean that I've had a social pleasantry with someone, and in exchange I continue to frequent those stores and continue to leave my change in the tip jar.

And this is part of the raison d'etre for these places, and while it can certainly be taken to the extreme by some companies/employers, I don't think that it's too much to ask that a service person in a service industry that's dedicated to serving the public should have to smile.

To echo yoink's comment above, I don't want to chat with a barista who is "expressing her true and rather angry self". And I also understand the flip side of this little social interchange; my baristas don't want an expression of my true and rather angry self when they ask me how my day's been. So I respond with "so far so good, I guess" and we mention the weather and maybe a band that's playing next week and that's all until the next time I come by.

Doesn't sound too hard to me.
posted by math at 10:06 AM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


I could not easily reveal any part of my true and at that time rather angry self. I owned a business, and if I had revealed my angry, bitter, cranky, side, Id have gone broke. I have yet to have a job, at any pay, where I could reveal my inner self. I've had a boss who tried to analyze me; that sucked, like any other invasion of privacy. Being one of the legion of service workers can suck. But if people are paid fairly, it goes a long way towards them being treated with respect. If you have to smile and be hospitable at work, you should at least get fair pay. In my experience, being gracious to customers helps prevent customers from behaving badly, so it's worth it.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


dorian gray barista become ever more schmoopy on the outside, grar on the inside; unsustainable course.
posted by bruce at 10:38 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


To me this feels like the flip side of the Uber thread the other day. Everyone was complaining about how surly and cranky cabbies can be and how they always have the wrong politics and so on, and how great it is that you can rate the Uber drivers and they are always so friendly and so on. But, you know, I'm paying for the guy to drive me somewhere I want to go. Why is it any business of mine what kind of mood he's in or what his politics are? Who gives a fuck, as long as he is not actively abusive toward me? But you know (and he knows) that there is someone out there who is going to subtract a star from their rating because he wasn't smiling enough or didn't make small talk (or made too much small talk). I know a lot of people think this is great, but I think it sucks.

It seems like this expectation of emotional labor and constant positivity is consuming more and more lines of work and it creeps me the fuck out. I work from home full time these days and absolutely the best thing about it is not having to police my emotional state and my outward presentation thereof the way I would have to in an office (which of course is still much less than I'd have to in a customer-facing service job like Schiller's).
posted by enn at 10:44 AM on June 13, 2014 [14 favorites]


> Lately I feel like the best thing I can do is to project an air of indifference to them - a face that says "please do not expend any emotional energy on this customer." but doing that feels so damn rude and harsh.

That's my preferred mode too. I call it "New York polite."
posted by officer_fred at 10:49 AM on June 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


I kind of hate buying things at places that enforce aggressive cheerful friendliness. I mean, I don't want them to be sneering at me or something, but we're not long lost friends. I give money, you give coffee, I give tip, have a nice day - that's fine for me.
posted by thelonius at 10:54 AM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


After some thought...

You think it's hard being a barista? Try being a psychotherapist for a few weeks... (although they are usually not expected to be whimsical).
posted by HuronBob at 10:59 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the article, as noted above I identified with some parts of it, and I don't feel particularly critical of a young person who entered the workforce with some unformed notions or naivete, and then found she had some difficult experiences, and wrote a piece on what she's learned, and musings on identity and feelings.

Maybe I'm soppy today, but..don't we have any patience for young people coming out of high school / college not knowing everything about the world already? I'm understand the impulse to say, "Well, what did she/he expect!?" from our cynical, bitter self, but I'm finding it more and more disappointing to read it. It's such a knee-jerk response.

Maybe she expected to work in a place where she felt genuinely moved to smile? I really can't blame her. I would still like that for myself, and I'm ancient. Maybe she wanted to work somewhere with a decent boss who didn't make a hard job worse?

Maybe she wanted to share thoughts about expectations for customer service employees, and women, and the masks we're encouraged to wear for others' comfort. Well, boo on her.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:14 AM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


I read this FPP and the article last night and have been mulling on them since. I drink a lot of coffee-shop coffee (freelancer) and definitely work to uphold my end of the coffee-shop bargain: tip well and often, order frequently when lingering, don't be a dickhead. And I do tend to think my baristas have a bargain to uphold as well, which is to get my order correct, make it well, and not, like, actively be a dickhead to me.

But I feel like the author of the piece felt beholden to a much, much more stringent bargain than I'd have held her to--I don't need my barista to make me feel connected, beloved, or touched by whimsy, man. That's absurd. Let's just acknowledge that we're both human beings doing a job that pays our rent, and move along accordingly.

What I can't really tell from the piece how much of the pressure to do this crazy high-level emotional work came from the boss, how much from the customers, and how much from the author's own internalized idealism about the nature of the job, and this is the part that bothers me. But I do think it fits in with a larger narrative about the demands on people, especially young people and especially women, to offer a level of investment inversely proportional to their power and compensation.

p.s. I wonder how much of the resentment might have come from being unable to show her true "rather angry" self to her coworkers, not to the customers. In a weird, tight-knit Den Mother situation, you can't be authentic EVER. Whereas even at my crappiest desk jobs, I could always let off a little steam at a happy hour or on a walk to, you know, the coffee shop.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:26 AM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


Some great phrases here for this phenomenon-- "Making everybody love you 5%", "masks for others' comfort"; "performing of charm".
posted by travertina at 11:27 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Doesn't sound too hard to me.

Try doing it for 9 hours straight every single day with hundreds of different people. The interaction is unique for each individual receiving it, but when you're the one required to initiate that consistently it can easily become insincere, robotic, and exhausting.
posted by E3 at 11:28 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm going to take the bait with Math's comment above. Here's a few rebuttals, of which I could write more but I'll just summarize.

Emotional labor is taxing, just like physical labor. When you work a job that is physically and emotionally demanding, you're working two jobs for the price of one. When you get home, your body is too tired to rest your mind, and your mind is too tired to take care of your body.

Emotional labor is scope creep. it's absolutely the case (as mentioned above) that employees that contribute emotion to the customers create a more secure customer base. But they are not compensated for it, they are not trained for it, and there is not the infrastructure to prevent burnout. In the ideal world, employees that had to do emotional labor, just like physical laborers, would have support, protection, and safety.

this is an extreme statement but I'm gonna state it: emotional labor is disproportionately required of women, putting them in a role of "always smiles, always demure, always pliable" which does nothing to combat gender roles.
posted by rebent at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2014 [29 favorites]


Like a friend, I feel the same way but I'm crippled by self-doubt because I'm afraid that a lot of the effect is subconscious on my part, but is picked up by wait staff. "make people love you 5%" is small enough that I might not notice, but x1000 people it adds up to a huge margin for the business.
posted by rebent at 11:31 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Most notably, she divvied up our tips at the end of the day – half for you, half for me, she said, she who worked beside us but could and did take any opportunity to sit down and read the paper.

Ugh, serious rage trigger here. Call me clueless (and many have), but isn't this blatant and actionable wage theft? I wouldn't mind nearly as much if the tips were just divided evenly among everyone including the manager, but the combination of slacking AND entitlement is graceless and maddening.
posted by sapere aude at 11:32 AM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


I guess I just don't understand quite what the producers of this genre of "OMG I had a job making and serving coffee to people and it wasn't the most thrilling, self-affirming experience imaginable!!!" writing (and there seems to be an astonishing amount of it) expected, or what their version of an "ideal" work experience would be.

You don't understand what they expected because you don't understand what they're saying. There's a difference between asking to be allowed to be human rather than flirt-bot 5000 and complaining that your job isn't thrilling and self affirming.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:39 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just saw this press release from Amazon talking about their "Mayday Button" service (where you can set up video chat and screen sharing with a customer support rep directly from your Kindle Fire), and this section seemed relevant to this thread:
Unusual Mayday anecdotes include:
  • After being stuck on a specific Angry Birds level for a week, a Tech Advisor helped a customer beat the level.
  • What better way to settle a score than to use the Mayday button? A group of friends asked how to make a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich to prove whose approach was best.
  • A Tech Advisor sang happy birthday to someone as they were receiving a Fire HDX from their boyfriend.
  • Contacts are coming in from customers traveling around the world—Australia, Bolivia, Egypt, Kenya, St. Lucia and Venezuela, to name a few.
  • Customers have asked Tech Advisors to draw everything from happy faces to rainbows, unicorns, fire-breathing dragons, and aliens.
  • Mayday Tech Advisors also get their fair share of date requests and marriage proposals, but beyond that, they’ve been called everything from helpful, patient, sweet, wonderful, and courteous to beautiful, polite, and the “BEST EVER.”
posted by enn at 11:49 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


> I'm super-amped, slightly-madcap, ever-so-helpful Miss Biblio all day, and it's like a mask that never slips, because my interactions with people are so short. We never get past the pleasantries, nor do they want to. So I come home and spit nails at my poor family.

This. So much. My job requires me to be "on" for extended periods of time. I am the cheeriest person in the world at work, but maintaining that level of forced joy uses all of my emotional energy.

At the end of the day, when dealing with friends/family, I often find myself facing the following decision: continue with the forced cheer of the workplace, or allow the repressed tensions/stresses of the day to bleed into all of my interactions. It's a shitty choice.
posted by toofuture at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


Responding to rebent's comment above, I completely agree with rebent (and others) about the taxing nature of emotional work.

I used to teach in high school, and my goodness I would be drained at the end of the day, like a damp dishrag. Even now, when I have to go to a work-related social function and smile and chit-chat with potential customers, I get those sore muscles around my mouth and I would have to just lie down and decompress for a while. And forget about talking to my wife when I got home; I would barely be able to get out the words, "no. talk. must. rest."

So I get that, and when I look back at my comment earlier, where I said, "Doesn't seem to hard to me," I can see how that came out wrong.

(And kudos to E3, who said, Try doing it for 9 hours straight every single day with hundreds of different people. The interaction is unique for each individual receiving it, but when you're the one required to initiate that consistently it can easily become insincere, robotic, and exhausting, which is exactly right.)

But the point I was trying to make is that it shouldn't be too hard to do that part of the job (smile at customers) which is an explicit part of the job and which is why that job even exists. It's what I have to do in my current job, occasionally, with those social events. And like I said earlier, I'm not going to the coffee shop for the coffee per se, but for the brief escape and the brief social interaction and the exchange of pleasantries. And I suspect that the baristas do indeed get some training on interacting with customers (although I'm just guessing here, it does sound like a reasonable corporate policy to tell employees to be polite and cordial and so on).

Oh, and I agree completely with rebent about emotional labor being disproportionately required of women, putting them in a role of "always smiles, always demure, always pliable" which does nothing to combat gender roles. I saw this in my teaching career, and I see it at the coffee shop. But there are plenty of jobs (even in coffee shops) which require no interaction with customers and no emotional labor. So I guess I'm still not sure why the author of the article was upset about having to do part of her job.
posted by math at 12:56 PM on June 13, 2014


Some posters seem to think that being cheery/professional/pleasant/courteous 8 hours a day is a unique and unnecessary burden--let's see, the jobs that require this often include:most sales people, healthcare workers, most service workers, clerks, mental health/social workers, educators, many government workers/functionaries, librarians, clergy, etc. Granted--there is a wide discrepancy in the salary/compensation but the emotional toll is the same (but the benefits can be different). And it simply is not true that employers do not provide training and an infrastructure that recognizes the stresses--some do and some don't. A good manager makes all the difference but good managers are not a given. One can always find anecdotes of bad bosses, surly customers, unappreciative owners and lousy coworkers but this is not universal anymore than the opposite is true. Part of the passing years means fully understanding that most of the world does not care about your unhappiness/malaise or work responsibilities/frustrations. Having a few friends and loved ones that do care is a gift.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:59 PM on June 13, 2014


I was a cashier for Wegman's when I was 16-17. I was consistently one of the fastest cashiers around; I could scan and bag about as fast as most people loaded the belt. But oddly, some people would yell at me because I was moving too fast for them, and they assumed I was trying to screw them out of money. LOL, yeah, because I get a percentage of all the overages I can ring up. And I actually got a written complaint from another person because I was "efficient but surly", which my manager reviewed with me and reiterated the policy that the customer is always right, and I had to actually talk with them and be friendly and smile and holy fuck there was just no way I could do that for more than about 4 h. And at that point in my life I had worked 9-10 h shifts alternating dishwashing, prep, and cooking, and that wasn't nearly as tough as this.

I mean, yeah, talk to service people, they're people first, but expecting them to offer meaningful human interaction is way outside the scope of their work. They're there to get your food, help you size clothes, etc., not provide emotional support. I remember reading True Porn Clerk Stories, and the author described a guy who came in to the video store and was always talking and laughing and trying to be That Friend Of The Store, and it was painful to read.
posted by disconnect at 1:04 PM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


Glad to see this here. At the risk of playing the one-up game, imagine doing this for people who are emotionally distraught, with expensive electronics on the line, while doing highly technical troubleshooting and repair, with appointments every ten minutes. That's my job. And guess what? Tipping is not allowed.

I've been trying to convince my managers that the emotional toll is non-negligible, but they don't really understand what we do and can't be moved from their misconceptions. It's frustrating. I spend all day making friends for ten minutes and caring about strangers' problems that I'm so drained I can't muster up that same skill when I'm at a public function off the clock.
posted by sleeping bear at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Some posters seem to think that being cheery/professional/pleasant/courteous 8 hours a day is a unique and unnecessary burden

Speaking for myself, the unique and unnecessary burden is part where the boss takes it upon herself to "improve" each one of her employees, to the point where one of them is put on a diet. Also, the part where they didn't have a set schedule, and were asked to run errands on their day off. Oh, or here's a good one, where they had to BABY SIT customers' kids.

Having to smile wasn't her issue, her issue was that just smiling wasn't enough.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:11 PM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


You are right gygesringtone--I should have said some of those commenting--running errands for the boss, diets and baby sitting customer's children are hardly acceptable unless clearly spelled out ( and appropriately compensated) at the time of engagement.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:16 PM on June 13, 2014


rmhsinc: emptythought--seems a little tough on the boss and the folks who work full time in positions such as this. This is the way the world is for most people--there is a certain arrogance, particularly calling it an "utterly worthless dead end job". Believe it or not--in some people see a "service" job as a career--may not fit for you but that hardly makes it a utterly worthless shit job. You don't leave much room for people to enjoy some aspects of work such as this.

Some people, yea, usually the bosses who have unreasonable expectations. I am not some bougie asshole who thought i was "above" the work the whole time, i was perfectly aware that to some people this was the job. That doesn't mean that they should be proud of being told to shovel shit harder because the boss knows they can go 5% faster, or smile 10% harder... or told they have no real schedule and are just called in whenever the whim occurs. As i said, i've worked at places like this. And i didn't quit after six months or something. I've worked at places like this for years.

In addition, the career thing makes my nose flair, and makes me think of something i posted in the other thread like this from months previous i linked in my first post. Mainly, my friend being fired for refusing to do unpaid work on his time off(and refusing to allow him to schedule around taking like two classes a week, despite previously approving it twice, and their being ample people who wanted his shifts more than theirs, etc) and the boss, who was very much like this, saying that "You just taking this career seriously"... at a hardware store. Where he was constantly like employee of the month level working his ass off and that had been previously acknowledged, kinda like this article.

Corb: I don't think the condemnation of the boss is deserved - it sounds more like a cultural gap than anything else. When I was in Korea, a lot of places operated like this - more like a family than a boss/employee sort of dynamic.

I've actually had a korean boss like this. For the longest time i convinced myself that it was some kind of cultural gap, and then i just realized this was some kind of white guilt bullshit after meeting well, other people who worked for different korean bosses who did not act this way.

Waving it off as some kind of "lol white person, you can't expect everyone to have the exact same culture" is unfair. There are blatantly like, abusive managerial practices going on here. Never setting a schedule? calling everyone, every day at 6am? There's a lot of stuff i could pick out here that is just not normal and i think are hallmarks of what i'd call a hostile work environment.

I also think you have a track record of defending the bosses in threads like this, in fact didn't you do it in the Casey thread? i don't know if i even want to get into that though.

Squeak attack: None of that was a cultural misunderstanding. People are very mistaken if they think think there aren't bosses out there, often ones who own a small business, who are super manipulative, try to consume and control all aspects of their employees, and bully them into whatever their whim is that day.

Yea, really. The posts in here going "i think they both played a part in this" are disgusting to me. Why does everyone have such instant sympathy for the boss, and try and excuse away her behavior? why is that so easy to do for you, to assume that it must somehow be a mutual problem? it sounds like the crappy school principals who say shit like "you can't have a fight without two fighters".

There are just a lot of bosses out here, who think that they deserve a level of control and commitment over their employees at some really menial job that borders on insane.

Peach: I seem to have read a few things lately about how hard it is to be a barista. I'm not sure how it was supposed to be different from working in Howard Johnson's to work in a coffee shop, though. Is that a thing?

As someone whose done retail, food service, and specifically been a barista... even though i actually got assaulted several times working at a fast food place, i was never treated with as much entitlement or shittiness by customers as i was as a barista. It was actually markedly worse, and my friends who have done it and moved on to other jobs agree. I'd tell stories to friends who were servers at fancy restaurants where everyone treated them like shit and they'd either be about on par, or go "no way, really?". It was just draining in a different way. Some of the reasons were outlined in the article, and some of them were fairly ephemeral in how people interacted with me there even compared to how they interacted with me when i was serving them fries and milkshakes.
posted by emptythought at 1:16 PM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Cheer leeches", oh man that's what it is.
All these guys wanting their bit of your cheer until you have none left for yourself. It's gross and exploitative. And then they are able to delude themselves that you like them for real and get upset when you don't want a date.

As a customer I am glad to live in a country where no cheer is required. "Good morning" and "have a nice day" are enough, and if as a service person you don't want to smile, you don't.
I get seriously startled when a barista says anything conversational to me. It's so rare.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:19 PM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


You think it's hard being a barista? Try being a psychotherapist for a few weeks... (although they are usually not expected to be whimsical).

SO MUCH HARDER to work retail, for me, for the kind of emotional work the author's talking about, where the work (especially for women) is about being endlessly cheerful and subservient.

Therapists, instead, aim for genuineness or congruence, which is a really good contrast to the fake-nice talked about in the article, I think.

The problem is not that social interaction is required by most customer-facing jobs, it's that a complete denial of the worker's own internal state is required simply so that the customer's ego gets a bump, which is not really a just trade-off.
posted by jaguar at 4:20 PM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Carl Rogers on congruence:
The first element [of the therapeutic relationship] could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term "transparent" catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client; the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship; the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. As for the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness, can be lived in the relationship, and can be communicated, if appropriate. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client.
I think the degree to which we expect people in certain roles (professional, societal, familial) to be un-real or un-genuine is damaging, and I think it's a way we (though I'm not sure how wide a "we" I'm talking about) stigmatize emotion. Someone can be professional and courteous without having to hide their own emotions.
posted by jaguar at 4:27 PM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


I actually found the author of the article to be somewhat naive and self-centered. Yeah, it was a crappy job, low-paying job and her boss was annoying. We've all had those. We grin and bear it and eventually leave for something better. But her assertion that customers (and society at large) required her to be super cheery is a bit much. Nobody really forces you to be other than you are. She could have been her true, angry self, and yes, she may have been fired, but she didn't like the job and could have moved on sooner to the other barista job where she could be more herself. The naive part is that most of us have to work for a living for a long time and no matter whether you're in the "service industry" or not, you're going to be dealing with customers, colleagues, bosses (in essence other people) and you can either try to be as cheerful as possible making your day and other people's day better or you can be your grumpy self and deal with that. Guess what makes your life better over the long run? It isn't being your true, angry self. I think if the author was honest with herself what bothered her really was that she had a job that she thought would be cool, but didn't pay enough for her to live in SF and she had to move home. That sucks, yes -- but it wasn't her boss' or customers' fault that made that job unbearable. And I can't agree with other posters that service industry work stinks categorically. I'm in my fifties and have been a waitress and then massage therapist for most of my working life and I've enjoyed all my jobs. Yeah, there are days I don't feel in such a great mood, but being forced to be conscious of my customers' well-being and making them as happy as possible always turns things around for me. And yeah there are always those few customers that rub my last nerve raw, but then again it's always fun to talk with my work-mates about them behind their back.
posted by SA456 at 5:04 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Waving it off as some kind of "lol white person, you can't expect everyone to have the exact same culture" is unfair. There are blatantly like, abusive managerial practices going on here. Never setting a schedule? calling everyone, every day at 6am? There's a lot of stuff i could pick out here that is just not normal and i think are hallmarks of what i'd call a hostile work environment.

Abusive for us. Again, these were pretty standard in the rural Korean town I lived in for a while. As was the having to pretend to be available to customers. I made friends with some bar girls, and they would tell me about how they took some sort of godawful medicinal potion before their shift, because they were required by their boss to drink whatever drink a customer wanted to buy for them, and this helped keep them from getting too drunk.

Like, we can argue about whether this is a good thing or not, I'm just saying it may not be as egregious as the person who's grown up in a particularly worker-friendly country may think it is.
posted by corb at 6:35 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Her complaints are weird given that the owner wasn't exactly standing there saying "Hey do something whacky! Put a paper cup on your head and pretend to be a cat! Give them change in Pesetas! Serve the coffee in a tiny flowerpot! Stir it with a Barbie doll's leg! Work it!".
posted by w0mbat at 9:21 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


a boss who pushes us all to be like family and is friendly-friendly with everyone, yet switches to inflexible & flinty at the most unexpected times, leaving me feeling constantly monitored.

For some people, this is family.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:07 AM on June 14, 2014


From "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again":
You know this smile, the strenuous contraction of circumoral fascia w/ incomplete zygomatic involvement – the smile that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and that signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretending to like the smilee… Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair?... And yet, the Professional Smile’s absence now also causes despair. Anybody who’s ever bought a pack of gum in a Mahattan cigar store, or asked for something to be stamped FRAGILE at a Chicago post office or tried to obtain a glass of water from a South Boston waitress knows full well the soul-crushing effect of a service workers’ scowl, i.e. the humiliation and resentment of being denied the Professional Smile. And the Professional Smile has by now skewed even my resentment at the dreaded Professional Scowl. I walk away from the Manhattan tobacconist resenting not the countermans’s character or absence of goodwill but his lack of professionalism in denying me the Smile. What a fucking mess.
My hometown has a lot of pizzerias.

Verona, across the parking lot from where we used to live, has on average two dudes working there, making excellent pizza. We always used to go there right before closing time, and the main dude (I never learned his name, but he recognizes me though I haven't lived there for, what, ten years?) would always be kind of humorously ticked off. He's middle-aged, often grumpy, a little shaky on the language, etc. Everyone loves him. They all work hard. Verona is a source of local pride. I always eat there when I'm back home.

Jensas is a slightly larger establishment. Its walls are full of random sport-related signifiers. I had my first kebab there. They have a whole harem of young women working the register and serving. All the sweaty old guys making the food are hidden behind several layers of secrecy. Patrons are presented with a utopian scene. As an adolescent in this town, you got a sense that there were certain, um, aesthetic criteria involved in the hiring process. And of course, they always acted nice and smiley.

Because that's what the customer wants.

I've never been to a Hooters, but it's all the same principle, right?

Someone in the thread said they don't want to encounter a barista's true self. That's the point, isn't it? We live in a selfish society, where every salaried servant is employed to maintain a fiction of friendliness, where cold cash on a counter entitles us to a fully pleasant experience, where everything real is kept behind closed doors. The consumption side of capitalism is a giant production of appearances, like a goddess of illusion. That's hard work.
posted by mbrock at 1:49 AM on June 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think one would have to trawl the cafés of real life Paris very thouroughly to find a serveuse who smiled without obvious cause.

So far I'm 100% for getting a genuine smile from Parisian McDonald's employees with a "bon courage!" during the lunch rush hour. They get slammed, every day, even with the automatic ordering, online ordering, and guys walking through the lines to take orders. Cafés, not so much.
posted by whatzit at 1:56 AM on June 14, 2014


From mbrock above,

Someone in the thread said they don't want to encounter a barista's true self.

Well, yeah. If I want to get to know you, I'll buy you a cup of coffee. But usually, I just want to buy a cup of coffee from you, hopefully without a side serving of surliness.

I can't (and don't want to) have a deep and meaningful human interaction with everyone I encounter during the day. And so part of the social lubrication that makes society work is the quiet smile, the mild pleasantry, the illusion of politeness.

As I said before, it's really not too much to ask.
posted by math at 9:21 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sure, but fake happiness is stressful and depressing for both involved. In some sense I think it's not impossible to have deep and meaningful human interactions with everyone. The smileyness of those corporate coffee chains is bizarre and uncanny. If that was my idea of society, I would consider society totally lost! I don't expect people to smile at me. Just taking my order and making my drink is fine.
posted by mbrock at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


math, I just sort of think of it like this: there are certain things about work that are really hard. It's "work," after all, right? If, to use a hyperbolic example, you were talking to a coal miner about how the working conditions left him drained and exhausted day after day, I think you'd just sort of be, "Right." Because it's obvious. I see this article as pointing out that there is also a "work" aspect to the expectation that you're smiley and nice all the time. This article is a commentary on that. It's not immediately apparent to people that this is a draining and difficult part of the job of customer service. That's all. There are all kinds of aspects to jobs that different people find trying and difficult; this is her experience with an aspect of being a barista that she found difficult, and her explanation of why she found it so.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:49 AM on June 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Basic respect from staff for customers and from customers to staff goes a long way, especially when it comes from a genuine sense of empathy. But forced pleasantry for long stretches while swallowing a lot of other people's emotional baggage and verbal abuse is not really easy for some people. If you have issues that require strong, non-negotiable boundaries or have a family history of trauma, it's not only exhausting trying to maintain a facade, but it can become unhealthy letting shitty people steamroller you (and smile and take it or lose your job) on a regular basis. I don't let anyone treat me like garbage anymore. Nobody should allow people to treat them badly, not bosses, family, customers, etc. Politeness doesn't stop shitty people from continuing to dump their shit, but refusing to put up with it puts a stop to it right quick.

Besides all that, some people are just better suited to public facing roles, and some people are not well equipped or inclined to deal with customers or the public all day every day. Even in restaurants, the kitchen staff is mostly happy they don't have to put on an act, and servers like to party with the kitchen staff after work and listen to punk music on the line, but unlike most of the kitchen they're good at the politeness game and at popular places are usually young and attractive (kitchen staff is more often tattooed or modded, punks, freaks and hippies). I really don't think there is any shame in not being suited for a service job dealing with the public, or being better attuned to different types of work rather than those which require core sales skills. Someone needs to deal with customers, but truly not everyone on staff should do so. And sometimes you get a shitty boss and find that another workplace makes all the difference, instead of the nature of the job being a problem.

Personally, I would not be able to handle calling my boss every morning and working an open ended schedule, especially not for shit wages and off-the-clock attending to the boss' personal life while the owner takes a cut off your tips. I've walked off the job for treatment like that, only once or twice, but hell yes I did, and no job or tinpot tyrant is worth sacrificing your sanity and mental health. Nobody deserves to be treated like shit, honestly, even if it was part of your work culture and you swallowed it- you deserved better, and other people can do better, so better not to act like crabs in a bucket and tear people down who are working their way through thorny stuff like learning to respect yourself enough to make better choices. I've made bad choices out of fear and self-loathing, and I'm always happy to hear someone who learns to respect themselves enough not to put up with that shit, for a wage slave paycheck no less. It took me a lot longer than it did for the author, and I'm happy that she's figuring it out now rather than never contemplating the life she's living. The little things give rise to big things, and day to day the little things like how everyday choices are all ethical choices, and a deep sense of empathy and self respect guiding interactions is far healthier and meaningful than a veneer of forced politeness... these are the ONLY things that matter.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:43 AM on June 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


MoonOrb, that's a subtle but really good point, and I don't think I quite saw that in my read. Thanks.
posted by math at 4:15 PM on June 14, 2014


I have been forced to do public service as my day job within the last two years. You guys may think it's cute to read the "Mayday Button" thing, but I have ended up with a similar "you will be called up for any random thing that you've never heard about in your LIFE" job, except it's not asking fun questions and I'm not allowed to say I don't know. Ever. Even if I'm asked something I know nothing about. And I have found that if I SMILE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! suddenly, everything's perfectly fine even if I can't answer your tax questions (seriously?!) because I'm so HAPPY AND PERKY that nobody yells at me or bitches me out or calls every supervisor they can find because I wasn't happy to help serve.

So yeah, relating to this girl. I've never done retail or food service and I hope I never have to, because what I'm doing now is bad enough. I'm not suited to service, but that's the only thing I can get paid for now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:47 PM on June 14, 2014


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