Upgrade your life to first class

Last Saturday night I was stuck in Melbourne and heading home after three weeks of consulting in a number of cities – my itinerary looked like a Jackson Pollack special: bits all over the place.

After a bit of a look around I picked a French restaurant in Melbourne’s Southbank, just for something different. Trust me, travelling when working has no glamour attached to it at all, no matter how good the hotel or the restaurant, so anything novel is welcome.

The snails dripping in garlic were nice, if perhaps a bit overcooked. The beef was pretty good with all the right flavours. Mind you, after a couple of glasses of a crisp chardy who’d notice or even care much?

But you would be unlucky to meet a more miserable bunch of staff. No smiles, no eye contact, no pleasantries. It was like an upmarket fast food joint, although the only upmarket thing about it was the price. Mind you, it was in accord with its genre because restaurants in France can be an appalling customer service experience.

Perhaps they were doing it on purpose, which is exactly what I asked the manager on the way out. So now there were two of us unimpressed, but for different reasons.

She thought the service was fine and more or less told me to mind my own business. I asked her if it was okay for the cashier (who did look French, although you’d never know because all he did was grunt) to just grab the money, not ask about my eating experience and generally behave as if I was a garlic snail that had escaped from the oven. She thought that was fine: obviously it was not her business either!

And this is not an isolated experience. What I tend to find now is that good service and attention to detail are the exception rather than the rule so that when it happens I get really surprised – even a little emotional.

I like to feel special, that I am not just another faceless moron trying to stuff up someone’s already dismal day.

So I’m left wondering whether we’re tending to accept second best and our expectations are so low that we really don’t notice when we’re not in first class.

There were certainly plenty of people at the aforementioned equivalent of Fawlty Towers, so it can be assumed that the Melbourne eating public are so desperately hungry they don’t care.

I think we shouldn’t accept second best in all aspects of our life. We should feel that we are in first class seats all the time, champagne in hand.

I was chatting to a woman with a relationship problem the other week and I suggested that we should all expect to be treated with respect, be cared for, listened to, nurtured, and honoured. This was such a surprise to her that she simply burst into tears. She’d accepted second best for so long that she didn’t know that first class even existed.

So, let’s raise the bar and tell people (respectfully) what we expect. These are difficult conversations to have, because we were conditioned by Aunty Mabel and Sunday School to not speak up, not complain and not have high expectations of others.

Time to take our adult pill, shake off the conditioning and aim for first.

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.

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