I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how much I love the people working within the US service industry? Theirs is a hard and ungrateful job, as shown repeatedly on Not Always Right. Everytime I visit this country I am fascinated by the experience of having people behind a counter or at a bar or restaurant actually meet my eyes, smile, ask me how my day has been and reply cheerfully that their day is going great, thank you very much. I know, I know, it’s all superficial and yes, I know that the statistical likelihood of their day actually going great is very small, as shown repeatedly on notalwaysright. But it’s still very refreshing. I mean, disinterest and impoliteness is superficial too. In Sweden, a normal transaction involves “was that it?” and “do you want a bag?” and no eye contact. It feels normal to me when I’m at home, but it’s always jarring when I’ve recently been to the US. I always end up behaving like a cheerful idiot, at which point the poor woman behind the counter is looking slightly terrified that I’m a maniac.
Anyway, I went to this shop yesterday, and was served by this teenage girl who looked completely expressionless the entire time, moved with the speed of a sloth and didn’t make eye contact the entire transaction. There was a lot of wrapping to do, so I stood there, fascinated, as she very slowly went through the moves. Now, this didn’t bother me at all. I am, after all, Swedish, and I’ve worked behind a counter too, so I’ve both experienced and shown apathy. But then, when she had almost finished wrapping everything, she suddenly looked up and said:
“Did you use to listen to Amy Winehouse?”
“Eh”, I said. “I guess? Sometime?”
“I saw this documentary about her. It’s on Netflix.”
“How… nice?” I said, suddenly feeling almost Brittish in my uncomfortable politeness.
At this point she had finished wrapping my things, and bagged them. But she just let it sit there on the counter while making eye contact with me.
“And was it … a good documentary?” I said.
“Well, yes. I mean, it wasn’t wow-good or the best thing I’ve ever seen-good. But it was interesting. So sad, don’t you think, with all that talent?”
“Er, yes”, I agreed quickly, and she nodded a little sadly and handed me the bag.
See what I mean? Even the apathetic teenagers behind the counters are interesting in this country.