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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Friday, January 21, 2011

Getting served right in the Big Apple

From the moment you walk up to the till and hear “Will the next guest step down please” to the ubiquitous “Have a nice day!”, you know you can only be on one planet!

This is the world where (supposedly) the customer is king, where you can order anything to go anywhere and have it arrive yesterday, where your typical order in a restaurant has more to do with how you don’t want your dish of choice than how you do want it. Diner staff now laugh admiringly when we order our respective brunch dishes, amused by the non-New Yorker accents but the very New-Yorker attitude (although I hasten to add I cannot bring myself to forgo the warm Irish smile).

And I love the concept of that most American of coffee shops that promises to redo your favourite beverage if it’s not just how you like it. With the multitude of drinks they prepare, it is not infrequently my cappuccino comes out more like a latte so I have been known to take them up on their offer. Then the other day I met the ultimate in customer service, US-style. On returning my drink and explaining why I wanted another one, my delightful barista immediately retorted "Oh, you mean you wanted a DRY cappuccino" – i.e. "the customer may always be right but that doesn’t mean I was wrong".

Then there’s the US Postal Service – a venerable institution over here that serves many functions. But any visit, no matter what time of day, generally requires food, a sleeping bag and a day off work as, from what I can see, the same four people in our local branch handle stamps, parcels, money orders, passport applications and for all I know deliveries.

But there’s no sense of urgency, no change in pace or staffing levels during peak posting periods, no reason not to ask me whether my Mum liked the silk scarf I sent her for Mother’s Day the last time I was there. Put it this way, I would be sending Christmas cards to the lovely USPS lady who checks my forms for me as I wait in line if it didn't involve another trip to the Post Office to buy the stamps.

And it’s not just the old-timers that fall short; the new kids on the block too can sometimes slip up. I’m thinking specifically of a rather well-known computer store packed with energetic, young, switched-on assistants all rushing up to help you when you only really want to check your email quickly mid-shopping spree.  

Have a problem however with any of their products and you need to make an appointment. Turn up for said appointment and discover that it’s you and a whole bunch of other people booked in for the same time slot. Not the best piece of marketing for a product to be sitting around in a room full of people whom you know are only there because they too are having technical issues. In France I had a reaction to a dental procedure that would have allowed me to play the other lead role in “Beauty and the Beast” without make-up. At least there my dentist had enough sense to smuggle me in through the back door and not put off his other clients.

As time goes on, ironically, I find I’m also going through another bestial transformation of sorts here. On arrival in the Big Apple, we were counselled about the importance of the great American saying - “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. In other words, if you want something done, you may have to make a lot of noise as if you don’t, someone else sure will be. 

As I tried to get our home together, time and time again nice Irish subalien would place an order for something, get a delivery time and spend days waiting at home, all in vain. She would call and be told they had gone to the wrong address, they had rung the wrong doorbell, they had rung the wrong telephone number, they had loaded the wrong product. 

And then finally I snapped – after waiting two weeks and 4 missed delivery dates for a new dishwasher,  the beast in me – or should that be the alien – finally came out. The dishwasher arrived within one hour of the phone being put down – now that’s what I call service.
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