Have we traded our happy, smiling faces for progress?
I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana and while there I could not help but notice the helpfulness and smiling faces of the people in their service industry. I felt that I had taken a step back into Barbados of years ago when I lived with my grandmother.
My grandmother would always say, “speak to everyone you meet” and “be polite to a dog”. It was common back then for neighbours to have disagreements and yet the children had to speak politely to all adults involved and we were told never to get into “big people business”.
It was common for Barbadians to be referred to as the “helpful people with smiling faces” but all this has gone. Children used to say “excuse me” when passing near others and if standing in someone’s way it was common courtesy to move out of the way of other passers-by, not wait for them to ask for a pass.
The same thing was expected in the home when one awoke, first thing in the morning or after a period of absence from home one greeted the household.
Let me share with you an experience I had at about age nine. I arrived home from school and dashed into the house and proceeded to regale my mum with some story. She stood there quietly and then she said in a very normal voice “You dropped something at the door.” I walked back to the door in bewilderment wondering what it was that I had dropped.
When I got outside on the step she came up to me and said: “Little girl, you dropped your manners!” From that moment on I always greeted everyone when entering a room or would bid them adieu when leaving, but this behaviour seem to have become outdated.
So when I was confronted with this type of behaviour in New Orleans you can imagine my surprise.
Like Barbados, New Orleans is a tourist-oriented destination and there were myriads of individuals from all over the world. We met individuals from Australia, New Zealand, England, some Arab Countries and even South Africa. These people were all commenting on the southern hospitality that they were experiencing.
I thought to myself that Barbados does not stand a chance of successfully competing in the tourism industry if something is not done and fast. Even the street bum was mannerly and I also noticed that they did not go up and touch people like here on Broad Street, where it is common to see some actually touching tourists and begging for money. It is a disgrace to see this display of bad manners on our part.
Another thing that I noticed was that the good manners seemed genuine and not rehearsed like what occurs here. It is common to enter a department store here and be greeted by a customer service individual who can only say good morning but if you enquire about the item they cannot provide any service.
However, in New Orleans, I observed customer service individuals going out of their way to assist and unlike us they did not appear to have one price for the tourists and another for the locals.
For instance, for some time now I was checking out the pricing policy for taxis at the Grantley Adams International Airport. The price suggests that a taxi from the airport to St. George Parish Church is around $46 certainly not $50. So I decided to try this out, and low and behold the man said that that price was for one person but if travelling with others it goes up to as much as $63, even though my party (three individuals) was going to the same destination. Is this what we are calling good customer service and Barbadian hospitality?
Another thing, the sign inside the airport facility says that “red caps” (baggage carriers) are to be paid about BDS $2 per bag and yet we overheard one demanding up US $5 for each bag. This is ridiculous and such behaviour needs to be addressed.
I know that I will get some slack for this but that “red cap” hindrance needs to be removed, it is certainly not helping our already failing tourism industry. We are going to be left behind by leaps and bounds if we continue to be complacent.
Another thing I observed when we arrived at the airport in New Orleans, was the easy, courteous manner with which we were given help. I had thought for sure that we would be on our own as soon as we left the confines of the airport facility. This was not so. There was a counter situated just outside the exit where a lady greeted us and proceeded to talk to us thus easily finding out our destination.
That was not all. When she saw that I was struggling with my luggage, she provided a simple solution on how to “piggy back” my luggage and this was not given in a sarcastic manner — imagine my shock.
Information was then provided about a shuttle service and the quotes were for the length of the journey and not the number of people on the journey and these quotes were posted on a notice board in the airport and on the shuttle. Let me explain, if our party was staying at a hotel on Bourbon Street and the quote says, ‘Airport to Bourbon Street $50’ it did not change to $60 when we approached the vehicle. Further, if another party was travelling to the same street they would pay the same thing.
It is amazing how unethical behaviour has crept into our business dealings and has now become the status quo. This is not good for the industry that we are placing so must weight on to get us out of the recession. Actually, it is this type of behaviour that will ensure we remain in it.
Street crossings in New Orleans were a bit confusing since when one side was showing walk the other side did not, but do not despair most motorists waited and at times would even call pedestrians across when they noticed their hesitation. The drivers on the street trams were just as helpful and should you go in the wrong direction that is not problem you can purchase a ticket for the entire day and just be driven around.
I just experienced shock after shock. Their helpful manner reminded me of how bus inspectors would help elderly people to the correct bus in the bus stand when I was going to school. It also reminded me of how one could place a stranger in a bus in Barbados and be assured that when asked, the driver would ensure that the individual arrived at their destination safely.
As my grandmother would say “you could ask a question”. However it is not so nowadays, unless you want to lose your head with the snap that will ensue. It is little things like these tourists will notice and take back with them, not only the artificial manner with which we treat them but the ill-mannered way we treat each other.
So I wondered, have we traded our happy, helpful and smiling faces for what we believe is progress? If so, we need to get it back and quick. Until next time…..
* Daren Greaves is a Psychology and Management Consultant