How y’all doing?

Returning back to Canada for a visit after being away for close to 14 months, I have become aware of a big cultural difference between Germany and Canada:  the customer experience.

Folks in Canada possess a natural ease while interacting with strangers in a service setting.  In Germany, you will politely be greeted when you enter a store, be asked if you need assistance, and be properly thanked and wished “see you again”.  They won’t ask how you are or how your day is going.  Here, the staff at a similar store will always ask how are you, then will easily yatter on to share some additional personal information about themselves or their aunt.                                                                                  

My first customer service interaction back in Canada was at Starbucks.  The young lady behind the counter (who was extremely bubbly, perhaps from an abundance of free coffee) happily took my order then asked how I was.  “Good, thanks.”  (My usual response, regardless of whether it is or not.) “Well,” she went on to say, “I had the WORST sleep last night. I really don’t know why! Maybe because I was up soooooo late writing an essay” (giggles). 

I started to wonder, did I really need to know this information? I know part of the charm at Starbucks is the “friendly and attentive service”.   Maybe I wasn’t feeling so friendly yet, as it was my first coffee of the day.  I don’t even do kids before coffee. 

The next day, my sister kindly treated me to a haircut at a new salon she was trying out.  I arrived a little early, and sipped a coffee while the stylist finished up with my sister’s highlights.  While flipping through a magazine, I listened to pieces of their conversation and then realized they had been talking the entire time! It was my sister’s first time there!  Then again, my sister is extremely extroverted (opposite of me) and has no problem engaging in lengthy conversations about life with unfamiliar faces. 

When it was my turn, I kept up with the chitter chat but silently longed for the experience I get at a salon in Germany. There is no conversation (and likely more because of the language issue) so I am usually close to falling asleep while my hair is snipped.  At this salon back in Canada, I started to feel awkward divulging so much information about myself.  Then before leaving, the stylist hugged me!  The stylist I have been frequenting in Germany has only recently started to shake my hand;  this very close encounter on my first visit left me a little stunned.  At least she didn’t kiss me.

The thing is, the stylist seemed to be a very nice person, and I don’t believe her ease at engaging others in conversations (or hugs) was at all insincere.  Same with the young lady at Starbucks, and every other service person I have encountered the last few weeks.  People here are just extremely nice and engaging in conversation beyond the formalities flow naturally.   Perhaps I am just more accustomed to a different type of interaction I have experienced in Germany over the last few years and never really noticed this difference until now. 

So maybe I’ll go grab a latte at Starbucks today, and when asked how I am, I’ll be honest.  But today, I really am good, thanks.  Just please don’t hug me.

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