There are certain interactions in life that you go into already tense, anticipating a confrontation – and just knowing, from experience, what is going to happen.
Going to the Israeli post office is one example.
Even with the newfangled system whereby one sets an appointment online to pick up a package or mail a registered letter, I still walk into the post office tense – a creature of habit, of years of long lines and people cutting in front of me in the queue and claiming to have been there long before I ever arrived, long before I was even born.
The online appointment system has relieved some of that tension. But once I get my number, I still can’t sit in the waiting area and just aimlessly read emails. Rather, I’m constantly on the lookout for those who walk in and, unnumbered, go up to the counter and say, “I just have a short question.”
That line – “I just have one short question” – drives me nuts.
What do they think I have? A list of philosophical queries for the postal clerk? That I intend to stand there and engage in idle chit-chat with the dour dude sitting behind that plastic screen? I also just have a short question – can I please pick up my package?
DEALING WITH movers is another interaction that you know is going to lead to some agitation. How do you know? Because it always does.
Movers in this country are a special breed. First of all, they are strong as all get-out. I mean, they are ripped, because you have to be strong to carry refrigerators and washing machines and sofas up and down stairs all day. It is, literally, backbreaking work. I know, because one of my sons, The Youngest, worked for a stint as a mover after finishing the army.
But The Youngest is gentle, tender, polite and not a complainer. I should only merit having a mover like him. Unfortunately, the movers I land are gruff and always seem surprised by two things: first, that there are stairs, and second, that they have to lift stuff.
“What floor do you live on?” the smiley salesman in the furniture store asked, as The Wife and I ordered delivery for a new sofa to replace the one we bought 20 years ago.
“The second floor (koma bet),” we said, making clear that they understood that according to the rather odd counting of floors in this country, that actually means the third floor. There is the ground floor, then the first floor and then the second. We explained this at great length to avoid any unpleasant misunderstandings, so that when the delivery is made, the mover won’t yell about an extra flight of stairs – an extra floor – and demand extra payment.
“There are 46 stairs from the street to our door, no elevator,” we told the furniture salesman, determined not to leave anything to chance, to put it all out there up front.
“No problem,” the clerk chirped.
No problem my ear. When the movers came to deliver the couch, the first thing they did, upon arriving at our door on their dry run to see where we lived, was to complain about the stairs.
“Lots of stairs,” the head mover said, huffing as if he had emphysema. “Nobody said anything about stairs. You should have ordered a crane.”
I just nodded and smiled, which is key in these types of exchanges. Just nod, smile, keep quiet and realize this is all part of the routine.
The sun is gonna rise, birds are going to chirp, and movers – except my son and his father-in-law, who owns a moving company – are going to kvetch about the steps.
AND ONCE they are done complaining about the stairs, they are going to rip into the stairwell.
“You didn’t tell us the stairwell was narrow,” the head mover said.
“Kind of standard size, no?” I replied, thinking we’ve had pianos and refrigerators and sofas moved through those stairwells for years without any real problem.
“No,” he said. “It’s narrow.”
Again, I just smiled and nodded, because I know this dance.
Any workman doing any work in your house is going to complain as though it were the most difficult job he has ever encountered on the planet. During a home renovation project we recently completed, we moved a sink from one side of the kitchen to another. One would have thought, hearing the plumber complain about the level of difficulty, that we were asking him to lay pipes for a skyscraper.
“We’re going to have to rip out the whole floor to get a better angle for the pipes,” he said. “Or maybe not. We’ll start and see what happens.”
It’s all a game. The workmen come and feel a need to vent. So I’ve learned just to let them vent. Let them say how difficult it is, how they were unaware of everything that is involved, how, if they had only known, they would have given us a higher price estimate. The key is to anticipate it, because if you anticipate it, you’ll likely be able to take it more in stride, not lose your cool.
And you don’t want to lose your cool with a workman, because it’s a fight you’re going to lose.
Take the movers, for instance. At that moment in time, I just wanted my new sofa delivered undamaged to my home. At that moment, I needed the mover more than he needed me.
Sure, if there was a problem, I could call the store, the consumer protection agency, or even sue for any damages. But who wants to go through any of that? So I just nodded and smiled and let ’em vent.
And then I gave a tip.
Why a tip? Because I realize that the work they do really is difficult, even if they don’t come on time. Because I appreciate that they are doing a job I simply cannot perform. And because I always hoped people would tip my son generously when he did such grueling, backbreaking labor as well.