A fishy kind of courtesy
Three simple words in the English language that can make a huge difference

A fishy kind of courtesy

We stood in line while a restless school of young fish darted around us when “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” opened at the theater. We were awaiting our opportunity to purchase two tickets and hopefully find a seat close enough to the screen, so we could judge how faithfully the comic book had been translated by the movie industry into a stream of flickering images. 

Our habit of arriving early was rewarded with a lively preview from the lobby, 3-to-4-foot-tall children on the sidewalk fidgeting on the other side of the aquarium-like plate glass window, anxious to get through the door. Towering at least 2 feet higher than the evening’s average movie-goer, we felt confident that the theater’s seating posed only a small risk of leaving us stuck behind a panoramic cowboy hat or a hairdo that resembled cotton candy on a stick.  

Everything seemed perfect until about 20 minutes into the film. Pam had to visit the bathroom. She stood up, hovered for an instant like (I’m just being poetic here) a bat leaving its cave, then deftly navigated toward the back of the theater. As I already mentioned, the place had been teeming with tadpoles, and now they were clutching huge soft drinks and buckets of popcorn at the edge of their chairs. I guessed that Pam wouldn’t return until another Aquaman sequel got released.  

Two minutes later, she sat back down.  

“Didn’t have to go after all?” 

“No, I went,” she whispered.

We watched the rest of the film without further comment, but in the back of my mind, I wondered what kind of enchantment she had used to keep from standing in line outside the theater’s narrow two-stall restroom. 

After the movie, we stopped for a cup of coffee, and I inquired about her bathroom trip.

“Alright Aquawoman, did you use your hydro-kinetic supernatural powers to open an inter-dimensional bathroom portal?”

“No,” she replied, “a group of girls were having so much fun talking, I think they preferred standing in the lobby to watching the movie. They let me cut in line, so I thanked them and moved to the front of the line.”

“Were they on a conference call with friends who couldn’t make it?”

“No, they were being gracious, but I did think it strange when they stopped me as I exited the bathroom to thank ME for thanking them.”

This peculiar and uncharacteristically generous encounter between young people and (forgive me, Pam, but I am forced to use this word) an “older” person reminded me of another strange incident at a shopping mall.

I had stood in a different kind of line – a checkout line – holding a few items. As I approached the cashier, he glanced at me, almost furtively, and then started scanning the merchandise I had placed on the counter. As I watched, his computer displayed the message “Say Hello” on its screen. It sounded like a good idea, so I smiled and said “Hello.”  

After a curious look and attempted smile, he took my money and nearly made the correct change. I returned the extra dollar and noticed that his computer started to display a new message: “Say Thank You.” So I did, and I headed out of the store under the scrutiny of security cameras, aware that I had probably violated an unwritten shopper’s protocol by being more cheerful than a customer should be who waited in line for nearly 10 minutes.   

Not until I reached the parking lot, fumbling for my keys, did it occur to me that the messages on the computer screen appeared there as reminders for the cashier – not for me – of a customer service policy: Say “Hello” when you meet the customer and say “Thank You” once the transaction has been completed.

I felt silly for missing the point so much earlier, but I also felt a pang of exasperation that a computer had to be programmed to prompt an exchange that ought to have passed between us without the assistance of gizmos and gadgets. Clearly, my cashier had failed to perform according to company standards, but then again, would I have done any better without prompting?  

Since my visit to the mall, whenever I go shopping, I try to remember to say “hello” and “thank you” when employees simply do their job. And even within the confines and safety of our home, I’ve tried to be mindful of the practice by thanking our microwave when it beeps and displays the message that “your food is ready” or as our laundry machine sounds its little electronic tune that the cycle is done. 

It’s a good habit to cultivate: simple courtesy, especially if Pam stops talking to me for a day or two. Just chatting with my appliances as they beep and bing their news could make all the conversational difference.

– David Feela

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