by Amalia Mobley

Throughout my travels, I feel as though I have seen the most intense extremes of customer service. New York City store clerks and restaurant hosts want to get you served as fast as possible, and for the most part, show very little interest in your wellbeing as a customer. Go in, get your stuff, get out. Living in the big city has made me very used to this kind of behavior, and it never really came across as rude — I was used to impersonal, fast service, and came to expect that from everyone.

Spain offers a social customer service

Coming to Madrid has shown me that shopping can be as much of a social experience as a personal one — stall clerks at mercados establish a rapport with their regular customers. If you come in often enough, the butcher will start to ask you about your day, your family, your story. It’s shocking coming from the indifference of NYC, but pleasant all the same.

Then, there’s Tokyo.

Japanese customer service culture is on a completely different level than the rest of the world, or at the very least, the U.S. and Europe. The phrase “valued customer” truly comes to mind when walking into a restaurant where every employee — cooks included — welcomes you into the space with a resounding “irasshaimase!” and a low bow. When the waitress hands you your menu, it is with both hands an another bow. When your food arrives, it arrives with a grand gesture of yet another bow and a sincere wish for you to enjoy their food. When you walk to the cashier to pay for your meal, the cashier hold out their hands where you can see, count the change in front of you and will give it back with both hands and a bow. As you leave, the employees will all bow low and thank you for business in-sync with “arigatou gozaimashita!” and in return, it is polite to show your appreciation for the food and experience with “gochisousama deshita”.

Consideration and respect: being very polite

Politeness has a ripple effect, and nowhere is it more apparent than in Tokyo. When I entered a store or a restaurant and was treated with that level of consideration and respect, it was expected that I return the gestures with respect as well. It translated to my experiences outside of the business.

Even when walking the iconic crosswalk of Shibuya and finding myself about to collide with another unless one of us offered the right of way – whereas New Yorkers wouldn’t hesitate to make the first move, and most Europeans wouldn’t either – the inhabitants of Tokyo would almost always stop completely and let me go first. “Dozo” they said, meaning “go ahead”. I found myself smiling and bowing in return and continuing on my way.

Different countries with various priorities

Of course, this difference of politeness is in conversation with the priorities of each region. In New York City, the priority is speed – everyone has somewhere else to be, and don’t have any extra time to extend polite gestures or be concerned with another person. In Madrid, the priority is social life: eating, shopping, and living is a social experience, and that translates to the attitudes of employees, taking their time ringing you up to ask about the family or school.

In Tokyo the priority is the feelings of the other person: in the stores and on the streets, you’re expected to extend the same level of politeness if not more, and it’s considered quite rude if you don’t.

Let’s all be Japan

Personally, I think Japan has the right idea. If we were all trained to show a certain level of respect and consideration for one another, I feel as if the world would be a more peaceful place. It feels amazing to walk into a restaurant and be treated like a person and not a number. It feels wonderful to be bowed to and treated with consideration even in a 7-11, so much so that I want to give the same treatment in return. I truly hope that we, as a society, can rise to the standard at which people treat each other in Tokyo.