Consumer culture, working culture

Leuven Travel Blog

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We were talking to a UK expat the other day who was complaining about the service in Belgium, saying she missed the service from when she was living in America. It surprised me, because the service in America was one thing that really got on my nerves. I was a bartender / waiter during university, and the way I tried to serve is the way I like to be served - polite, efficient and out of the way. I hated it when waiters in America kept on bothering me during the meal, coming over after the first few bites to see if everything is okay, making a fuss about making sure I see them topping up my water after every mouthfull, whipping my plate away the second I finished rather than waiting for everyone at the table to finish.

Part of it is the tip culture I guess, the chef is the real star of the meal so waiters just want to hang around your table a lot so it seems like they are giving you more visible "service" to earn that tip. But I think it goes deeper than that. My theory is that American society is geared up around being the king when you are the consumer. The customer is always right, the consumer needs to be treated like royalty, the man with the money calls the shots. The flip side of this is that the same consumer needs to be subservient when in the job, needs to bow down to the consumer and grovel sycophantically. It seems like American society is willing to make this bargain - slave to the dollar during the day, master over it at night. In Australia and Europe though, this deal is rejected. People want to be treated as an equal while working, and in return they don't demand to be treated as anything more when they play. This cultural differences explains not only the service at a restaurant, but also part of the difference in politics between America and Europe - Americans accept bad labour deals in order to get good consumer bargains, putting companies ahead of people, while Europeans demand fair labour deals even if it increases the cost of consumption, treating people as workers before consumers.
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photo by: Chokk