The death of You're welcome
Emotional Labour is a phenomenon (mid-late 20th century) of westernised societies, whereby workers have to manage their emotions during service encounters, or at least appear to be experiencing various emotions, such as pleasure at serving someone. Like most things in our culture, it's aimed at getting you to buy more stuff. It was first noticed by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, and is exemplified by the fixed smile on flight attendants, along with phrases like "Have a nice day." It's a very American thing - on my first visits to the US, I was always thrown by the "greeter" of a store, who would say hi and ask you how you are. British shop service tends to be lukewarm, much like the rest of British culture. Servers rarely approach you and if they must be engaged, both parties try to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Another Emotional Labour phrase is "You're welcome", which seems to be quintessentially American - I've never heard anyone in Britain utter it, ever. It is heard in shops, for example, when you say thank you after a server hands you change, but it is so widespread that it occurs in non-service encounters, like after you say thank you to someone for holding the lift for you. (The British equivalent, if there is one, seems to be "That's OK". It's taken me ages to get used to "You're welcome". It's one of those phrases that seems to backfire a bit, often coming across as rather curt, especially as it seems to be recited without any real thought or emotion. It's just something you say.
But on this trip to America, nobody said "You're welcome" to me at all. Just when you get used to an aspect of a foreign culture, they go and change the rules. Now, when you say "thank you", the American person says "Mm hm" back to you. Sometimes it sounds sassy in a RuPaul type of way.
"Mm hmm honey!"
Sometimes it's barely audible and involves no eye contact. It's the barest acknowledgement, even more perfunctory than the sleep-talking, rote-learnt "You're welcome". And it comes across as surly. Perhaps it's the recession. I never thought I would say it, but I miss "You're welcome."
Still, I come back from the US even more enamoured with Manhattan than ever before. People often ask me "Why do you go to New York?" and when I say "To be a tourist", they look at me with scorn or sympathy, as "tourism" is such a degraded concept these days. However, I love being a tourist. That's what being on holiday is about. I want to be able to spend money freely, see plays, musicals and films that are not available where I normally live, traipse around museums or walk everywhere and take multiple random detours just to explore new neighbourhoods, wake up late, have my bed made for me, eat a three course meal in a different restaurant each evening and spend every waking moment with my husband. If tourism is wrong, then I don't want to be right.
Added to this is the fact that my Britishness, a quality so dreary in almost every other context, is the equivalent of a starburst filter and a facelift to American eyes and ears. Even the crippling social awkwardness that is my British heritage comes across as exotic and glamorous - I am Hugh Grant or Colin Firth in a classy Britcom, rather than the result of a diffident education which despised success (show-offs). Even when I hear my own voice, drowned out by all those loud drawls, I think I sound cleverer and posher than I actually am. I like myself better as a foreigner.
My new favourite part of Manhattan is Greenwich Village, specifically Christopher Street. I so want to live on Christopher Street. Once the birthplace of the modern gay identity - and the location of the famous Stonewall riots, it's housed Dick Francis, Yoko Ono and Amy Sedaris. It's now a lot quieter than it was in the 1970s, when gay men would promenade up and down it all hours of the day and night, and Greenwich, having become all gentrified and expensive, is no longer such a hub of the avante guarde and culturally innovative. One of its latest claims to fame was that it kicked off the world's current obsession with cupcakes, thanks to the Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker Street.
I guess cupcakes don't exactly have the same bohemian edge as say, Jack Kerouac.
Around mid-2011, I'm due a long sabbatical. So if things go according to plan you'll find me in Greenwich Village, eating cupcakes and saying "mm hmm", or whatever has replaced it by then.
Perhaps I have just alienated everybody ("it's his personality unfortunately"), but judging by the lack of comments on recent posts, nobody seems to be reading blogs (or at least, this blog). I don't mind really. The blog acts as a useful reminder to me, so that when I have senile dementia, people can read out bits of it back to me and see a flicker of recognition.
But after months in obscurity. I am back on Facebook. Hopefully I can figure out how to organise my friends into groups better this time, so my work colleagues won't see photos of my grown up nephew in Borat fancy dress.