October 25, 2002
I didn't realize how deeply programmed we
Canadians are to say "thank you" until I decided not to
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.