The other day I popped my head in a little cafe in Portland, Oregon, where I live. I was greeted by two baristas, one working the register and the other the espresso machine. It was a slow afternoon, no big whoop, and there was nobody in line in front or behind me. I ordered a shot of espresso for a 2PM boost.
Upon receiving my espresso (and little back of sparkling water) I stood by the espresso machine, with the intention of drinking my shot at the bar. Upon finishing my shot (and little back of sparkling water) I handed them back across the counter, between the machine and register, and said “thank you so much.”
The barista working the register pointed behind me and said, “Actually, there’s a bus tub behind you, if you don’t mind.”
This caught me off guard. For years, I've been drinking espresso at the bar, and this had been my whole routine: Slug it down, hand my dishes right back over without contributing to the bus tub, and tip my hat a thank you and good day.
In that moment I smiled, picked back up the demitasse and sidecar glass, and walked them over to the bus tub, placing them carefully so as to not disturb its delicately balanced ceramic ecosystem. But internally I wondered, “Is this weird? This is weird. I feel weird.”
In America, it's very uncommon to visit a cafe without a bus tub. It's the final resting place for your dishes. One never leaves a dirty dish at a table, because this is rude, and the labor required for a human busser just isn't in the cards for many just-staffed-enough small-business-type coffee places. To me, it always felt like handing the dishes to the person across from me—with some eye contact and a kind word—lessened the final load on the bus tub, and gave me a chance to thank them again for the experience.
I just want to be a maximally efficient polite customer and let everyone get on with their day—in the cafe, in life, in all things really. But maybe I'm messing up the work flow? Maybe what I intend to be a polite act is actually an unintentionally rude one? Maybe I should just put my dang dishes in the bus tub, even though the bus tub is over there, and we're both right here at the espresso bar. Have I been doing it wrong this whole damn time?
I feel like there’s a roughly 50 / 50 chance I’m at fault here, although perhaps I’m just working through my own Pacific Northwest passive aggressive public niceness shit. Truly, who can say. But I’d sure love to hear from you.
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Jordan Michelman is a co-founder at Sprudge Media Network.