Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Polite, civilized, behaved, accommodating, patient, agreeable, respectful...

I just retrieved this post from 2010, when I was working as Store manager in a wine store in New York. I published it at the time, then removed it into the draft folder thinking that maybe it was too much, but that said, I just re-read it (7 years later) and finally decided to re-publish it again... First, why not?.. And second, because I think it still applies to people attitudes and behaviors toward one another in general, and not only in New York, but in most big cities where I have worked over the last 25 years (i.e. Paris, London, New York and now Hong Kong).... However, you'll tell me what you think about this mild yet incisive "Coup de Gueule".... 

Coup de Gueule

Polite, civilized, behaved, accommodating, patient, agreeable, respectful, well-mannered… those forgotten words, which barely have any meaning anymore in our society due to most people attitude and behavior towards each other.

Yesterday was one of those days, busy, hectic and convoluted. The store wasn’t necessarily extremely busy during the day at first, yet quite a few customers celebrating the Jewish New Year (September 9th 2010) rushed in at the last minute and the phone kept ringing and ringing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! No, on the contrary, it was great to see customers back in the store after a very quiet summer, therefore very good for business and for the moral of the employees.

However, sudden and slightly overwhelming business day like this can somewhat impart your judgment or reactions with other employees and can overlap on the customers too. I usually keep my cool and I am even more efficient and in control when busy, but yesterday, I think I lost control for a minute. You’ll tell me.

As I said, I was busy and couldn’t necessarily help all the customers and my colleagues were also pretty busy, so inadvertently, despite trying our best, we missed a few questions and immediate acknowledgment of some (not many but a few unfortunately). But overall, I think we’ve handled the situation pretty well. For my part, I managed to divide myself enough to cover most interrogation marks from customers within the store and on the phone.

However, in the middle of this chaotic afternoon while I was trying to put together 2 or 3 orders at the same time and answer the phone too, a man in his 50’s, surely a new customer because I never saw him before, entered the store. As usual, like for any person entering the store, I acknowledged him from behind the counter while I was answering the phone with my usual: “Hello sir! How are you doing today?”. But obviously he couldn't bother looking at me or even acknowledging the fact that I just greeted him, as he was self-absorbed in his thoughts and didn't even noticed me or heard what I said as I was probably invisible to his eyes.

You see, everyday, I greet all customers entering the store to be polite and welcome them in the store, yet you’ll be surprised, as only few and rare are the ones who care to answer me or even acknowledge my greeting or even myself. It is weird, I know, because normally the customers are the ones complaining about the greetings and services they get in retails and/or restaurants and/or offices.

However, over my last 8 years spent in New York wine retails, I realized that lack of manners and impoliteness happens too frequently for my taste and it is frankly irritating. The New York attitude is a well-known fact and New Yorkers can be quite rough and impolite at times. I think that when you say hello to someone or acknowledge a person when you enter or leave a place, that person should in return say hello back to you or at least acknowledge you, whether they know or like you or not, at home, at work and wherever else.

It is called being polite or even being civilized, having social manners, but in New York (or in most big cities in the world for that matter), forget about it, customers have as much attitude, ego and self-awareness as the staff persons assisting them in most retails and restaurants and offices. In clear, nobody really acknowledge anybody else anymore. Of course, people are entitled to respond or not, and it is their prerogative to give back your greeting by an answer, a smile or even just a little sign; yet nowadays, it has become a very rare thing.

Normally, in an ideal world and more especially if you've received a good parental/school education, you should always greet people, wherever you are, when you enter in a place already populated with other people: customers, staff members or whomever else they can be. As you should also greet anybody who enters after you, to make them feel welcome and keep the atmosphere and the “Feng Shui” of the place intact and without tension or awkward sensations. If you do not greet them, at least acknowledge them. As said previously, a look, a smile, a hand sign or simply a quick hello will do.

People don’t know how to look at each other without thinking about disturbance, annoyance or even harassment. Nothing seems to be good enough, but still everything seems to be due to everybody. Cell phones and text messaging have replaced most direct communications between individuals. People are even busier than ever, not with others but with themselves. Busy typing, answering emails and texts, constantly checking their posts, likes, comments, and other messages on various social networks, evolving in self-awareness, growing their self-importance, ignoring a bit more everyday the world around them to concentrate on their self-centered life resumed in a few words sent every few minutes to anyone who cares reading them and more especially dares answering them (i.e.: sender: “I’m watching TV and I’m bored” or" I'm eating a bowl of pasta...", followers: “me too” or “what u r watching?” or "having a dump...").

Means of communications via social networks initially created to increase interaction with one another are instead enhancing individualism, impatience, anxiety and needs for recognition and immediate responses to trivial and even insignificant matters conveyed to the world by means of nondescript pictures and short sentences....  

Does anybody really care about what someone else is doing every 5 minutes? Does people at work really work? or are they so socially involved with so many other people around the planet focusing on their everyday little life that they don't have the time to be productive and proficient in their job? Does social networking generate so much lack of attention? Does it increase misbehavior and wrong attitude? Is social networking a form of ADHD or is it what created it?

How many times did you enter in an office or a retail or any other place where the first person you encounter is plunged into his or her cell phone, searching the web or typing a text or posting on social networks or even just having a long phone conversation without paying much attention to you or even acknowledging you, while he or she is supposed to not only acknowledge you, but also greet you and help you and at least provide you with a service? How many times really? Especially within the last 5-6 years...

By now, Blackberry, I-Phone and Samsung logos (in the backside of the eponymous cellphones) must be indelibly carved in the palms of millions of hands around the world. Pretty amazing, isn't it?. What if tomorrow a blackout occurs and electricity can't come back for a while (anybody watching revolution?)? What will they do? How could they survive without their computers, phones and gadgets? Don't get me wrong, I also use internet and send quite a few messages myself to my wife, family and friends; but just by walking down the street, thousands of people don't even pay attention to where they are going anymore, too absorbed by their so important task to answer banal and trivial messages, or playing game or literally sinking into their so captivating social networking chatting with people they so called "friends" living miles away around the world without having meeting them at least once.

Some people are more into it than other. It is the fruit of our generation and I'm not against it.. I'm not better than anybody, I must admit that i spend myself quite a bit of time on social networks, but I just think that it created more individualism, self-awareness, ego-centrism and loneliness for most people. And to a certain extent, I'm trying to restrain myself from being too much on my phone or social medias by trying to have real interactions with real people rather than with a smartphone screen.  

However, to come back to my new customer who just entered the store while I was busy (yet I still greeted him but he did not), he started hovering the alleys of the store. Seeing that he couldn’t find his way around, I asked him if everything was all right and if he needed some help to find something, Unfortunately, as I was still on the phone taking some orders in the mean time, and said that from behind the counter because I was already trying to finish different things and my colleagues were busy too, and although he heard me, he still did not acknowledge the fact that I was trying to help.

At some point, he came by the counter and asked me where the Portuguese section was and I pointed it with my finger and voiced a few indications for him to find it. Obviously, he was a bit lost and my finger-pointing complemented with my indications were not precise enough. So I decided to stop what I was doing to show him the section in person, despite the fact that I was busy and had to put the person on the phone on hold, as in any case customers in the store usually come first. So, now standing next to him, I told him that our section was a bit small for now, but that we will revamp it within the next few weeks while restocking the store shelves with new labels for the Fall-Winter season.

Already in his exploring mode, he wasn’t paying much attention to me anymore, so I went back to what I was doing behind the counter. After just about a minute or two, I could see that he couldn’t find what he wanted, so I came to his rescue and ask him: “What type of Portuguese wine are looking for?” And believe it or not but he answered me: “I’m looking for a Portuguese Shiraz”. His answer blew me away. It was the sudden realization that this gentleman was somewhat a prisoner of the globalization system like too many people around the world.

Bewildered, I told him: “Although, they are quite rare in Portugal, you may find some Portuguese Shiraz, but you won’t find any in this store.” And I added: “It is your prerogative, but why a Shiraz from Portugal?” and he answered: “because they are good and cheap!

May be that was rude of me but I couldn’t resist saying: “but Portugal is making plenty of great inexpensive wines made with various indigenous grapes that are surely as good or even better than a Shiraz from Portugal…” little pose to see his reaction and I added “… there are some great cheap Shiraz from Australia or Syrah from France were they excel, why asking for a Shiraz from Portugal? It is like asking for example for a Cabernet Sauvignon from Spain where you can also find plenty of wines made from indigenous grapes, what will be the interest for me to buy such wine?

It was his prerogative to try to find this type of wine, and I wasn’t trying to convince him otherwise, I was just trying to aware him against globalization of taste and production. The way I see things, it is my prerogative as a conscientious wine buyer and wine boutique store manager not to fall in the globalization system of wines made from more international grape varieties in countries where you can still find unbelievably good wines made with indigenous grapes.

Naturally as the grandson of a winemaker from a small appellation, I will camp on my position for as long as I can on that subject. It is also my duty as a Sommelier and educated wine buyer to guide my customers towards the right wine that correspond to their taste and budget, but it is also my prerogative to also indicate when my customers are making less adequate choices and explain them why I think this way. Most generally agree, some disagree but at the end we always find a compromise ground on which we can discuss openly in order to make a final decision regarding the appropriate wine to buy to suit their need.

He didn’t agree or disagree but was obviously irritated by my answer. I told him that it wasn’t in the spirit of the store to buy such wine because we were trying to avoid globalization of taste and the spread of international grapes; that we were focusing on smaller artisanal producers often organic, biodynamic, sustainable or/and natural, which craft excellent wine gems with indigenous local grapes reflecting the unique characteristics of the terroir and the region of origin. Therefore, I insisted on the fact that we were not interested to buy such wine that could be interpreted as more international or commercial with lack of focus on the local market and the typicity of the country/region of origin.

Although I wasn’t trying to be, it was may be rude of me to answer like that, but I had good reasons for it. He obviously didn’t understand them and was offended by my remark. As he was leaving the store, he told me that it was a weird way from me to introduce the store to customers. It is just a matter of opinion and what we believe should be on our shelves in order to stand behind each label, bottles and wines that we buy.

It wasn’t intended, but I may have come a little off on this one because he obviously couldn’t understand why I had no interest or intention on buying such a wine, which, for me, represents no interest, even as great as it could be. I could have ordered it if he was a repeat or regular customer, and if I was sure that I could sell the rest of the other bottles; but I usually seldom buying a full case just to sell 1 or 2 bottles and for the rest of the bottles to seat on the shelves forever due to no interest. Consequently, He rushed out of the store without a goodbye and definitely no thank you either.

As a customer, he was all right, regular and without attitude, but I guess he couldn’t comprehend why I wasn’t trying to agree with him and what he was saying about his Shiraz from Portugal.

In fact, I think a lot of wine buyers (amateurs, connoisseurs or professionals equally) would have reacted like me. Did you ever try or buy a Shiraz from Portugal? Maybe one day, I will try one by curiosity, if one of my sales rep. introduces me to one of those. But in my 18 years career as a Sommelier and Wine Buyer, I never tasted such thing.

After all, I didn’t disagree or wasn’t disrespectful with him; I was just trying to make him understand the focus of the store and the reasons why he wouldn’t find such a wine in the store.

The point that I’m trying to make, is that in a difficult town like New York where most people have huge ego, lack of patience, complete self-awareness without caring about the rest of the world in many ways, complemented by aggressive mobile phone addiction, short listening skills, “king-in-their-castle” attitude and way of thinking that everything should be due to them, sometimes it is difficult to discern who is right or wrong in certain situations.

Customers complain about the service in retails, restaurants and offices, which is often awful with no manners, bad behaviors and lack of attention and respect, but sometimes they do not think or realize that their own attitude and sometimes haughty demeanor may partly have something to do with it. And Vice Versa.

Where is the time where people used to be polite, civilized, agreeable and accommodating on both side of the counter? I’m far from being perfect myself, but as Wine Buyer and Manager of a retail store, I try to be as polite, agreeable, accommodating and understanding as much as I can be with everybody including my colleagues. As a rule, I imposed my co-workers to be as respectful as they can with all customers within the store, outside the store and on the phone.

After all, the customers are the ones who pay you, think about it! Whoever you are and whatever position you have, if you are paid to do a job, it will mostly always involve direct (and/or indirect) professional relationship with customers, therefore your boss employs you but satisfied and loyal customers are the reasons you get the dough. And mutual respect and well-mannered behavior and attitude are necessary to achieve good results in communications and sales whether in a retail store, a restaurant or in an office. And mutual respect from both sides I mean, service provider as well as customer.

Think about it,


LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic, Biologique and Organic wines (and spirits and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe! Also follow projects and products from the Fair Trade, an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and promote sustainability. Also support 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses that donate at least 1% of their annual revenues to environmental organizations worldwide.


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