Model Behavior

 I went to the UPS store to see about mailing a set of electrical adapter plugs to my son in Rome. The bearded man behind the counter greeted me with a brusque, “We can’t mail liquids.”

I looked around because it wasn’t entirely clear that he was talking to me, and I was confused by his comment if he was. I followed his gaze to my flimsy, nearly see-through Target bag which revealed a bottle of nail polish.

“Oh, I’m not mailing this,” I said to him, “I’m mailing this” and I pulled out of the same bag the package of electrical adapter plugs. I beamed. “To Italy.” 

The fellow didn’t crack so much as a smile.


He said it with disdain, as if I were an annoying spoiled child asking for a seventh cookie.  My husband had been in a few days earlier to send a euro rail pass which had not arrived in time for our son to take. The same man had been behind the counter. He wasn’t exactly friendly then either but my husband had written it off as him having had a bad day. This was only our second package to Italy, and I had no intention of sending another.

“Um, yes. To Italy.”

The man sighed. “Well you should probably go to the post office.”

“But… don’t you have post office service here?”

“Yes, but we only have expedited service.”

“But I want expedited service.”

“Well…. I can’t guarantee delivery. Once your package gets into the other country, it may be stalled in customs.”

I didn’t understand how this was different than any other way I’d send the package, and when I asked him to clarify, maybe I’m dense, but I still didn’t get it.

“Keep talking. I’ve got to weigh these packages,” he said abruptly, and he turned around and busied himself among brown wrapped boxes, sticking on stickers and punching numbers into a machine. But I didn’t have anything else to say. My confidence was shaken in this man and service, and truth be told I felt guilty with four people now behind me, holding large brown boxes and waiting for assistance, so I left for another place.  But I couldn’t help wonder: Where has customer service gone?

It is rare to be greeted warmly in businesses, rarer to be valued. “Get your own”, “Help yourself”, “Don’t trouble me with details” seems to be the prevailing business manner. Good heavens, where did this attitude come from? I believe it has developed in our American society from a lack of service attitude in the home. I’m not trying to single out the man behind the counter, for maybe he received terrible news this week or had troubles I should never hope to experience, but I do think a certain standard of attitude is lacking in common business relations today. I also believe the remedy for the current courtesy crisis is proper training of children.

A child’s first lessons are in the home environment. While children are not a ‘how to project’, follow the instructions and you are guaranteed a fine result, they do respond to firm guidance. In the home children learn manners, decency, and respect of others. In the home children learn they can’t sass back to people without a consequence…or they learn that they can. In short, life in the family is boot camp for living life in the adult world.

Do we indulge our child’s every whim? Provide an Ipod to an 8 year old as a matter of course? A cell phone by 11 and a car at 16? Do the children have responsibilities at home such as helping in the kitchen, doing yard work, caring for younger siblings? Do we teach teenagers to wash and care for their own clothes or do we hurry downstairs to hunt for “the blue shirt” because while the grey one is clean it is not what our 14 year old wanted to wear? Do we teach our children to meet and greet visitors to our home with an extended hand, smile and “How do you do?” Do we model what we hope to observe?

As Catholics we are called to be the ‘salt’ of the earth. Salt gives food flavor, enhances the diner’s enjoyment. Our presence in the world should be an enjoyment to others and a reflection of Christ’s own life. They say charity begins at home. Well, so do manners. We can change the tide of the business world, and the world at large, by modeling service and requiring it of our sons and daughters.

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  • Claire

    Excellent article! When I was in England a few years ago, I was amazed at how polite the service people were, in any public business establishment. It was such a contrast to the customer service we see here. And you’re so right that it starts at home.