Service Please

The Immigrant Ethic

'Latte sir? One sugar with that? You're looking well, hope you have a nice day', chirped the barista with her pink tea cosy hat and broad Asian smile, as she served three bleary eyed commuters simultaneously at the station coffee kiosk. It’s the same every morning, she, like her coffee, is consistent, steadfast and upbeat…smooth, frothy and sweet. Some might call it a service smile, pasted on for punters, but no so. She smiles with her eyes and the corners of her mouth follow keenly. It’s authentic, honest and keen to serve.


Later that morning an indulgent squishy egg and bacon bagel was served and bagged by an effervescent fair skinned Polish girl, Agnoushka, whose smile encouraged reciprocation, civil, well mannered, engaging and warm, which I’m sure flavoured the breakfast fry. On the journey home which is usually a battle for elbow space on the pygmy sized seats, the carriage was shot through with a moment of radiance, when Simeon the African conductor announced his role with glee, as our ‘Guard for the journey home’. With a zealous politeness, he inspected our tickets possessing the pride of a Pullman concierge.

What was the essence of their pursuit to please? Had they simply got out of bed on the right side? I think the common denominator comes down to outlook, the Immigrant Ethic. An attitude which says, I’m simply happy to work, grateful for the opportunity to earn a living and pay my way through life, an acceptance that hard graft is just part of the script. Oh and serving others is actually a noble thing to do. It’s not beneath them. Britain’s modern commercial history has been built on the Immigrant Ethic. The arrival of my hero grandfather from the Indian sub-continent in the 70s was the very incarnation of this ethic. Accompanying him like a natty walking cane, his favourite pearl of wisdom has remained with me, ‘whatever you do, do it with all your heart, mind and soul’. So the next time you’re presented with a chirpy immigrant service smile maybe it’s time for a bit of self examination and discover whether you possess any of the qualities smiling at you.

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