Monday, October 29, 2007

Language Barriers

Brian and I did not go to work today. It was Sam's appointment with the pediatric neurologist, and coincidently, Brian damaged his finger on the weekend and needed to tend to that as well. So we headed off to the city first thing in the morning, just the three of us. After navigating the children's hospital and getting Sam through another appointment with no "pokes", we were off to the Pan Am Sports Injury Clinic. In two and a half hours of moving from waiting area to waiting area, Sam made a lot of new friends. By our third waiting room (the one after x-ray, but before splints) we came around the corner to a chuckle and a "Hi Sam!" from a cheery man with a heavy accent who we'd been periodically sharing spaces with for a few hours. He reminisced about his three sons, grown up now, and how he imagined that Sam was a bright and happy boy, since he was actively asking question after question throughout the morning waits. We smiled and easily understood one another.

The long awaited reward for all that doctoring was a midday meal at McDonald's. We noted pessimistically that it was precisely lunch time, and we were located directly across from a high school. Should be reminiscient of field trips, we speculated. Brian graciously gave me the best "people-watching" position at the table, and I noticed all the unspoken languages amongst the teenaged patrons. The ones with skateboards wore their hoods, slouched, and let their pants drag behind them. Certain girls seemed to understand that language. A lone boy sat behind us, avoiding eye contact and concentrating on his soft drink. I wondered whether he didn't understand the language? or didn't want to? Was he new to the school? How did kids manage life some days, I wondered.

An energetic and friendly McDonald's employee, way beyond the age of "earning a couple of extra bucks" scooted around graciously picking up garbage that the kids literally crunched up and threw onto the floor around them. Not only was he quick, he was genuinely friendly. I tried to imagine having such a good attitude after bussing tables at a fast food store, serving snotty nosed teens, and not earning a whole lot for the effort. I knew for sure that I'd want to throw myself off of Abe's hill if I had to trade places with him.

Then, as we licked the last of our hot fudge off our fingers, it happened.
Surly-mc-surls'a'lot beside us got up to get a refill. Simultaneously, energetic clean-up boy- turned-man came around the corner and scooped up the paper wrappers and ketchups and deposited them into the trash. Surly I-hate-my-life guy came back from the counter and began the language. "HEY! Did you just F*%#@'in take away my F*%#@'n Food?!"

And here's the thing. Clean up guy stayed nice. Even though he could have been the brat's dad. Maybe even Grandfather.

But Surly wasn't done.
Nope, he stormed to the counter to complain to the manager, to demand a replacement meal, to snatch a comment card and make great show of filling it in in view of all the staff.

I was mad at him, and felt sorry for clean up guy. I noticed that clean up guy was looking more worried than annoyed, and that annoyed me even more because of the man's age, and the position he was in, having to take F&%*'s from some snotty nosed overgrown kid.

But then I started wondering about surly-McQ's language. Did he get taught at home that the only way to get what you need is by being aggressive? Mean? F%#@$-ish?

And that's the thing. Most of us only know our own language very well and so we interpret everyone around us through that filter.

There's no feel-good conclusion here. I still think it stinks that decent people have to (microwave) burgers and push brooms after stink-faced customers. But maybe it stinks just as bad that this kid never learned better conflict management.


Roo said...

yup, that's stinky, stinky, stinky.

i like what you said: "Most of us only know our own language very well and so we interpret everyone around us through that filter." i think this statement is oh so very true.

gloria said...

I am thinking that the surly one needs your prayers more than the happy employee needs your pity. (I think you were saying the same thing)Something is obviously very wrong with that boy to sit all alone in a McDonalds laden with other pubescent teens and to lash out at the slightest provocation.

Imagine what he is being exposed to at home.

Speaking of exposed to, how did Sam take it?

Mills' Memoirs said...

Wow...that really does stink. Sometimes I can be so quick to judge people by their exterior, but I am learning tha there is always a reason that people are the way they are, and mean people are usually people that are really hurting on the inside. I feel sorry for that boy...he probably isn't receiving a lot of love. I think I could learn a lot from the man who was cleaning up after them, and didn't respond to the boy with anger.

Melissa said...

funny how words get in the way - maybe that boy needed a hug from a funny lady in a pink panther suit or maybe the clean up guy did - or just maybe they both did....

Valerie Ruth said...

ugh. i hate stuff like that. kids can be so terrible.

Linda said...

I think people like the manager should insist that nobody speak that way to an employee. It is unacceptable.