“a smile is part of the uniform”

Wallace and Gromit.

I’m a part-time busboy in a dumpling house and these are the dumpling house rules. Luckily I don’t mind cheesing it up. Sometimes I feel like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, where my mouth becomes bigger than my whole face — it’s a goofy feeling. (“You gotta smile with your eyes, too!” the manager says). Surely you’ve felt the same way at least once: smiling not necessarily because you are thinking or feeling hooray! but because you’ve been caught in an absurd situation where you can’t help but laugh at it all.

I’m trying to imagine the same restaurant policy in the Netherlands. Outside of the fanciest restaurants, would this policy even pass there? Even the cheeriest Dutchies I know would roll their eyes and laugh it off. What Americans perceive as good customer service (i.e. big smile, hey how you doin’?), the Dutch often perceive as fake and disingenuous. Showing a detached demeanor in a restaurant service role is a way of living up to egalitarian values. Showing an eagerness to please no matter what (i.e. “the customer is always right”) is not.

A memory from Utrecht: the owners of the Douwe Egberts coffeeshop at Janskerkhof had a lot to say about the waiters at Denny’s (the 24-hour American diner chain) when they visited the United States. Too “friendly”! (You could almost hear the quotation marks). Too fake! I know they want tips! The owners would say “how are you” in a nasal American accent and raise the pitch of their voice. Nothing could be done to ease their eternal suspicion of those waiters. I thought it was hilarious.

As for me: I’m a sucker for everyday theatrics, and it doesn’t bother me to suspend disbelief for a moment. Isn’t that how magic shows and fantasy books work?

On another note: Peter Sallis, the voice actor for Wallace in "Wallace & Gromit" passed away earlier this week. The New York Times wrote a touching tribute.

Author: Wes

Writer, runner, student.

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