I went for dinner the other evening at a southeast Asian fast food place where “build your own bowl.” You pick noodles, white rice, or brown rice as the base and then select from a variety of meat, tofu, vegetables, sauces, and toppings of your choice. Except – the server very apologetically informed me – they happened to be out of noodles. And – she hesitated before delivering this next statement to me, and I was worried she might be about to confess her guilt in committing some serious crime – they were also out of white rice. So, the current “choice” customers faced was brown rice, or… brown rice.
Mind you, the chefs in the back were busily working away at cooking more noodles and more white rice as we spoke. But, the crisis was that noodles and white rice were not immediately available to customers. I thought about the many meals in Africa I ate where my only “choice” on the menu was rice and chicken or rice and fish. But before I could even get my words out to tell her how little I was bothered, and how I was perfectly happy to eat brown rice (even though it was in fact my third choice), she was already re-apologizing as she handed me a “free bowl” card so I wouldn’t have to pay for my meal on my next visit.
So I worked my way down the assembly line and “built my own bowl” (on a brown rice base, of course). When I got the to cashier at the end, he handed me yet another “free bowl” card as I paid him for my brown rice bowl. Such is the American focus on customer service, and the degree to which American consumers are spoiled by choice, that I got TWO free meals to compensate for the inconvenience and indignity of being forced to eat brown rice against my will. Oh, the horror.
I remember how we used to rent VHS video tapes from Blockbuster when I was growing up (yes, I was born in the 1980s). Occasionally a cassette that we would rent would be old and wouldn’t play on our VCR. Whenever that happened, my mother would always complain vocally to Blockbuster. Each time, they would give her a free pass and she would rent the next video for free. It seems that nowadays you don’t even need to kick up much of a fuss to get a freebie.