Do we have a culture of rudeness in the Virgin islands? I ask this in the most serious way. Over the past few weeks I’ve been hearing complaints about our customer service – or rather lack-there-of – from all segments of our community. I’ve been fielding so many complaints recently that I’m wondering if somehow I’ve become a defacto complaint box. Perhaps the rudeness has gotten to a point where people are just venting to the closest listening ear.
A friend who lives in the states recently told me that I don’t have a “VI mentality.” A VI mentality? What is that, I asked him. “You are not rude and closed minded,” was his reply. Hold up. Wait a minute. So the definition of a VI mentality is being rude and close minded? As a Virgin Islander I was offended an expressed that to him. His reply that was I should be glad that I don’t have a VI mentality. He had missed my point altogether. If the the label of “VI mentality” means being rude, unreasonable and close minded, all of us in the VI should be concerned. The irony of that particular situation was that this friend is one of the proudest Virgin Islanders I know. He always proclaims to “carry the Virgin Islands on my back.” And although I explained that he was unfair to negatively characterize a “VI mentality,” I couldn’t get him to back down. I pointed to all the wonderful people who exuded good customer service, positivity, etc. He replied that they were all exceptions to the rule. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I didn’t want to accept what I know is true.
Another friend of mine who relocated from the states to St. Thomas for a position at a private company was so happy when he was able to start a small business on the side. Small business are the backbone of the economy, right? He was even happier when he got a small contract from a local public utility. After completing the work for the utility, he got the run-around regarding his payment. After months of being told that someone was working on processing his payment, he decided to visit the office. What he soon learned was that in fact, no one was “working on it.” But it wasn’t that he had gotten the run-around for months that made him vent to me. It was what the employee said to him the minute he walked into her office: “Meen feeling good today you know. Wha you wan?” He was speechless. He couldn’t believe that a public employee would greet anyone in such a manner. Having lived here for a few years he has learned to turn the other cheek and navigate situations to get what he needs. But he was still in disbelief when he shared the story with me.
His story reminded me of another friend – a Virgin Islander living in the states – who had come home for vacation. Needing to send a money transfer he went to one of our department stores. The lady serving him was so rude that he simply refused to deal with her and asked for a supervisor. What made him vent to me was the attitude of the supervisor. “She was even more rude than her employee,” he exclaimed to me.
I can go on an on with the scenarios. Each of us can probably write a book about the poor customer service in the Virgin Islands. The sad thing is that things seem to be getting worse.
Recently on a flight out of the Virgin Islands I had the pleasure of sitting next to newlyweds from South Dakota who had spent their honeymoon on St. Thomas. When I asked them about their stay they raved about the island’s beauty and all the fun they had. But…they also mentioned the poor customer service and lack of courtesy during their stay, especially by employees at the hotel where they stayed. I apologized. I had to. I assured them that the situation they described was one we were actively working to correct. No guest, honeymooners at that, should leave our territory with negative memories of our people.
Unfortunately many people in the Virgin Island think that because they say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good night,” that they are not rude; that those greetings are a free pass to, well, be rude.
As I type this, I am on a plane back from a business trip where over a few days I had the honor of unofficially being a VI ambassador. Because, the fact is, most people I met wanted to know more about where I’m from. I spent a lot of time inviting people to the territory. And I am concerned. I’m concerned about the name we are making for ourselves by the way we treat our guests. But I’m even more concerned about the way we treat each other. Has rudeness become part of our culture? But more importantly what are we doing about it?