MAKING things happen is a winning formula that softens interacting with people on difficult matters, sometimes making them a little more tolerable.
While we all know the signs of being denied this magic moment, are we equally ready to return the same good gesture when given the opportunity?
Such was my discovery in a food market last week when I asked the chief bakery supervisor for breadcrumbs from her trays, a small requirement as part of my effort to bake some bread-crusted chicken burgers at home. Well, not me personally, but let’s not get distracted.
Notice at this point I was not asking for a multi-layered emergency wedding cake made from imported ice cream and frozen yoghurt icing. Breadcrumbs: from the crumbs of the bakery items she sold hundreds of in the 40 minutes alone I had spent searching the shelves for my other ingredients.
I was also not asking her to offer it to me for free, or to deliver it in a sealed container to a secret location. I was ready to swipe the same sweaty, agonisingly patient credit card that will pay for the rest of my ingredients for it.
Given that I was doing my shopping in a harbour-facing shopping mall that, I’m told, attracts more tourists than any other spot in South Africa, ranking it among the top tourist spots in Africa, I was somewhat buoyant about a positive response.
At minimum, I was betting on a winning smile at my misery, and a "let’s-make-a-plan" attitude.
Let me spare you the agony of wondering: I got a silent yet firm sideways headshake.
Undaunted, I applied some tactics accumulated over many years’ exposure to the best public relations can offer, and steeled myself with resolute patience.
Applying the advanced technique of approaching the challenge with a different solution-offering angle, I asked how I could obtain some of the very crumbs I had seen from the point where I was standing.
She kept shaking her head, still not offering a word to console my fading hopes.
Getting ready to retreat, I applied an old family trick while keeping my sweetest voice, in asking her colleague: “What’s with her attitude?”
While I did not succeed in obtaining a single crumb from any loaf, it did unlock her silence and a very sharp retort that she, in fact, had a perfectly fine attitude and that they, in fact, had never sold breadcrumbs before in the way I requested.
I trolleyed forth. Somewhat numbed.
Have the endless bosberaad hours on the thrilling topic of service excellence watered down to a smile only at the drop of a foreign coin?
Are we really the "friendliest people foreign visitors have come across in all their travels across this wide earth" – as some of our brand messages may claim?
Or is the world just in a very sad spot at the moment – and our smiles seem abundant in comparison?
As I dizzied my way towards the baking aisles in hopes of finding a suitable alternative, I am left wondering: is emphasis on what is good for the brand’s bottom line filtered to what is delivered in the corporate training room?
And if so, has it shifted now to focus only on the survival tactics of keeping one’s job in times of recession? Something that gets the queues sorted as quickly as possible, to make more bucks in less time.
While I managed to get the breadcrumbs I wanted at a different branch of the same market elsewhere in the city, the episode clearly did not enrage me enough to make me question my loyalty to this brand.
I need to question my tolerance for self-inflicted pain.
Adriaan smiles and waves at tourists and locals alike on Twitter as @aiBester to spread the image of a nation filled with joy.