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A Thankless Experience

by Stephen Lautens


October 25, 2002

I didn't realize how deeply programmed we Canadians are to say "thank you" until I decided not to say it.

As is often the case, my story involves a bank. The bank machine lineup was too long and I noticed that there was no one in line to see a real human teller. That should have told me something right away. I watched the bank machine line slowly get shorter and shorter as I stood waiting for one of the tellers to finish dealing with the people at the counter. I ended up being "next" for almost fifteen minutes. For some reason I'm destined to be stuck in line behind grandmothers putting a dollar in each of their thirty grandchildren's bank accounts.

When I was finally waved over by a teller, I could tell he wasn't having a good day. Or maybe he's the kind of person who never has a good day. Beside him was taped up a printed note from the bank reminding him how to deal with the public. It required him to "greet the customer warmly", "use the customer's name at least once", and "tell him how much the bank appreciates his business". No doubt the policy was written by someone who dots their "i"s with little happy faces.

In the course of my transaction I was not greeted warmly, my name never came up and I distinctly felt like nothing would make him happier than taking my business elsewhere. In fact, the only time he looked up was when my bank card wouldn't work. As I swiped it for the twentieth time without success, he shot me a look that would have driven the bank's happy face-drawing person to drink.

"Maybe you should get a new card swiper," I suggested. Now I definitely had a warm feeling from him. It was coming off his forehead. The look on his face indicated he was silently willing my head to explode.

It was about at this point that I made my momentous decision - I decided that I was not going to say "thank you" to him at the end of our transaction.

I immediately broke out in a sweat. I don't think I had ever deliberately withheld a "thank you" before, even from people who didn't deserve it. It seems so un-Canadian. Saying "thank you" is like leaving a tip even though you got lousy service, or telling the waiter the food is fine even though it's cold and isn't close to what you ordered.

I didn't have that strict an upbringing, but "please" and "thank you" was drummed into me as a child. The thought of leaving the counter without saying thanks was actually making me nervous.

My bank teller sullenly typed my bank card number in by hand and seemed disappointed to find that it hadn't been reported stolen. He then proceeded to use his rubber stamp to whack the back of my deposit slip with the gusto of a Texas Governor authorizing executions. He didn't even ask me how I wanted my money. Instead he pushed a handful of twenties over the counter and handed back my offending bank card.

"Thanks," I said automatically.

Darn my parents for bringing me up so well. Now there was no way to take it back. My "thanks" was out there waiting for a "you're welcome" that never came.

I left the bank resolved to putting more effort into being rude in future.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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