When you stutter, you have to deal with countless little stressors throughout the day that over time, fade into your subconscious until you don’t even realize they’re there until something happen that brings it back in focus. This is all very cryptic and I’ll get on with the story, but that seemed like important background information.
At the end of last month, I was at a local bar celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday. I had gathered his friends and was trying to see where I fit in with the group. When it was my turn to order a round of drinks and reserve the shuffleboard table, I went up to the noisy, crowded bar and got the attention of the bartender. “Can I have…” I started, but paused, as the words “Blue Moon” weren’t coming out. The bartender didn’t miss a beat. She rolled her eyes and made the “come onnn” motion with her hands. “Are you actually getting something?” Another beat, and I got out my order and paid (yes I tipped, I’m not a monster). My natural reaction to this sort of thing is to affect a polite yet cold demeanor, so after I got my drink and procured shuffleboard supplies, our moment ended and I went back to the group. When I left, I saw her shaking her head in annoyance.
It bothered me the rest of the night and into the next day. I don’t expect that everyone I interact with will be up to date on the ins and outs of speech impediments. The world does not revolve around me, despite what my 14 year old self thought. But I couldn’t let it go until I said something. So on Monday, I found the bar’s email address and sent a message. I was careful not to name her individually and stressed over the wording so it wouldn’t sound like I was one of those people, you know, the kind who police everyone else’s actions and are quick to point out minor offenses. I sent it off and let it go, feeling both relieved to have said something, an worried how how the bar would react.
Just wanted to drop a quick note that your servers could use a refresher on dealing with customers with speech problems. I was at the downstairs bar on Saturday night and took a few extra beats ordering my drink (I stutter) and I don’t remember the last time someone looked at and talked to me like I was such a raging idiot.
I didn’t get her name and I’m not trying to get anything out of this… you don’t even have to respond. I just don’t think a lot of people realize that these kinds of interactions are pretty stressful to begin with and the tiniest bit of patience and understanding from the staff goes a long way.
Less than two hours later, I had a response:
Thank you for taking the time to bring this incident to my attention. It will be addressed immediately. I apologize for you being placed in that uncomfortable situation last weekend. Rudeness by our staff toward our guests will not be tolerated. I hope that you come back and see us again and allow us to make up for this unfortunate event.
Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to remedy the situation.
What!? Not only was there not radio silence, not only did I not receive a “IDGAF get over it” message, but I got a very thoughtful response. And that was that. BUT WAIT it wasn’t. The next day, this email showed up in my inbox:
Hi (my name)
My name is (her name), and I am the girl you had the awful experience with Saturday night. I can’t tell you how truly sorry I am for my actions. As soon as I read your email I was brought to tears. I could attempt to sit here and explain the myriad of frustrating situations that are usually the case for us on busy Saturday nights that contribute to a piss-poor attitude but that wouldn’t matter because they have nothing to do with you. I shouldn’t assume patrons are just being inconsiderate of my and the other customers time, I shouldn’t assume anything about them actualloy. It is so very easy to become very cynical in this particular job, so in addition to apologizing let me thank you for giving me the jolt I so obviously needed, out of my cynical mind frame. It seems in your email that you only meant to drop a note and perhaps I am now dragging this out further than you would care. If that is the case I am again sorry but I couldn’t get passed this situation if I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to apologize. I only work at (bar name) on Saturday nights but if you are in again on a Saturday please feel free to let me know who you are and I’d be very glad to buy you a couple drinks. Again I am so sorry for mistreating you and thank you again for making us aware of the situation so I can carry that with me in order to help me stay more positive and less cynical.
WHAT even was this? Did I trip and fall into the perfect response? Am I being punk’d here? Or did I just have a completely successful and rational discussion about stuttering? Of course I panicked and thought I’d gotten her in trouble, so I sent one last email to the manager:
Last note- I promise! But I wanted to thank you all so much. I was not expecting such kind and immediate messages from you and Katie. I really hope I didn’t cause problems for her at work- like I said before, I realize stuttering isn’t on most peoples’ radar until someone says something about it. I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate the messages I received.
Thank you to all of you for turning an uncomfortable experience into a really, really positive one.
whew. I got it off my chest and that was that.
BUT WAIT! One more letter from the manager:
Thank you, again, for taking the time to bring the incident to our attention. There were no problems caused by you doing so. Your email prompted a much needed discussion between management and staff about how we all need to raise our collective awareness, regarding ALL of our guests, to ensure and maintain a fun, inviting, and safe environment here at (bar name). We all can be found guilty of sometimes allowing the heat of the moment to cloud our better judgement in how we respond to others during times of stress. It is our responsibility to remind each other of the possible pitfalls that can arise when we don’t treat others how we wish to be treated. And more importantly, we all need a reminder of how our actions affect others, even if there is no intended malice associated to those actions.
Part of why I’m publishing this exchange is that I was so impressed with their responses- both the manager and the bartender responded with a kind of understanding that I would have never expected. But more than that, I learned that when something is bothering me, or when I have a bad interaction (due to my speech or for another reason), it often just comes down to misunderstanding, and that by saying something, it not only makes me feel better, but maybe the next time she encounters someone with a speech problem she’ll jump to understanding, rather than assuming the worst of people. And I’ll do the same.