Holiday saints and scrooges

OPINION

During the holidays, people are either beaming rays of sunshine and goodwill and generosity or needy, impatient, entitled beasts from hell

November 21, 2013|By Stacey Andeen @curvesandnerves

When I was in college, I had a seasonal job waiting tables at an enormous chain restaurant in a giant suburban mall that rhymes with "Schmoodfield," and I'm reasonably certain you can all guess how awesome that was.

Shockingly, given that I had to deal with so many wealthy suburban families and their awful children during my summer and winter breaks, it wasn't the worst job I've ever had. But the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's were completely different—mostly in a fantastic way, and sometimes in an unbelievably crappy way.

It's interesting that there isn't much of a middle ground. People are either beaming rays of sunshine and goodwill and generosity or needy, impatient, entitled beasts from hell. It's one or the other and the switch can flip from "saint" to "scrooge" in a second, especially once they learn you've sold out of mussels or whatever sweater in size XXL.

There are, of course, some theories about why people's personalities do a complete 180 at the onset of the holiday season: they're under a lot of stress, there's a lot going on in a short period of time, money is suddenly a bigger issue (gift giving, parties, generally being bad with money) and who knows what else. And maybe all that comes to a head when (potentially very unrealistic) expectations aren't met or exceeded and people just lose their minds at whatever poor soul happens to be in their line of sight.

A friend of mine worked at an upscale clothing store and was regularly accosted by shoppers who were irate about the lack of a certain size, the inability to return something that had obviously been worn and washed or the general layout of the store. Add to that some holiday music on repeat and you have a horrible, candy cane-striped time bomb.

Those who work in the restaurant industry don't have it any better. Most restaurants remain open on major holidays and those who are stuck working are spending their Thanksgivings and Christmas Eves with strangers and not their families. I spent last New Year's Eve hauling cases of wine up and down flights of stairs and trying not to get run over by some wasted chick tottering around in heels that were way, way too tall for her.

But thankfully, not everyone reacts negatively to the holiday season. In fact, people as a whole become generous and warm and wonderful, and that makes going to work in the service industry fantastic. When your whole job revolves around your interactions with other people and those other people are truly, wonderfully happy, it makes going to work feel less like work.

At one bar, my regulars and I participated in gift exchanges and attended each other's holiday parties. At another job, a man inquired about my holiday plans, learned that I was trying to travel abroad over New Year's and left me a ridiculously generous tip with the note "Viva Italia!" Even at that restaurant at that mall that rhymes with "Goodfield," most people were wonderful to be around. The parents were relieved to take a moment away from shopping, their children were well-behaved and I was happy to help people who were really living the whole holiday spirit thing.

And I guess that's the main takeaway here. Be nice to others. Keep your expectations reasonable. And if something doesn't go the way you want it to go, take a deep breath and don't take out your frustrations on another person. Target might run out of big-screen TVs. A restaurant might overcook your steak. You might be really crappy at wrapping presents. But the season isn't about TVs and steak and online shopping. It's about being good to other people, and I think we can all raise a glass to that.

RedEye special contributor Stacey Andeen is a Chicago bartender.

RedEye Chicago Articles
|
|
|