Service With a Smile

April 23, 2001

If you are out at a local Thai restaurant or pub and you are a man, there may be a big surprise waiting for you in the bathroom. As you stand to ‘do your thing’, another man might come up from behind and give you a nice neck massage. This can cause quite a shock if you are not expecting it, but it is part of the service. Some men report enjoying this massage, others report that they find themselves ‘simply unable to go.’

Unfortunately the women’s room holds no opportunity or standing space for this event. Instead there is usually a counter stuffed with cosmetic supplies and snacks. These can be used or sometimes purchased for a nominal fee.

Thailand is service oriented to a tee. These services are something you can expect everywhere. Service is not limited to five-star hotels and gourmet restaurants. Service is all around you. You cannot escape it. If you are used to doing things by yourself, it can feel a bit bizarre.

If you are shopping at one of the nicer230401k1.jpg department stores, clerks will swarm around you. When you decide to make a purchase, your goods will be hand carried to the register and carried back to you with the receipt. If you so much as touch a pocketbook, the clerk will wipe off your invisible fingerprints and pretend to realign it on the shelf, even if you did not budge it a bit.

Driving a car presents all kinds of service opportunities. If you want to park your car, there is always a traffic guard armed with a whistle. He will tweet away and wave you into your parking space. When it is dark, he arms himself with a flashlight. You usually can stay in a parking garage between one and four hours for free if you get a stamp from where you are shopping or eating.

If your car has not been parked in a parking garage, there is usually someone there who you must pay to ‘keep an eye on it.’ The fee is usually no higher than 20 baht (50 US cents). While your car sits there, someone may come over and decide to wash your230401k2.jpg windows.

It is not always easy to leave a parking lot. Because there are too many cars and not enough parking spots, people park each other in. They leave the car in neutral and the parking brake off so that the car may be rolled out of the way when other cars wish to leave. In addition to the whistle blowing people and the window washers, the parking lot may also have someone there who will roll the cars out of your way.

Eating out is another service adventure. There is usually a large number of staff milling around. Your glass will be refilled before it hits the table. A bucket of ice cubes is always provided and the waiter or waitress will drop ice cube after ice cube into your drink using a pair of tongs. The only thing you are expected to do is order and consume.

I recently went to get my first haircut in two years. Not only did they wash my hair two times and condition it two times, they gave me an amazing head, neck, and ear massage. After that, I230401k3.jpg proceeded to the chair, got five centimetres trimmed off, and then sat patiently as they used a round brush to dry my extremely curly hair into perfectly straight locks. At the end I looked really strange. Nice service though.

When I go grocery shopping, someone will be waiting not only to give me a grocery cart, but also to push my cart out for me and unload my bags into the trunk. Doors get opened for you. Doors get shut for you. It is almost uncanny.

Some reputable massage parlours will offer you the opportunity to be hand bathed with a wet cloth or in a tub both before and after the massage. Something to remember is that you always have the right to say, “No, thanks.”

Once upon a time in New York City I ordered some food. It arrived ice cold. When I went up to the counter to complain, the waitress put her hand on her hip and shouted, “Now listen baby, you didn’t order it hot!” No service. No smile. Certainly no tip, even though technically I should have left fifteen percent of the bill.

Whether or not you chose to tip for all of the attention you get in Thailand is pretty much up to you. Porters, hairdressers, and taxi drivers expect small financial gestures. At some restaurants and hotels a ten-percent service charge is added to the bill. The real question is if the staff actually receives this money. There is no question that they deserve it.

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