Friday 19 January 2018

Smile... and think of Ireland

Gemma O'Doherty

In the coming days, the eyes of the world will turn to Ireland as we prepare for two of the most momentous state visits in our history.

At a time of such pressing need, the arrival of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama gives us a unique opportunity to showcase our country -- the magical island we are blessed to call home, our rich cultural heritage of sport, music and literature, and that very particular brand of green hospitality which makes strangers feel welcome when they come to our land.

This should be a time to reflect on what we do best as a nation and to remember that tourism is one of the few things that will get us out of this economic quagmire, and making sure that every single visitor who puts their holiday cash into our tills is treated like royalty.

That used to be our forte -- our proud stand-out quality -- but in post-boom Ireland, service with a smile is an endangered luxury on the brink of extinction.

You notice its demise everywhere you go these days, but in my opinion, it's most striking among those very people who should be showing the rest of us how it's done: the frontline faces in Garda stations, hospital receptions, Government offices -- the places you turn to in times of need and where you should not only expect a polite, caring service but demand it.

How many times have you walked up to the counter of a state office only to be ignored by the person behind it?

Apart from being downright rude, it's a breach of their code of conduct. Look around their workplace and you'll see posters on the wall and leaflets proclaiming that the public will be treated with dignity, care and respect.

Yes, we know they feel overworked and underpaid, but have our public servants forgotten who it is they exist to serve? Why does it seem so hard for some of them to do that with courtesy and a friendly face?

The solution? Just don't take it. If a garda is gruff with you on the street or on the phone, remind him of his duty of care to you. If a civil servant in a public office doesn't have the grace to make eye contact with you, let them know it's unacceptable and demeaning. And if you really don't get the service you should, put it in writing and complain.

Happily, there are some officials who make you feel that you're not just a minor irritation in the middle of their working day. It may be way too familiar, but I like the fact that when I walk through passport control in Dublin Airport, the officer in the glass box checks my name and says, "Welcome back, Gemma".

What a nice touch for tourists setting foot on Irish soil for the first time.

And in the retail world, where surly service has become all too common, it's refreshing to see that some businesses still believe the customer is king. Pop into an Applegreen petrol station or Avoca Handweavers, Butler's Pantry or Donnybrook Fair and the chances are you'll leave feeling pampered and wanting to go back again.

Is it any wonder those names are the success stories of our economy?

A few more smiles in the right places and we might just get it back on track.

Weekend Magazine

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