I was born in New York. I lived most of my life in New Jersey. I went to school and lived for some time in Boston. And now I live in Washington. Having grown up in the “aggressive” northeast corridor of our wonderful mood-diverse nation, I’m afforded a unique luxury when I travel domestically. No matter where I go in the United States, people are nice. They are so nice! They’re nice in ways I don’t understand! My sister lives in southeastern Minnesota and I must say, I’m still flabbergasted by their kindness. But isn’t it harder to be unkind?
It struck me rather poignantly this past weekend as I was dining out with friends at a mid-level restaurant near Gallery Place in the moments following the mass exodus of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which brought in excess of a quarter million people to the Mall. In the first five minutes after sitting down, our waitress was so uncannily rude to us that I, someone who hardly ever makes a point to raise issue in a public setting, was ready and raring to go. In under five minutes she lamented that any drink order were going to take at least fifteen minutes, when my friend stuttered in his order, she impatiently sighed so audibly that it was confrontational, and she incorrectly corrected me when I asked her a question about a menu item. When she realized her err, she still managed to storm off in a bit of a huff. While she recovered rather well over the course of our meal, I was struck in a novel way by her initial rudeness.
First, the energy she had spent on being impatient, acutely honest about how her day was going, and intolerant of the least bit of indecision on our part, was stressful to witness. But secondly, and far more notably, though we were locals, for so many people, this Rally was a rare – or dare I suggest, a first and only – trip to our nation’s capital. And bigger picture, Washington can easily be the lay international traveler’s only stop in our vast country as it is the capital city. And for that reason, more than any, don’t we as service providers, have a responsibility greater than most, to ensure we are proper ambassadors to our welcomed visitors?
Similarly, Washington area hotels are, and should be, held to a higher standard than hotels in other domestic cities. This might be the only impression that an international guest gets of our nation. I’d suggest it’s rare that these travelers would find their only stop to be southeastern Minnesota. And yet we don’t embrace this occasion to put on a happy face time in and time out? What a serious waste of an opportunity!
To my waitress from the other night – I truly appreciate your attitude adjustment and recovery without my prompting. And to all hospitality providers in this great city, take heed! You have a unique position and should make sure you’re delivering on the hospitality promise. It’s far easier to be kind.