When I started learning English, pretty much the first thing I was taught was that when you meet someone in the UK or the US you say, “How do you do?” and the other person replies in the same manner: “How do you do?”
I don’t think I have ever used these phrases but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be a fan of even a little formality in more official situations.
Take restaurants, for example. This is where customer service needs a delicate balance: so many new restaurants want to create a friendly and relaxed environment (often failing). This goal is obviously great as long as you, as a customer, don’t get into that embarrassing situation where the staff are trying so hard to be so relaxed that it all becomes very tenuous – and it is not just you but also the staff who are uncomfortable in the end. You may have been in these restaurants yourself where they play the latest pop tunes in the background, they are wearing jeans and T-shirts and you feel like you are in a school disco instead of a rather pricey restaurant.
Maybe this just has something do with me getting older – the other day I even realised that I quite enjoy having taxis whose drivers open the car door for me.
One more example: I got a very random text message announcing how wicked it had been to meet me – the text including at least three smileys, exclamation marks and one “x” at the end. After a quick glance I replied to it thinking it was one of my friends – and only after a second or two did I realise what all that talk about eating and training was. So, this is how I accidentally invited my new personal trainer out for a drink. Oops.
But seriously, I enjoy breaking the ice. You know, when you visit a restaurant or a café long enough that you start to get to know the staff. That is definitely more rewarding, a good foundation for a successful business that connects to the local community – and most of all it is real instead of faked.
Markus Hippi is a producer and presenter on Monocle 24.