Thanks, but no thanks

November 23, 1993|By Art Buchwald

NEW YORK prides itself on being one of the toughest towns in the world. People actually take special trips there to be insulted. It makes them feel so good when they return home.

I was in a drug store on Lexington Avenue the other day. After handling my purchase, the clerk said to me, "Thank you."

Two men in raincoats and slouch hats, who were pretending to read a magazine, twirled around and flashed their badges from New York's elite Rudeness Police.

"What did you say?" one asked the clerk.

The clerk went white. "I said 'thank you.' The man gave me his money, and I thought he would like to know that the drug store was grateful for his business."

The other slouch hat took out his notebook. "How long have you been in this country?"

"Ten years," the clerk replied. "I come from Bali, and we thank people there all the time."

The first slouch hat said, "You're not in Bali now, you're in New York, and in this city no one says 'thank you' to anybody else. It's a sign of weakness, and people just plain don't like it."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend anyone. Is it too late to tell the customer I really didn't want to thank him?"

"Much too late. This man will now walk out of this store and tell everyone in his home town that a New Yorker thanked him. We'll be the laughing stock of the country."

The other slouch hat started to take the clerk's fingerprints. "What are you doing that for?" I asked.

The hat replied, "We keep a computer file on clerks in this city who say thank you. The first time we overlook it and only issue a warning, but if the pattern continues the offender is sent to Rudeness Camp to change his attitude."

"What should I say in New York when someone makes a purchase?" the clerk wanted to know.

"You don't say anything. You snarl and hand over his change in a fit of pique."

"I'll try," the clerk said.

The other slouch offered this advice, "A good way to handle a sale is to start talking to one of the other clerks while the customer is waiting for his change. You get a twofer for that -- you inconvenience the person and you don't thank him."

I asked the Rudeness Police what their story was.

"New York has long been noted as the Rudeness Capital of the world. But there has been an influx of new people with different cultural backgrounds and they have hurt the city's reputation by being polite to strangers. If we can't treat visitors with disdain, they'll go to Paris to be treated badly by the French."

"How do you know who is being rude and who isn't?"

"We have television cameras in every New York city store. As soon as we hear a clerk say 'thank you,' we send one of our SWAT teams over and sweat him out downtown."

"Is 'thank you' the worst thing you can say to an out-of-towner?"

"No. The worst thing a store assistant can say is 'have a nice day.' Say it twice and we'll send you up the river for life."

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist, thank you.

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