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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fill it up

Yesterday I had an experience that caused me to think through some issues, lots of different thoughts in a short amount of time.

I went to Arco to fill my car up with gas. Here in Oregon, we aren't allowed to pump our own gas, a gas station attendant does it for us. At most gas stations they still have the outside credit card machine on the pump, but at Arco they don't do that. How Arco deals with it in Oregon is to fill up your tank and then you go inside and pay after the tank is filled.

So, I got inside to pay, and realized to my horror that Hibi hadn't put my card back in my wallet after she used it. I had no other credit card, just my bank card, as we've been trying to reduce the temptation to just use credit when it's convenient. I had only a few dollars in cash, and of course, gas costs much more than that. My 20 gallon plus tank takes over $60, always, to fill. I shamefacedly told the attendant that I didn't have my debit card. I'm so sorry, I said. Sorry! he yelled at me. Sorry isn't good enough! What do you mean you're sorry!?! He yelled at me while I tried to think, what else can I do? I offered a check, but of course they don't take checks. I was standing there thinking, there is nothing I CAN do. "Sorry" is all I have. And a promise to come back with my card, but he was having none of it. Finally he referred me to his manager, who wasn't nearly as irate with me but was still somewhat angry. I offered, again, my check, or I could come back in five minutes with my card. He said, do both.

I left the gas station contrite at my mistake. How could I do this? That was so stupid. Of course they can't trust people to come back....this must happen to them all the time.

I came back to the house and rifled through Hibi's room looking for my card, as she was at tae kwon do. It wasn't there. I hadn't been able to get hold of Paul on his cell phone, so I'd have to drive over there--taking much longer than the five minutes I'd promised the Arco guys.

As I was driving there anger began to replace the contrition. How could they treat me like that? Yelling at me because of an honest mistake. I began to be indignant. This is no way to treat a customer. I could tell them that I certainly wasn't coming back to THIS Arco. I would pay my debt and that would be the end of it--there are plenty of other gas stations. Besides, they have to have some option set up for this situation, because they don't ask for payment in advance like other gas stations.

And then another phase came in my processing. I thought about the two different cultures of the two men I dealt with. The first was Latino, the second African, both obviously originally from another country. Perhaps yelling is a culturally acceptable way to deal with anger in their cultures. Letting off some steam. Maybe people deal with each other in this manner and then everything is okay again. Customer service isn't the same in other countries.

And then the final stage in my processing: realizing what these two men, just because of their culture and their skin color, must go through every single day. Something that I, a white woman, cannot even begin to fathom. Because, contrary to some opinion, racism is very, very much still alive. They must deal with mistrust and worse, all the time.

And I can't deal with a little yelling?

I went back and paid with my credit card. I chose to be mostly silent. At the end, I apologized for my mistake and let the manager know that I understand he must get people all the time "not able to pay." He thanked me profusely for my honesty, something which I don't think I should have to be thanked for.

I guess I see this whole situation as part of our broken world. It will not heal from more anger, but from understanding.


LeLo said...

I love this post for so many reasons....a situation many of us have been in (not exactly, but similiar), your reflection on it, and the time you were gifted with to think about the situation and how you were going to react. And to put yourself in their shoes. Most of all, to put yourself in their shoes. Thank you for this lesson. :)

Elizabeth said...

Lelo--you're right, it was a gift that I was given more time to think before I faced those two men again. I am grateful for it.

Thank you for reading!

Mimi said...

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful post, and what lessons you glean from it. Lessons we (read:I) need to learn every day.

Thank you.

architect said...

Totally great post, good thoughts, you are very understanding - you definitly turned the other check, however let me add a few minor thoughts.
I too did an airhead recently. I needed to get a mat trimmed for a picture, so I ran down to a hole in the wall framing shop and with the boys entered the establishment, showed the man at the counter my mat that needed the trim, he asked to see what the mat was framing so I said, "I'll go get it" and realized, duh, I had locked the keys in the car AND had forgotten to grab my cell phone that morning. The man was very gracious, allowed me to use his phone and even admitted that he locked his keys in the car once with his much younger brother asleep in the vehicle. My response to his kindness will be, the next time I have something to frame, I'll go to his shop. Customer loyality.
Another incident occured when Hudson was just a baby, I had gotten home from the store and couldn't find my wallet - so I called the police department to file a report in case someone was having fun with my credit cards. While I was talking to the station, I was asked what the license of my car was, so as I went out to look at my car's plate, I found the wallet on the car bumper. I said something about how stupid I was, and the police person agreed and we had a 'ha ha' moment. Later I was relaying my experience to a friend who's husband is up there somewhere on the police department ladder, and in fun humour spoke of the police person's agreement on my stupidity, and the husband promptly got the information from me that would allow him to figure out who I spoke with, so that he could be reprehended for rudeness -even though I didn't see it that way. However, professionalism is extremely important, especially for police, and anyone who wishes good customers.
The one thought I had when I read your post was, I bet they wouldn't have yelled at you if you were a man or a cute 20 something. Just because they are having a rough day and are from a different culture doesn't justify them treating you like that. A suggestion would be to write that gas station a kind letter suggesting that the management have a policy in place to deal with those times when someone forgets thier wallet, so that their customer base is not offended -- because politeness is a good part of our society.

Liz said...

you are right about the broken world part. That will not heal until Christ returns. I cannot count how many things have happened in the past year that have caused me to think that customer service is a thing of the past. I had an unpleasant experience in lenscrafters (too long to tell) with my sons glasses. The clerk was very white and very smug. I also had a bad experience in a bookstore with a very white clerk. And at Outback with a white male restaurant manager. I am not about to excuse someone's actions based on their culture.Bad behavior knows no racial bounds. My husbands relatives are first generation immigrants and although discriminated against, they did not feel the need to stoop to rudeness. That is an excuse to say that someone's victim status is an excuse. In an odd sort of way, it is racism. I am in a twelve step recovery program and one of the first things you learn is that your victimhood is no excuse. I spent my life excusing bad behavior on the part of others because they had a sucky childhood or whatever. It is not an excuse. If you make excuses for people, most of them will take them, glad that they are off the hook of personal responsibility. I personally think a lot of the problems in certain minority cultures are because white liberals have made excuses based on their supposed victimhood. Human nature being what it is, people raise or lower to the expectations set upon them. I am only now just finding the balance between showing some understanding but still not stooping to "aw its Ok you treat people like garbage because we understand" You know what: except for a very very privilidged few we ALL have reasons we can excuse our own bad behavior. I am so sick of the race card I can't stand it. Its like you can do anything and get away with it if your skin is the right color. You don't right past wrongs by simply flip flopping and letting the previous victims become the new favored class. "We" will not heal the world. Christ will when He returns.He is God; we are not. yes we can be vessels of Christ's love but the world will never be fully healed until Christ returns.
One thing I do though, is I praise good customer service when I find it. I go as far up the chain as I can with companies that do not apparently believe in treating customers right and let them know that I will not be coming back and why. Sometimes the good service comes from surprising places. We recently had a problem with a new Xbox. I was stunned at how well Microsoft (yes MICROSOFT) handled it. They even transferred my daughters Halo settings from the old unit to the replacement. We didn't ask for that. I was beyond impressed. And I told them so.

Liz said...

after I posted I thought of this. Three words: Duke Rape Scandal. How easy to believe that a bunch of rich white boys would victimize this poor poor black girl. Were it not for a few lucky breaks, these poor boys would be being sacrificed to the god of political correctness. I am all about fairness for ALL people...not just bowing down to the previously downtrodden by automatically assuming they are always victims and making excuses for them.

Liz said...

architect: good point. My memory is refreshed about some lousy CS I received at a latte stand. The barista (young cute thing) claimed that I had honked at the truck driver in front of me (I hadn't) She got into this big thing that well, he was a regular and so she believed him. I pointed out to her that I was a regular, in there almost every other day. She then said something rude to me, called me a liar. The only difference i could see between I and the truck driver is that I am middle aged, he early twenties. He had a penis, I a vagina. Draw your own conclusions. I said as much to young cute barista and that was that. I never went in there again. I probably should have bothered to find out the manager and inform him of how unprofessional his/her baristas were, but I just didn't have the energy.