This is a tricky one, so stay with me.
The first time I saw a change in the attitude of store-workers of all color and creed in the Western world, was sometime last year in October, when I went to a mall in a suburb of Washington DC. As soon as I would enter any shop, big-brand or small, the store clerks and help would immediately greet me, ask me if I wanted anything and then stay discreetly in sight. This had never happened before and it felt quite nice to be recognized and not to be treated like wallpaper, as often used to happen in the past for many, many years (that it still happens in India is essentially because customer service is pretty much non-existent in most stores, high-end or otherwise…but that is really another story!).
I mentioned this to a friend of mine who lives in Houston and he was quite sure that this was the result of the on-going recession and related to two issues. Those working in the stores were becoming nicer and more polite to all customers so that they would be seen as good, caring workers in a tight job market and secondly, if they recognized someone as a tourist, they were probably even more polite and nicer hoping that these tourists would probably spend more freely than the locals.
Then, this October, in Munich, I took a walk down Maximillianstrasse, which is a street that functions like a large open-air, high-end, branded-store mall. Virtually every big brand has a store on this street…from Gucci to Hugo Boss to Bvlgari and Ferragamo, all vying for attention. With bad past experiences, I am always circumspect about visiting these stores. This time, looking for a couple of good ties, I went into virtually each one of them. The only shoppers were Arabs and Indians and the staff without exception was attentive, polite and in some cases even fawning. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled through Vancouver and Chicago and it was the same story in virtually every store!
We say that “money can’t buy respect” and we differentiate between someone who is rich or powerful and respected because of his/her money or title/position (false respect), and someone who will still be respected if that money and power are taken away (true respect).
I don’t disagree with that!
But…even if the store-help think that I am a monkey who needs to be kept entertained simply because I have money, do I in turn really care what they think of me? At that particular point in time when I am in the store, if I am given respect, because today I, as an Indian in a foreign town, am perceived to have money to buy stuff in that store, am I really bothered about the fact that that is not “true respect”, but comes only from a perception driven by our relative position in today’s world economy due to altered monetary equations?
Absolutely not! I love the attention and revel in it, while knowing fully well that it has nothing to do with who I really am or not! The relationship in that store that I will probably never visit again, is anyway purely transactional and transient as is therefore the so-called “respect”.
But so what!
Have you had similar experiences recently when traveling abroad?
PS: Carrying on from last week’s list of honkers, Ajay Bhonsle came up with “The Pothole Honker”…someone who honks whenever a pothole is in the way, hoping that the sound will make the pothole disappear!