I couldn’t help but notice, and chuckle, when I read that before they opened the first Chick-fil-A in New York City (“New York City!” – whoops, that was a slogan from a Pace picante sauce TV ad some time back. Wrong business, sorry) for the first time, they gave the staff special training.
They trained the New Yorkers to be, well, less Southern. Specifically, less friendly.
“We had to teach them not to go South, but teach them the things that make our hospitality special,” David Farmer, a vice president for Atlanta area-based Chick-fil-A, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Farmer called it advice-specific training for New York City customers. Nearly 80 percent of the customers in the first few days of the opening in Manhattan last month had never been to a Chick-fil-A before, the newspaper said.
The special advice? Abbreviate the friendliness, New York City staff were instructed, and skip trying to learn about the customers.
Instead, staffers were told to try extra hard to read the faces and body language of customers. If the New Yorkers looked to be in a hurry, just get them the food and let them hurry on.
We Southerners have a reputation for hospitality and friendliness. It takes a little wind out of my sails to hear that they teach against those fine qualities — even if it is in New York City. (“New York City!”)
Last month on this page I told you about a cousin of mine, Erik Evans, who spent some time in Manhattan last year with his family while one of his girls underwent treatment at the famous Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
Erik regaled me with stories about New York City (“New York City!”). Sloan Kettering is on East 67th Street, while the Ronald McDonald House where they stayed is on East 73rd Street.
My cousin told me of such things as $18 bridge tolls and people having to walk everywhere because parking spaces rent for $1,800 a month.
He asked a host at the Ronald McDonald House for directions to the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. It’s about seven miles away. The host said he didn’t know because he never traveled that far. Seven miles! (“New York City!”)
Manhattanites stay put because everything they need is so close by, Erik said.
“It’s a whole different world, a whole different way of life,” my cousin said. He said he couldn’t live there and has no desire ever to go back.
In my work I speak to people all around the country. Not infrequently someone in another part of the country (and not exclusively in the Northeast) will make some comment about my Southern accent. Not that I have any accent, of course.
Usually the comments are complimentary. With one notable exception. One time a dissatisfied Northerner cussed me out (“stupid Southern b@#!&%,” he told me).
I appreciate compliments, but you and I both know that while folks may be complimentary on the outside, on the inside they may well be thinking something very different. I put my guard up.
I like the line told one time by Atlanta comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who said that the Southern accent “is not the most intelligent sounding accent.”
Nevertheless, I hope and pray that they do not teach away the Southern accent or the Southern charm – the hospitality, the friendliness — in the face of all of the assimilation and dilution going on these days.
Here’s how we can fight it. Remember to give away plenty of smiles to strangers. Pass along plenty of hellos while coming and going. Make eye contact, and think of others more than we think of ourselves.
Such things may or may not be valued in New York City (“New York City!”). But if we can keep the Southern spirit alive, we can keep the hometown a special place.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.