It has recently caught my eye that we have a bit of a PR problem. This is seen not only from the post on the Overheard group on Facebook showing the horrific queue for a Bell Street flat, which has prompted the most volatile of class discussions I have ever experienced, but also with Raisin Sunday and Monday where we are continually bombarded with community criticism for indulging in traditional family fun. But, I have also noticed that there is another occasion for this reputation to fester, which shocks me time and time again.
As of last September, I began a part-time job waitressing about two to three times a week. I am lucky enough to not have a huge need for the extra money, but thankful that I have this extra money to make my food shop and rent every month less stressful. I work at a five-star establishment, where a number of societies and sports clubs regularly have socials. Dressed up in a waistcoat, a nameplate and a full-length apron that makes me seem like a penguin whose parents had extremely high expectations, I obviously do not come across as being a student.
It is in this disguise that I have been on the forefront of Town and Gown relations. My colleagues come from either one of three categories; locals, students from Dundee or St Andrews students in my similar financial position and through working with them I’ve found that they either love or hate us students.
It makes me angry, because as a well-respected establishment, we have, let’s say, the 1 per cent of extremely wealthy students that come in fairly regularly, and this is how all my co-workers see of St Andrews apart from myself and my other student colleagues. They don’t realise that the majority of the student population here does not conduct themselves badly, and I’m not saying that all of our student customers do, but there’s certainly an unreasonably high number who do. And, if I’m honest, sometimes I begin to feel the same way as my colleagues.
Firstly, never ever click your fingers at me, at anyone for that matter. I am not a dog, and I do not want to be treated like one. I may come trotting along and smile, eager to serve you, but do not think for a second that it’s not because it’s my job to do so.
Secondly, a please and thank-you would not go amiss. It’s so simple, requires nearly zero effort and makes me feel like slightly appreciated in this socially contracted interaction that makes for awkward laughter and my feigned interest in if you’re enjoying your meal, but more than that, it’s common decency and basic manners.
Thirdly, please do not treat me like I’m invisible. If you see me struggling to carry or reach to grab your half-finished heavy ceramic plate then please lift it up and hand it to me. Same goes for glasses and cups, or vaguely anything that can be put on a table and then is incorporated in my duties to remove from it. It would be the same if I dropped my pen next to you in a tutorial and you were a kind enough person to hand it back to me.
It is these instances that mark out my student customers to be selfish, arrogant and just downright rude and this upsets me because I know that we are not all like this. It is just the same amount who frequent my restaurant who are putting us across like this and emphasising this Town and Gown divide. And yet, somehow this reassures my colleagues that at least these students are being rude to the student employees too.
The good thing is that there are those who come around and completely shift this reputation for a few nights every month, those who treat the staff with respect and even have a laugh with us at the end of the night. They understand our having to host, in the case of clubs, thirty people as well as negotiate a full restaurant and try to accommodate that. These are the students I like to see, as would anyone.
One solace I get is seeing my customers day-to-day, pounding the pavements of St Andrews or standing behind me in Tesco, watching that sudden realisation and eye-widening look that, without my ponytail and my penguin outfit that I’m a student too, and with that the thought that maybe they should have treated my staff and I better.
No wonder our tiny town is privy to so much classist criticism when even the students don’t treat their peers with respect. It makes me sad, St Andrews! If there’s one thing that would do us good, it would be to start thinking about our image towards the town, maybe “huh, so that’s why we have just a stressful relationship with the locals”. I think it would benefit everyone.
Oh, and please tip your waitresses. It reassures us that we haven’t wasted a night being nice to you.