Every profession has one: the dental hygienist who scowls while cleaning a patient’s teeth and prattles on about the patient’s bad breath once at the nurses’ station; the nursery school teacher who chatters about a child’s unkempt hair; and the female bank teller who wonders aloud how a bank customer with so little money in his savings account has the audacity to proposition her.
In “Acetone and Acid Tones”, Anh Do, writing for Los Angeles Times, told a story of her visit to a salon where some Vietnamese salon workers gave their unvarnished opinions of their patrons while varnishing their clients’ nails. The nail technicians gossiped about how a client who had revealed his toe nails was actually dirty despite his neat appearance; marveled that a lady who drove a Mercedes yet haggled for a better price could be so cheap ; and pointed out that a lady with a calloused hands was holding an expensive purse. They spoke in their native language unaware that the author, whose ‘rough’ hands they noticed and labelled a gambler’s hands, understood Vietnamese. While reading the article, I reflected on how vulnerable people are when they go to the gynecologist for a pap smear, confide in a tax attorney that the sister they claimed as dependent in their tax return is in fact living with an uncle, or make those confessions to a priest that their family and friends do not know about.
After musing on the subject, I felt a certain relief knowing that attorneys vow to ‘hold inviolate the confidences’ of their clients; that doctors promise that ‘all that may come to their knowledge in the exercise of their profession which ought not to be spread abroad, they will keep secret and will never reveal’; and that it is a crime for a catholic priest to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reasons. But for this rein on these professions, the very essence of their calling will be destroyed.
Knowing that I do not have to worry about my physician, my attorney or my confessor saying a little too much, my musings turned on my subway sandwich artisan. With the advent of sophisticated mobile phones with camera and video recording features, I have had to cringe severally at things people post online. There was the subway artisan who posted a picture of a sub he made for a regular customer who prefers rather messy subs. And there was the waitress who lost her job for posting online the receipt containing the signature of a patron who wrote on the receipt that she wouldn’t tip. Similar stories abound.
While I understand that it will be hard to mandate every worker keep mute about what they see in their line of work, it is important that employers teach their clients of that dignifying art of silence. One shouldn’t resist ordering a subway sandwich with all the vegetables on it for fear that the artisan will spread a story of how greedy he was. Nor should one engage a cleaning agency to come to his house only to overhear them idle chat about how the bathroom they are hired to clean make them want to puke.
I do not know if Anh Do continues to visit that salon. But I am sure that not all the patrons will take it in their stride if they knew that the very people they trust to enhance their looks leave them with a social scar. Many of us are indeed sensitive. It is not much to ask that people who render service to the public do so with quiet dedication. Or is it?