Tagebuch: March 2007

Dear Diary,

At corner grocery stores in New York City, your purchases come in a cheap plastic “Have a Nice Day” bags with a big yellow smiley face.

This way the shop owners, native speakers or not, acknowledge America’s love of smiles. In America, smiles and service go hand in hand—like it or not.

On a recent flight to New York City, the crew made the usual speech—if anyone needs assistance, they are, of course, happy to help.

Hours later, I thought of plastic smiley face bags when the man in front of me pushed the button on his armrest to call the flight attendant.

The devil-red uniform should have been a warning. This was the fifth time he had rung during the nine-hour flight. For the flight attendant, that was five times too many.

Clomping down the aisle, hair slicked back in a strict bun, scarf tied chokingly tight under a clenched jaw line, she forced her version of a big yellow smiley:

“What can I get you Sir?” she asked in German.

“I don’t understand these questions,” said the man feebly. “Can you help me?” He was stumped by the immigration forms.

No smile, no patience.

“You’ll have to wait,” she retorted. She went a step past him and rolled her eyes, shook her head annoyed, looked at me and shrugged her shoulders with a grunt.

“We are now making our final descent to New York! Thank you for flying with Austrian Airlines! If this is your final destination we hope you enjoy your stay!”

Somehow the overly friendly inflection, even though it was in German, and the forced smiles – that turn to scornful glares by the end of the flight, led me to the sad realisation that faux hospitality is everywhere.

I always enjoy the classic grantig waitor in Vienna Cafes because that attitude is real. But, when smiley face bags start popping up in Vienna too, I’m moving out.

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