Friday, December 7, 2007

milkshake wishes and chimichanga dreams

If there’s one aspect about city life that truly irks me, it’s the purposeful rudeness and total neglect of how your actions -- or inactions -- affect those around you. Having lived in small Midwestern towns until the age of 21, I grew up in an environment that coached (beat) its children to follow the Golden Rule at all costs. " Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you," our elders told us. And if you chose not to follow that policy, you’d be immediately scolded (beat).

The point is, I grew up learning to hold open doors for people with babies or the elderly; to not start a conversation in the middle of a crowded stairwell; even to make sure that when I put my groceries down on the conveyer that I do so as to accommodate the people behind me so they, too, can relieve their arms of frozen chimichangas, Cherry Coke Zero and Reduced Fat Cheez-Its.

I carried on with my very Midwestern behavior until, well, I left the Midwest. Of all places, I went to a mecca of rudeness, Moscow, and learned that just because you’re friendly doesn’t mean everyone else is. I’ve been literally pushed off trolleys by babushkas for no apparent reason; I’ve been nearly spit on (albeit inadvertently) by hobos with TB; and more than once I’ve had doors slammed in my face because, apparently, it’s just too much trouble to hold them open for the person directly behind you.

So, after a few months (days), my small-town mentality quickly eroded and I became a bitch, a demeanor I’ve perfected through much practice over the past seven years. Ahhh...the memories.

But, in all honesty, Moscovites have a pretty damn good excuse for being such impudent jackasses. As a South African diplomat friend of mine once said, “This is the Third World ... it’s barbaric.” While I don’t think Moscow qualifies as Third World in the traditional sense, there is (well, at least there was from 2001-2004) a certain barbarism that prevails in everyday life: It’s perpetually dirty; the temperatures are below freezing and it's dark from October-May; it's dichotomously classed and priced; and, well, Moscow is just kind of all-around bizarre. In essence, it’s a warped simulacrum of New York City, but much, much more rough around the edges.

So you could imagine, while living in the sh*t, my view from afar of America morphed from realistic to fantastic. When I finally moved back to what had become "happy fairy land" in my mind, I expected strangers to stop me on the street just to smile and say “hi.” I expected people to offer to carry me around on their shoulders so my shoes wouldn’t get dirty. I expected people to fetch me delicious milkshakes whenever I thought to myself, “Wow. I could really go for a delicious milkshake right now.” Well, my friends, I am still waiting for my impromptu milkshake.
Washington, DC, while not nearly as bad as Moscow, is still a pretty rude city. Well, let me clarify, parts of DC are really rude. Mt. Pleasant, where I spend a quality chunk of my time, is actually, well, pleasant. I’m going to go ahead and non-politically-correctly chalk that up to there being a lot of immigrants in that neighborhood. Immigrants not from Moscow. Friendly immigrants.

However, other parts of DC are real downers. I went shopping in Georgetown a couple weeks ago and felt rather like a hobo with TB. Rarely, did one of the uptight salespeople greet me or ask me if I needed help. Now I’ve worked in retail and I know how horrendous it is. Customers are, for the most part, the most annoying people you’ll ever meet. “Do you have this in a small?” they’ll ask. “Probably, asshole, just hold on a damn minute,” you’ll think, but what you’ll say aloud through a smile is, “I’m not sure, but I’ll be glad to help you.”

You’re getting paid to be fake nice so just do it...and I won't spit on you. I’m not asking for a milkshake here, I’m asking you to do your damn job in a civilized manner.

I know it's possible. I've seen it done, most recently at the Potbelly sandwich shop at 4300 Connecticut Ave., near the Van Ness metro stop. They smile, they’re polite, they do their job and they do it wonderfully. And, yes, for my ultimate cheesy ending, they make a good milkshake.

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