Monday, July 12
Service with a smile
My mother taught her four girls to be kind to everyone. She taught us to be friendly and respectful to all, from window cleaner to tycoon. "Don't just say 'yes, 2 packets of peanuts,' say 'yes, Uncle, two packets of peanuts, please' and for goodness sake say it with a smile! You are never too good to give a nice smile to people." A typical sermon after a purchase from a kachang puteh stall. The heart is tender, with or without money.
So, I travel to Massachusetts once a month for work. I usually stay at the same Marriott for a night or two, and I order the same food. Teriyaki Salmon Salad for dinner and Egg White Spinach Frittata for breakfast. I always have the same servers for my room service. Khajida from Ethiopia, who is always so excited to see me, never hesitating to tell me how I have gotten too dark as it must be the tennis, or I look so tired, am I not getting enough rest. Once I ordered the apple crumble a couple of hours later, and as I sheepishly opened the door, she said it is okay as I hardly ever order it. It was then that I found out that my order of pizza two months ago had shocked the entire kitchen and they were all wondering what had happened. Then there is Steve who brings my breakfast. The poor man shaves his head every six months as his mother goes through bouts of chemo. He always sweetly says the same thing as I open the door, "I knew it was your order! The cappuccino with the foil!" The Marriott does a pretty decent cappuccino, but they cover it with cellophane, and it arrives half melted into the coffee. I worry about consuming plastic - you know, cancer and all, so I always make a request for it to be covered with foil instead.
I have the same happy relationship with the taxi service that we have that ferries our team between the airport and the hotel. It is a Pakistani father-son team: Asif and Ahmed, a gentlemanly pair who are always on time. It turns out that the son is a criminal lawyer back home and the father a middle-school teacher of history and Islamic studies. They have farmland, houses and goats waiting for their annual trip. The father talks to me about Pakistani politics and the son about his 7-year old and Hindi movie star gossip. The one topic I talk to both father and son separately is that of food. It seems that the father is the expert at making roti and the son biriyani. I learned from the father that you make the dough, knead it, and put it on the pan until it is half cooked and stick the tava in the oven for it to rise for it to get the naan-like look and consistency. Genius. The son is not as keen to share recipes, he just likes to tell me how good he is.
Last Thursday, as I got into the taxi, exhausted after three long days in Massachusetts, Ahmed said, "We have organized for you to have biriyani. Can we make a stop close to the airport to pick it up?" He then calls to confirm, adds an order of kebabs and naan and away we go. I nervously set the plastic bag through security check, but thankfully, the food gods were on my side. I managed to have one of the kebabs with my routine beer at the bar before boarding the plane. The lamb kebab was hot, spicy, fluffy, with flecks of fresh coriander - the best I had ever had. The waitress smiled and turned a blind eye to her regular customer as I waved to her with a kebab sticking out of my mouth. I managed to hold back from devouring the whole thing before getting back to Charlotte. My husband and I enjoyed a lovely dinner of a gesture of kindness and friendship.
Doesn't hurt to smile, indeed.