service with a smile?


I can’t get the Subway lady out of my head. I went there to get a sandwich for lunch a couple weeks ago. When I walked in, she greeted me. I returned her hello and added a “How’s it going?” I don’t know if it was me or her, but she chose honesty. “I’m tired and I don’t want to be here but it’s going great. As long as I’m fake and happy, the customers are nice to me.” (That’s not word for word what she said but it’s close.)

She and I shared a real smile when the next customer walked in and she said hello. She bantered with him and I could tell it really was a game to her. Every word she said to him was over the top friendly and helpful and so painfully fake. He didn’t show any signs of noticing. She used the kind of sarcasm that floats just under the radar for 97% of the people around. I’m usually in the 3% who catches that kind of humor and laughs, revealing just how much of a jerk I am. Is it mean to be pretend nice to people who don’t notice the missing sincerity? Maybe people just pretend not to notice the false sense of happy. As I left, I told Subway lady that I hoped she would have the best day ever. She replied with something about living the dream.

I wonder if the Subway lady ever goes to the post office. Our post office guy is one of the coolest people I barely know. He’s friendly and funny, but it’s the kind of funny that makes everyone feel included in the joke. He takes time to explain pricing and options to confused, elderly people. If you mail a package to Colorado, he asks if you’ve been out there and shares a mountain story. I guess I can’t know for sure since I’m not him, but he’s hospitable and his sincerity draws people to the post office. I’ll go out of my way to run the post office errands just so I can talk to him.

I’m equal parts Subway lady and post office guy. Most of the time I am genuinely in a good mood and each smile is real, but there are also some Sunday mornings when I’m the fakest person in the church, letting cheerful mask the cranky. The fact that I get away with that implies something about the quality of fellowship at church. I hate it, but I think Subway lady is right. As long we seem happy, people like us. It doesn’t seem to matter if the smile is a lie.


About SaraBSutter

I serve as the pastor of United Presbyterian Church in Goldfield, Iowa. My husband Steve and I are excited to be in a friendly small town and look forward to the years ahead. In addition to nerdy church stuff, I love reading books, writing, good coffee, cats, and football.

2 responses »

  1. This struck a chord with me – I’m also good at the fake-cheery and at picking up on sarcasm. However, I’m totally jealous of your friendly funny postal worker! I’d rather drive across town to UPS than go to the very surreal post office 3 blocks from my house. They have 7 windows, and no matter how long the line is I’ve never seen more than 3 windows open. Usually it’s only one, and if it’s more than one at least one of them is taking non-cash transactions only (picking up mail, changes of address, etc). Everyone who works there moves *really slowly* no matter how busy it is, and I have never seen any of them smile or chat. I have tried to engage them, but they’re like the undead – they literally don’t react. When they finish your transaction they look up at the ceiling and announce in a nasal drone “Can I help the next person in line please!” It’s like walking into the No Fun Room.

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