In my elevated social position
As a respected family physician
My patients I serve
But there are those who have nerve
To be mean to those of lower condition.
: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went to have adventures and work in out-of-the-way locations. After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took up a part-time, 54 hour a week position with a Community Health Center. I’m just back from a working vacation in Petersburg, Alaska, an educational trip to San Diego, and a wedding in Cancun.
Bethany and I went to our oldest daughter’s wedding in the tourist district of Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula. The staff treated us royally. At mealtimes someone would pull out the chair for me to sit and push it in as I did; another someone would unfold the napkin and to place it in my lap. On the trails that meandered through the jungle from villa to villa, hotel staff would step off the concrete to let us pass. They learned our names the first day, and on the second morning knew how I take my coffee/tea/chocolate.
Not only do I not expect such service but it made me feel a little creepy. I tried to ameliorate the sociologic disparity by speaking to the staff in their own language, but it didn’t help, and it took me a couple of days to figure out why.
In any service industry, an inherent power inequality permeates the relationship between the service and the client. Even a physician, with a high social rank, has to face this inequality with every patient, and I have worked in that position for so long I have grown comfortable with it. Speaking the language of the client makes me a better service provider, but I still maintain my position as a service provider.
The position of client brought me out of my zone of comfort.
The resort staff, for the most part, spoke English passably or well, and I suspect that gaining employment there depended on a demonstration of language proficiency. I still spoke Spanish with them because I find it soothing, and because it felt like I ameliorated the disparity between us.
Back home, when I go out to eat, I go out of my way to bring respect to the client-service relationship. I shudder when I see restaurant wait staff treated like furniture; I make eye contact and I use peoples’ names. I say please and thank you. If the server is having a bad day, I do my best not to add to the problem. And ordering food came easily in Mexico.
I still felt bad for the people who stepped off the path at my approach, even when I figured out that, at the very least, it gave them a small break in their work.
In the end, I came back realizing that the patients who treat me like furniture and who bring no respect to the service-client relationship are the worst patients. They demand time to get advice they won’t take with no consideration for the patients who come afterwards.
I suspect they’re mean to restaurant wait staff as well.