Once upon a time, in the 80s epic Roadhouse, the inestimable Dalton admonished the staff of the Double Deuce to:
As a traveler with pain, I gotta follow that legendary nugget of advice.
Seriously, when I’m traveling, I try hard to be nice to the people who are serving and assisting me. That can be a harder task than it sounds, and I don’t always succeed. When I’m exhausted, irritated, and in intense pain, to be nice to the bumbling desk clerk at the car rental agency who can’t find my car reservation and only has super-spendy convertibles left after the plane was three hours late and it’s now midnight can be the hardest thing in the world. But it’s crucial to be nice, especially when I travel alone.
When I travel solo, I rely on airline staff, hotel staff, restaurant staff, rental car agency staff, museum staff, shop staff…pretty much everyone in customer-facing jobs wherever I happen to be. That car rental clerk may not have an Ivy League doctorate, but in that moment he controls whether or not I’m going to get a car, how fast I’m going to get it, and how much it’s going to cost.
Being nice means speaking in a calm, quiet tone of voice. I ply my best manners, using words like please and thank you whether the person helping me “deserves” them or not. I smile. Here’s what I DON’T do:
- I don’t shout.
- I don’t snap.
- I don’t glare.
- I don’t curse.
- I don’t name-call.
- I don’t threaten.
- I don’t get snotty or snide or sarcastic.
- I don’t treat anyone like she’s somehow beneath me because she’s in a service job. (She’s not. As a travel writer, I make less money than the average table buser in a family restaurant .)
- I don’t tell long boring stories about how awful my day was or how miserable my life is. (No, not even true stories).
- I don’t slowly and carefully explain how entitled I am to special treatment.
It’s important to remember that the person helping me is a person too. Who knows whether he’s got chronic pain, or is going through a bitter divorce, or heard on his last coffee break that 50% of the employees in his position will be cut tomorrow?
I can only imagine what kind of day an airline gate agent usually has. I could scream at him because my over-wing aisle seat somehow got changed for middle of the middle row at the back of the plane. But I’d probably be the eighth person who’s done that to him so far today. It’s a lot more likely that I’ll get my aisle seat back if I’m calm and collected and smile at the poor guy when I ask if he can help me.
That’s the other thing–these people are helping me. Yes, it’s their job. But how well they do that job will be influenced by how I treat them. When somebody screams at you, cusses you out, then talks down to you, do you immediately jump to give them more than what they’ve just demanded?
Or do you quietly go into the back and spit into her food?
Be nice, and you’ll be much more likely to get a front-of-the-cabin aisle seat, a comfy corner hotel room, the newest rental ECV, and a spit-free meal.