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Secret Resentments of the Low-Level Service Industry Employee

Posted Jun 17 2008 6:05pm

I feel uncomfortable around people who are employed to do stuff for me. Like sell me things. Or serve me food. Or drive a taxi I’m taking. I always have. When I was a teenager this was sometimes bad enough that I couldn’t force myself to buy things in a shop. Maybe it was because I feared what they might do; something unexpected that would devolve into a nightmarish social situation. What if they handed me the wrong change? Mistook my £20 note for a tenner and make me weigh up the hassle and embarrassment of challenging them or walking away without my money, feeling like a fool.

When I was 17 I got a job in a shop, this little convenience store not too far from my parents house. People would say ‘thank you’ or ‘cheers mate’ and that enraged me in some small and petty way. Because I wasn’t ringing up their purchases or handing them their cigarettes as some kind of favour. I was doing it because I had to and this pretence of gratitude seemed like a lie to stop them feeling that way. And sure, it’s just a social convention, but this kind of duplicity, this phony egalitarianism is the thread these social conventions are woven from.

I used to say thank you to other people and still do, mainly because I was raised to be polite. Although when I’m down I often have trouble saying it at more than a whisper. Mainly because of the voice saying “don’t notice me. don’t notice me. don’t notice me.’ over and over in my head whenever I’m around people.

So maybe I didn’t feel comfortable around these shop assistants and waiters and taxi drivers because I understood the secret resentment that I’m sure they all feel. Maybe they don’t feel it at all. Or maybe they do and they just avoid thinking about it. But for me, there was always a seething hatred of everyone who I had to be nice to because I was employed to be that way. I was raised to be nice to people as well as polite, so I never dropped the mask. I may have wished them all dead, but I did it with a smile. Maybe I sense this behind every smile I see that’s handing me my change.

Does everyone feel this way or was it just me?

Of course, at the moment I don’t much care whether low-level employees in the many and varied service industry like me or despise me. And admitting these things isn’t at all difficult.

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