Discovering the memshaib* in me: my ah-ha moment and its impact on my behavior

ah-ha-momentA recent tussle with a cell phone provider revealed an unexpected emotional response in me. A series of contacts to try to resolve some problems, all with non-native-English-speaking customer service personnel (aka NNES) pushed my patience to its limits. I found myself thinking, “Why doesn’t the company hire people who speak English better?” With each successive and enunciated apology, “I am so sorry you are experiencing this problem” and similar phrases, my temper simply got hotter. Worse, my speech got louder, more clipped, forceful.

Nothing shook the responders. I finally said (could I have yelled?), “You’re all very polite, but I need answers!” I may even have cut the conversation off a time or two.

After I hung up, I wondered why on earth I let the standard routine bother me so much. I knew I’d be connected with NNESs and there would be challenges. Having visited countries where English isn’t spoken, I knew the struggle of trying to communicate in another language.

“Well, it’s their job. They’re paid to do it,” I thought. “They should learn the language better. They should know the solutions quickly.” Then an ah-ha moment swamped me.

I was over-reacting precisely because they’d been so polite. Without thinking, I’d internalized a superior social position, a kind of kiss-my-ass attitude that seems to accompany a structure like colonialism or caste or slavery, in which responses of the “inferior” class are standardized and required. I was stereotyping.

It’s easy to castigate people in other times, other countries for what now is labeled racist or classist, to fling accusations of suppression and discrimination at others. But my ah-ha moment warned me to slow down. Take more care with how I act and react. Temper my judgments of others, whether they’re providing a service on the phone or spouting off in a news interview to advocate opinions different from mine.

I wonder how the people on the other end of the line stereotype me?

* memshab