Last Updated: March 25th, 2019

It’s early morning in Robinsons department store in Bangkok. Ten o’clock, early? Well, yes, in a country where shops are open from 7 a.m. until at least 11 p.m. with no change in staff. It’s also Monday morning and the whole weekend with all its frantic weekend acquirers, both local and international, is in the past and something to be chittered and chattered about among the staff. There’s also all that personal stuff that simply cannot wait until the tea break… what tea break? Or in the toilets… nope, that won’t work… men go to one, ladies to the other…

Dressed impeccably in white shirts and navy nethers, but looking decidedly sleep-deprived and jaded for such a young bunch, the whole crowd—and they are a crowd of some 20—working in the shoe department which must cover about 100 square metres, is huddled into a patch small enough for a basket of eggs. They look as fragile as eggs too. While some are talking, others are simply standing limply leaning against the display shelves of merchandise, others are talking with their fingers attached to their phones.

The customers? The customers be damned! Some are wandering aimlessly between the shelves, picking up this, checking the price on that. There are a purposeful few that are looking for something specific and would really, really like some assistance, but there is none… unless they have the temerity to break into the closed-group of underpaid, overworked exhaustion.

And then. “EXCUSE me”… or was that “excuse ME”? She’s large, haphazardly dressed, groomed whatever, angry and bristling. She EXPECTS! She probably gets to in whichever First World country she lauds from. There they learn that the customer is king, everything for the customer, the customer is always right… even when she’s wrong, she’s right. And if she doesn’t get immediate, polite assistance, you will lose your job.

But this is Asia, and while the customer may be right, there are far more important things to discuss. Life, the universe, family, dates, studies, the next meal, latest electronic gadgets, movie stars and everything. Africa? Same same.

So she is ignored. Yes, the eyes briefly lift up from wherever they were focused, take in their worst nightmare then return to where they were. Not a flicker of acknowledgement, not a muscle flex of understanding, not a nerve twitch of concern. Their fallback? Language problem, simply don’t understand a word of whatever it is.

In a funk she throws the shoe down and huffs her way out muttering expletives. The staff watch expressionlessly until her back is turned then titter and “farang” (foreigner) and giggle.

“Excuse me… I need some help” a smiling, bobbing woman walks up, shoe in hand. Immediately the skein begins to unravel and one of the coils moves with an answering smile and “Yes, how I can help you,” in recognizable English.

Two words. That’s all it takes to be rejected, ignored and laughed at; or acknowledged, assisted and laughed with. Open doors or slam them firmly shut. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Funny how things work.

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