Reverse Hospitality

Edmund Marsh

IN THE SOUTH, it’s common for a restaurant server or store clerk to refer to me as “sweetie” or “honey.” I’ll often respond by asking, “How did you know my name is Sweetie?”

This will usually bring a smile to the face of even a harried worker. Our friendly banter is the worker practicing some of the charm and hospitality that the South is famous for, and me returning the courtesy with “reverse hospitality.”

A commercial transaction doesn’t involve just money. Two people are face to face, one looking to serve and the other to be served. There are exceptions, sometimes notable, but most of the time the servers are polite and friendly. They do their best to provide what I want to buy and give me a smile while doing it. I think I have a responsibility to return the favor.

Telephone transactions are a little more challenging, but I still try to make it personal with a friendly comment or question like “how’s the weather where you are?” or “do I hear chickens in the backyard?”

Am I always patient and diplomatic? No. Sometimes, I’m preoccupied with my own thoughts and needs. I view the person in front of me or on the phone as an obstacle between me and what I want, and I can be brusque. My wife can attest to that. I know, however, that I should give the other person the same courtesy and respect that I want to receive.

What does reverse hospitality get me? I can’t say for certain that it puts more money in my pocket. But I also can’t claim that I’m being purely altruistic. If I do plan to ask for a better deal or special service, I’d rather ask it of a new friend. Maybe I can charm that friend into seeing things my way.

Still, the real value that I take home is the knowledge that I may have done something to brighten the day of an overworked, underpaid and often underappreciated fellow human. And it didn’t cost me a cent.

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