There is a distinction between being a servant or a slave. A friend of my son once surprised those gathered for a back yard BBQ by stating, “I ain’t nobody’s bitch.” Someone had just asked him how he liked his new job and he was telling us that already he wasn’t getting along with the boss. He worked at a grocery store. He was tasked to keep the floors swept so that customers wouldn’t slip on entry. When he wasn’t doing that he was assigned to bringing in the carts from the parking lot. Basic service work, minimum wage.
Recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II, expressed in speeches and in her actions that she saw her life as service. Her servant salary was quite different to that of a grocery cart boy. As a society, I think most of us place a high value on service to others, even while we underpay the majority. A housewife is a role we take for granted in most of the world. Putting aside the sexual discrimination elements inherent in the title, the job description of a person who makes a home for others is a lengthy list which can cover a number of well paid professions: Cook, Laundry Worker, Psychologist, Teacher, Early Childhood Educator, Personal Care Worker, Financial Planner, Management Coordinator etc. If these services were contracted out separately the monthly expenses for a family of four would be prohibitive. The important role of Homemaker could be supported with a government cheque. A guaranteed wage might resolve this issue, as well as other cases where service goes unsung.
Ironically perhaps, the nobility of being a servant was sensitively portrayed in an episode of the television series The Crown. Sydney Johnson, a real life character who was valet to the abdicated King Edward VIII, was shown as a graciously giving fellow, even though he was only a notch above a slave to every royal whim. I cringed when I saw the Duke make a request for his silver cigarette case. I felt like yelling at the screen, “Get it yourself!”
Full service gas stations used to have lots of employees dashing about checking oil, pumping fuel and washing windshields. DIY is now the language norm in more than just filling up your tank. But I must admit to feeling let down when I can’t find someone to help me when I’m looking for a product in a store I don’t frequent. I get royally indignant wondering why the customer is no longer always right. I can relate to the symbolic Karen in these moments.
My father served with distinction in North Africa during the second world war. Later, through his work in community he taught me by example the value of volunteering. My mother was a Public Servant in the manner of an elected official in her region. Growing up with them, I witnessed how giving service to others is an essential part of being human. Everyone wants to feel a part of something, giving of yourself honours your life as well as those who receive your offerings. Volunteerism builds humanity and humility.
Some words fall out of favour in the English language. I was talking to an inn keeper recently and commented on his facility being so hospitable. He was flattered and said that he and his wife had made it a point, when they bought the place, to make hospitality their number one responsibility. And it showed; not only was the location of the lodge immaculately maintained but the gift of personal service could be felt from the first greeting. I’m in the habit of using the internet travel site Trip Advisor so I gave the hotel a glowing review.
I’ve never travelled extensively in the lower United States, yet I’ve always heard talk of their ‘southern hospitality’. Perhaps the phrase is a boast from the days of rich, White plantation owners. It must have been easier to look after guests due to the prevalence of slave labour. Also ironically, the word Hospitality comes up in several obscenity laced rap songs performed by Black artists. Check out Ludacris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QWQVm9J5DM
As an act of service, hospitality is not restricted to hotels and restaurants. I would say our village grocery store provides the highest standard of hospitality from produce managers, butchers through to check-out workers. It’s not an easy job to maintain customer satisfaction, especially when shoppers themselves can be less than hospitable. When coronavirus restrictions were first implemented in our region, I was surprised to see ‘essential workers’, like grocery clerks, being applauded with banging pots during the evening yet later criticized in newspaper ‘letters to the editor’ for insisting on a fair wage. Some hotel workers in our district actually went on a hunger strike to keep the focus on their plight of being poorly compensated. Many wondered why the cheerleading of these essential workers had receded like the tide. I imagined someone inhospitably suggesting, “OK. Crisis is over. Now get back to work.”
No doubt, the hospitality industry has been hit hard economically with the realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some governments and corporations have recognized the need for financial relief for the workers who have been laid off as a result of closures and health care compliance. I have applauded initiatives where the most needed members of our work force have been provided financial as well as moral encouragement. I believe a guaranteed income for all is a way that governments can show that hospitality works both ways.
It would be inhospitable of me not to mention hospital workers. When we have the need to go to a hospital we expect a level of care above what even the best parent could provide. Only once have I experienced disappointment at the hands of a medical professional. Every hospital worker throughout the world has faced pressures beyond anything I would normally complain about, pre or post COVID19. Our society venerates hospital staff but doesn’t always provide the resources necessary for optimal care. This pandemic has reminded us of the importance of caring for others, of being hospitable, as a first response to our neighbours.
Service can ‘be’ something and it can relate to ‘doing’ something. As a noun: Before I married my first wife it was de rigueur to register at a china shop so you had fancy plates and a proper tea service. A service starts a tennis rally. As a verb: My dad serviced aircraft while in the armed forces during WWII.
Recently I’ve been exposed to different levels of service from various workers who have been part of a renovation in my home. I was aggravated by a salesperson when purchasing a washer/dryer combo who wanted to push the sale of an extra service contract rather than attend to my need for a quality product. My wife and I chose a contractor for the job carefully. We wanted to forecast a high level of quality service to take away the anxiety that comes from a remodelling job. My opinion of tradespeople has always been high. Plumbing and electrical work takes knowledge, skill and care. Some workers at our reno provided service with a smile yet lacked attention to detail. Others have been so proud of their occupation that their service to their task and to their client has been exceptional.
I take my car in for regular servicing. I used to do oil changes and other upkeep stuff myself, but now I wouldn’t know how to do a good job with a modern vehicle. There is a maintenance schedule to follow and I stick to it in order to validate my warrantee. Before I bought the car I checked out their service department. I chose well. Every time I go in I feel like someone who owns Downton Abbey.
We live in a self-serve era yet we still depend on the service of others. Many service jobs are considered too menial. Some service jobs have been eliminated by computer robotics and others have shifted to higher tech. Where would most offices be these days without their IT department? Rarely do we see ‘full-service’ gas stations. As a kid I remember getting a free balloon every time I went with my dad to his favourite petrol pit stop.
Community service has always been important to me. We often hear the phrase, “I want to give back…” when someone feels grateful. I’m part of that club since I wish to pay it forward by volunteering or serving on committees. Many still have the weekly habit of attending a religious service. I used to spend a lot of time helping out at my community church. That was a case of serving at a service. I’m proud to say that sometimes others trusted me to such a degree that I conducted the entire service.
Some say that providing service to others is our highest calling. To be a servant need not suggest being below another. Perhaps the act of serving has more to do with taking the focus off ourselves and applying effort towards the greater whole. Even the powerful and mighty can learn this lesson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjE99phqYk