As a Service Sector Worker, I’m Infuriated by the Rudeness of Elderly Customers

Dear Troubleshooter:

I am a female university student in my 20s. I have so far worked part-time in various fields, from the restaurant industry to retailing and events. I love the moment when a customer starts smiling. Still, there are times when I get scolded for no good reason by elderly customers.

They assume it is okay not to use polite language with me. Some grumble about self-service, saying, “You’re going to make me do it?” If I make a small mistake, they raise their voice well above what is necessary.

Since I like serving customers, I offer the best service I can even if the wages are low. However, I tend to unintentionally give cold treatment to such poorly mannered elderly customers. On the other hand, I have never found customers of working age to be rude to me. Young customers speak politely, and say “Thank you” after paying.

We young people often work for low wages and face uncertainty in job prospects and child rearing. This makes my anger at impolite elderly people grow even more excessive. Please let me know how I should rein in my feelings.

— L, Osaka Prefecture

Dear Ms. L:

During the Showa era (1926-89), there were rude shop staff all over the place. There were also many impolite customers.

Some of the elderly people who have been so unpleasant to you might still be holding on to the sensibilities of this era.

Now polite service is the norm everywhere, so I can spend my time pleasantly at shops and restaurants. I am very grateful for this.

On the other hand, I also think that this situation is putting considerable pressure on service sector workers.

Perhaps you think that you should devote yourself wholeheartedly to every customer. If so, that could be a reason why you feel excessively angry at certain customers.

The next time you get such a problem customer, switch off your sincerity. Take the irritation caused by the customer and their complaints as an irregular case you have to deal with. Fake smiles, humble expressions and polite language are just tools for overcoming a difficult situation. You don’t need to put your heart into it. It’s even okay to picture yourself sticking your tongue out. This is good enough for an unreasonable and tyrannical customer.

Please understand that there are also elderly people whose hearts ache at the difficulties faced by young people today. I am one of them.

— Tomomi Fujiwara, writer