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Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009


Is service with a smile too much to ask for?

As we near Christmas, many foreigners will be going home to spend the holiday with their families. This means enduring long flights and, unfortunately for many, rude flight attendants.

I'm sure the American flight attendants don't think they're rude, but compared to the flight attendants of every Asian airline, there is just no comparison. Don't get me wrong; I have not flown all the other Asian airlines. Just Asiana Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysian Airlines, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines and Korean Air.

American tourists who visit Japan tend to be very impressed with the overall politeness of the Japanese. This implies that the polite behavior of the Japanese exceeds their own, otherwise they would consider it normal and nothing special. But the behavior of the Japanese is indeed exceptional. And this is evident in the way the Japanese, and Asian flight attendants, in general, treat passengers.

As Americans, we are not prepared to admit that we are, in contrast to the Japanese, quite possibly rude. Very rude.

"We're not rude!" we are quick to defend ourselves. We're not? According to whom? According to OURSELVES! Aha! And here lies the problem. Literally.

I should know. I just went through an entire 11-hour flight on an American airline, completely invisible. Not one flight attendant paid any attention to the person sitting in my seat.

When I boarded the plane, I sat down next to a tattooed, nose-pierced, multiple-ear-pierced young girl with short hair and heavy makeup. She seemed clearly disgusted that she was going to have to share her row with me. She wasn't rude or unfriendly, just disgusted.

Your flight attendants, however, should be people who will make your flight enjoyable. I can't help noticing the vast differences in respect of passengers between flight attendants in East and West.

For starters, I could complain that the American flight attendants are snooty. They have sour looks and don't smile.

"That's not true!" I can hear them defending themselves. "We smile at least two times per flight. Probably more." Not that smiling is required, but you have to admit that not smiling at all is just, well, snooty.

And one of the flight attendants was snooty and wearing big, chunky jewelry. If you're going to wear big, chunky jewelry, you should at least have the personality to pull it off. Otherwise you just make the jewelry look bad.

These flight attendants have obviously not seen the smile of a Japanese flight attendant before. Japanese flight attendants do their jobs the best they can, and that includes smiles. Yay smiles! Japanese flight attendants are there to serve you, take care of you, pamper you, and yes, smile. To the contrary, the American flight attendants are simply going to work. If smiling is not a requirement, don't expect to get it.

OK, so they're snooty. What's the big deal, right? Get over it! After all, I didn't pay that much for my ticket. I should just be happy with a package of peanuts and a glass of water. This is not Japan after all. This is cyberspace, and there's a lot of spam out here.

An hour later, the snooters came down the aisle handing out glasses of water. One of them gave a glass to the tattooed, nose-pierced, multiple-ear-pierced girl in the aisle seat, and moved on, completely overlooking me. It was probably my fault, however, as I was politely waiting for eye contact from her before answering, "Yes, please."

"Excuse me!" I said, but the flight attendant was already far down the aisle, overlooking many others along the way. Eye contact is obviously not a requirement for the job either.

But I was beginning to dehydrate. The inside of my nose was getting crusty and I was sucking on my moist towelette. So I hit the flight attendant call button.

After 30 minutes, no one had come. By now, the girl in the aisle seat was asleep and I didn't want to disturb her. What if my sweater caught on her nose ring, for example?

Finally, a flight attendant came bounding down the aisle. At last, water! I started waving my arms attempting semaphore signaling. She passed right by me. Why hadn't I brought the emergency flares from my boat?

It occurred to me that this would be a great way to embalm people — put them on a round trip international flight and they'll come back not only completely depleted of bodily fluids, but wrinkled to the size of a prune.

No more snooters came by as they had disappeared to the back of the plane and were discussing, in very loud voices, their previous rollicking night out in Tokyo.

My hopes were diminishing. I was going to be left in this desert to die of thirst, like Kristin Scott Thomas in "The English Patient." Damn airplanes.

I knew I must make a move. I stood up, crawled over the sleeping, tattooed, nose-pierced, multiple-ear-pierced girl to get a glass of water. I am glad to say that there was no incident on the way out, or the way back to reality.

Or so I thought. As I came out of the airport, I noticed my sweater was unraveling. The loose string of yarn was already 2 meters long.

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