Dec 12, 2007

It's not me, it's you

I call it the Flight Attendant Effect.
Ida thinks I'm just paranoid, but I swear it keeps happening to me. 

Here's how it generally goes:
I'm on a plane watching the flight attendant come down the aisle taking drink orders and handing out snacks. She's got the pleasant flight attendant smile, she's chatting up the other passengers, things are chirping along nicely. When she gets to my row, I, being a pleasant, often chirpy, mostly harmless fellow, ask for a ginger ale, posing the question as a full sentence with a friendly smile and punctuated with a non-haughty "please". At this point, almost imperceptibly, her eyes narrow and her lips draw taught. She manages to squeeze out some kind of acknowledgment as she goes for my ginger ale. 
She does not say "you're welcome" when I thank her. I'm pretty sure she's crushed all the pretzels in the bag before handing it to me.

She resumes her pat, effortless charm-dance at the very next row behind me.

Paranoia? Is there something hanging out of my nose? I'm hideous, aren't I?
Before you answer, consider scenario #2. It's a variation on the FAE I call the Checkout Line Effect and it goes like this:

I'm in the checkout line at a grocery store, though it can be any store, really.  The checker is engaged in friendly, if somewhat tired banter with the older woman in front of me. The woman is not very talkative and appears to have no desire to be engaged in this or any other kind of chit-chat, judging from her body language.
Regardless, the checker happily and confidently assists the HELL out of her, right up to, "do you need a hand out?" She doesn't and curtly shuffles away with her provisions.
Then, in the moment from turning his attention away from departing customer and towards current customer, the checker changes gears. At first, I'm not so sure it's me since he's looked at or near me exactly zero times so far. How can he hate me already? He hasn't even seen what I look like!
And yet, no "hi there" or "how's it going today?", sincere or otherwise. No banter. No feigned interest in my purchases. No "paper or plastic?" (In a supposedly green city like Seattle, I don't know why plastic is even still an option.)
He chooses plastic for me. 
I'm pretty adept with the debit card/keypad apparatus, I don't need to be told to press 'Enter', so the first thing said to me is also the last thing said to me:
"Here you go", mumbles the checker, handing me my receipt. Again, my thanks are gone unheeded. Again, he's back to smiles and chatter with the next person in line.

This phenomena has happened to me enough times that I've started experimenting with the variables: I say nothing until spoken to, I say hello, I smile, I don't smile, I make a joke, I make a stupid joke.
I suppose a lot depends on the employee and their disposition, but what I still can't figure out is the interruptive effect I seem to have on their otherwise jovial routines. I don't actually care if I'm treated with violent indifference by these people. I did grow up on the east coast, after all - truly the place where customer service goes to die - but if everyone around me gets treated like guests at a cocktail party, why not throw me some vacant small talk?  Or at least wait til I leave to break out the bubbly.

My only theory, which really only works in the case of flight attendants, is that friendliness is THEIR territory.  That's what THEY get paid to do. My function as the consumer is to behave righteously indignant at worst and asleep at best. Perhaps, much like showing fear to a grizzly is asking for an armload of your own entrails, showing friendliness to a flight attendant is considered a challenge to their livelihood, a type of professional insult. 
Or perhaps I do have something hanging out of my nose.


Christopher said...

Maybe it has something to do with ordering Ginger Ale?

I dunno, maybe all the 9/11 terrorists ordered several rounds of Ginger Ales before taking over the planes, and although it wasn't mentioned in the Committee Report, nevertheless, word has spread, and as a result flight attendants have become preternaturally suspicious of anyone else doing likewise.

Next time, try ordering Club Soda instead and see what happens.

As for the grocery check-out, maybe you just look like a no-nonsense kind of guy, who just comes in, grabs his six pack and pre-packaged Chicken Parmesan, and wants to get out as quickly as possible; no muss, no fuss, no unnecessary chit-chat, just ring it up buddy and give me my $20 cash-back, I'm in a hurry, got things to do, and you're holding me up - sort of look about you.

On the other hand, maybe you DO have a booger hanging out of your nose...

Anonymous said...

Maybe they've seen Awesome!, consider you a celebrity, and are too embarassed to make a big deal about it. :)

Or the booger thing.

&rea said...

it is possible that you are a victim of the "negative affect", where a person is treated rude and then passes that on to the next person, who in turn passes it on to someone else... ect. You will probably never see a friendly face in the friendly skies, or in your neighborhood checkout line. That is your fate. I'm sorry... if I ever see you on the street, I will smile, maybe even nod my head in your direction, but you must know, it's out of pity!

done.made.said said...

Man, I don't know what the hell is up with the flight attendant syndrome, but I get the treatment too.

I've sliced other incidents out of the my theory list, incidents with logical explinations. For instance, the lady at REI who completey ignores my kindly pleading for directions to the sock section while she addresses the lady standing behind me with a "can I help you find anything?". She could have not seen me standing there right in front of her or she could have been wanting to get the didgets of the lady she insisted on helping, who knows. and I wouldn't want to get in the way of some hot REI pick-up action. But even without many of these events on the list (those with semi-sort-of-logical explanations) there are too many to ignore.

Thanks for speaking out for all of us suffering the anti-friendly to friendliness treatment, there may never be acure, or explanation, but at least you have a theory, and I take heart in that.