Once upon a time in bad service town

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OPINION: Once upon a time (about two weeks ago), in a town far, far away (about 550 kilometres), a group of people (including yours truly), decided to escape the madness (Queenstown) to ring in the new year. 

Despite initial inclement weather spirits were high and there was a buzz in the air, probably attributable in part to dastardly sandflies and mosquitoes.

It’s a tiny town – resident population less than 200 – swelling to about 2000 for those magical days of celebration.

It’s a town, like ours, where they make hay (money) while the sun shines (over summer) to get them through the next nine months.

But there is one critical difference between our two towns. We might go somewhere for rehydration/refreshment/refuelling and, if we find the customer service somewhat lacking, we generally have a bit of a whinge about that and vow never to return.

We can do that because, in our town, there are a multitude of other options available.

In the tiny, quiet town halfway up the South Island, there is not that luxury.

One pub, one cafe, one dairy, one service station.

There’s also one common theme: they don’t like people who don’t live there.

And they aren’t afraid to show it.

They know if you really want that coffee – and I really did – you’ll put up with it because there’s nowhere else to go.

After 24 hours in this town I decided the service was so bad, it was actually excellent.

It’s almost a tourist attraction in its own right.

One day I sat in the (only) cafe for almost two hours trying to not laugh.

One woman had the audacity to ask if she could please have brown bread with her eggs benny.

She was told in no uncertain terms that was a highly unreasonable request, before a very grumpy man making coffee conceded, after a two-minute stand-off, he could “probably chuck it on some Vogel’s”.

Another (foreign) tourist asked for a “tissue” (translation:  serviette).

“We don’t have any,” she was told. “You’ll have to go to the bathroom and get some toilet paper.”

Several years ago McDonald’s listed “Smiles” on its menu: cost = free. This little town obviously charges for them.

Or, the staff are trying to keep the wrinkles at bay by smiling as little as possible.

So, we decided to have some fun – kill them with kindness as the saying goes.

The more grumpy they got, the friendlier we became.

They hated us for it. And it made us love them even more.

The one exception was our cleaner, Fanny (we were told her last name was Tranny but that’s probably a fib).

Fanny was a breath of fresh air – booming voice, infectious laugh; the epitome of three snaps in a Z formation.

She was completely unfiltered; particularly on New Year’s Day when she was suffering a vicious hangover.

On January 1 her mood wasn’t helped by people emptying water off their balcony just metres from where she stood, unmoving, with hands on hips.

My cheerful “Good morning!” was greeted with mutterings about how she wasn’t “feeling the love”.

Fanny warmed to us at rapid pace (we gave her no choice) and before we knew it she was popping in to have a chat with us on her morning rounds.

If this town was to ever have a mayor, I’d vote for Fanny. Or maybe the man at the dairy who demanded to see my ID (I was thrilled).

He told me a story about a missing cat (since found) they thought, for years, was a boy. Turns out it was a girl. They renamed her Madonna: “Cos she’s a right bitch.”

ed@scene.co.nz