Ready to blow
By Pauline Dakin 7 March 2022 Share this story
Pandemic frustration has led to a plague of impatience, belying Halifax’s friendly reputation
Remember those tacky T-shirts and posters with the wild-haired woman saying “I have one nerve left and you’re getting on it!”? I see her everywhere these days — in real life.
For example, my partner was in the bakery section of a local grocery store. The person behind the counter brought a loaf of bread they’d just sliced to an older woman waiting at the counter. It’s a nice service they offer if you like artisanal bread but don’t like to cut it yourself.
Thanks so much for your help is the response you’d expect, right?
“I didn’t want brown bread! I wanted white, you idiot!” she screeched at the poor front-line worker, whose only crime was trying to be helpful.
You might dismiss this as a shocking but isolated example of rude behaviour. Poor gal having a bad day. Except that it’s anything but isolated.
Maybe you saw the video that went viral last fall of an unmasked woman on a Vancouver bus. She spits on a man who has presumably made some comment about her defying masking rules. He responds by getting up and shoving her, sending her sprawling face first off the bus and onto the sidewalk.
How about the trio of viral videos of flight attendants and airline passengers subduing unruly passengers by duct-taping them to their seats? According to the International Air Transport Association, the number of unruly passenger incidents doubled in 2020 and the trend continued in 2021.
Or you may have thoughts about the way people are driving in the last few months of the pandemic: distracted, aggressive, or oblivious. I beg you, don’t cut someone off in traffic. They’ll vaporize you with a death ray stare and test the limits of their horn. Or worse.
I saw a driver chase down a car on Robie Street after some perceived provocation. When it stopped at the next light he jumped out, ran to the other driver’s window and screamed at the older woman behind the wheel, who appeared terrified. I don’t know what she could possibly have done to invite such uncontrolled fury.
Consider the “freedom” convoy crowd, who held Ottawa residents hostage to mind-numbing horn-blowing and public defecation. A collective temper tantrum for a cause that morphed and broadened with every day.
You have to think, it’s not really about the bread, the mask, the driving, or even the vaccine mandates. A surprising number of people seemed primed to erupt, a rage reaction just looking for an excuse to be unleashed.
It’s dumbfounding in a place like Halifax, which prides itself on being a friendly city.
An American study during the pandemic shows that only 39 per cent of the thousand people interviewed thought the tone of public interactions and discourse was civil. It also found that people who don’t have to work with the public were happier than customer service workers.
No surprise to that bakery worker being yelled at.
But maybe you can identify with all those grumpy consumers. Because they’re aren’t wrong; we are being inconvenienced more often, and things we expected to run smoothly before the pandemic just aren’t.
Wait times are longer for customer service calls to banks and utilities. Stores are having trouble keeping stock on the shelves. Items are back-ordered because of supply chain problems.
The Great Resignation has meant many businesses are still trying to rehire staff and many of the people in service industry jobs are new, inexperienced, and making mistakes. And many public-facing businesses are worrying less about customer service than about just trying to survive.
The result is a mounting series of irritations that has all but the most serene among us ready to detonate.
We’ve collectively had enough of COVID, Omicron, masked and distanced life, and all the interruptions and aggravations of the pandemic. We were supposed to be beyond this by now, and our disappointment is great.
There may be strategies that can help while we battle through the last of the COVID pestilence. Because it won’t last forever even if it feels that way now.
Perhaps if employers of front-line workers pay fair wages and train staff properly all of us cranky-pants people can rein in our spleens a bit better.
And maybe we should rethink the old maxim that the customer is always right. The customer is only right if they can express themselves politely, like a grown-up.
Stop taking your anger (or fear, or exhaustion) out on others.
Pauline Dakin is a journalist, professor of journalism at the University of King’s College, and the award-winning author of Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood.
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