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Grateful for salad

| Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I’m a huge fan of the North Dining Hall lunch’s Salad of the Day. If you’d ask my mom, you’d know that this is a huge deal. Historically, I’ve despised salads. Really, I hated food in general. I thought pizza was nasty until age five. I regularly drank sodas at family parties to fill me up, mostly because I didn’t like tamales until high school. My mom has tried to accomplish for years what NDH has accomplished with a simple fajita chicken salad. That salad line is now my daily lunch habit.
One day last week, I was overjoyed to find out that day’s salad was the Cobb salad with avocado ranch dressing. I shoulder-checked some poor girl to avoid the exponentially increasing line (this is standard practice), and eagerly walked to my friends’ table ready to get that turkey-bacon-avocado goodness in my mouth. As I sat down, though, a friend of mine commented, “It looks like they tossed your salad well, huh?”
Confused, I glanced at my salad and replied, “Yeah, I guess.”
Another friend then chimed in, “Ah man, I hate when they don’t toss it well!”
“I know, right? It ruins my salad.”
“Employee X is the worst.”
By this time, I was already halfway done with my salad, but I was concerned by what my friends were saying. They eventually went on to give an evaluation of other dining hall employees: “He doesn’t smile,” “She’s so slow,” “He freaks out when…,” all usually preceded by, “I hate.” I’ve heard these complaints before and I usually shrug them off, but for some reason I was annoyed this time. Is this really representative of how we view our workers? Usually, when I press my friends about these kinds of statements, they respond by reminding me how much we’ve paid for these services; we deserve better than this.
How much, however, can we reasonably expect for the money we pay? We pay employees to carry out a service of some kind, and I’ve yet to encounter an ND employee who has not done their job when I paid them. The execution of a job is not the issue here. What is at issue is we seem to expect more; we expect “service with a smile.” Money can only buy so much, though. To me, it seems unfair to expect more than the service rendered. We are not owed a view into the psyche of the people who wait on us; I don’t know who the person swiping my card is, I don’t know what their day has been like. Why should I expect more from them besides a well-swiped card?
That being said, however, I’ve yet to meet an ND employee who wouldn’t return a smile if I was persistent in offering one. Even some of the “meaner” employees would eventually relent if I did something as simple as reading off their nametags. (This little tip is a game changer. Who knew, people respond positively when you recognize them as a person with a name). Regardless of whether I receive a smile in response, though, what does it say about me if I only view my smile or thanks as valid if I receive a “You’re welcome!” in return? Is my gratitude contingent on having my ego stroked? Am I only a friendly person when other people are friendly to me? This seems out of line with the spirit of gratitude, especially to us Notre Dame students who have already been given everything. Granted, gratitude is not something one should expect from anyone, no matter how much they have. It is something that is given freely and shouldn’t be something conceded when certain material thresholds are reached. If this is our standard, I doubt we will ever be grateful. Rather, gratitude comes from a sense of wonder at our lives. Luckily, we live in a wonderful world; gratitude should be our default, not contingent.
This brings me back to our favorite salad-tosser. She has special needs, and special needs employees don’t have a minimum wage, so in all probability she isn’t paid much. Many special needs people still work for a pittance, however, because they love working. Yet, we’re upset because this lady doesn’t toss our salads well enough? Frankly, if a poorly tossed salad upset me to the extent I’ve heard others express, I’d need to reevaluate some things in my life. Try saying hi to her. Learn her name. She gets a little flustered when the line is long though, so don’t always expect a response if that is the case. But eventually you might catch her when things are slower and she’ll flash you a smile with a, “YOU’RE WELCOME!” She even wished me a good weekend once. The great thing about showing gratitude is that it is usually met with the same.

Robert Alvarez is a senior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies. He is living in Zahm House. He welcomes all dialogue on the viewpoints he
expresses. He can be reached at
[email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.

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