Being barely adequate at your job is a kind of personal strike. Why not support it? Photo: Sasha/Getty
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Why I still tip a surly waitress after bad service

Refusal to massage every customer with niceness is, perhaps, a sort of personal strike. Why not support them by still giving a tip?

“Enjoy your evening,” says the checkout woman, as she slides a sweaty kilo of gummy bears in my direction.

In all her fluorescent-lit glory, she’s almost chirpy enough to convince me that I might. But I’m in America, that place where, famously, service comes with a smile wider than a trucker called Sugartits Thad.

This evening, my server-cum-well-wisher may not know that I’m going to take those gelatinous bad boys home with me and inhale them in front of a Holocaust documentary, while feeling nauseously guilty about how inappropriate I’m being. But she must have figured out that I’m not going to “enjoy” my evening. Not in the traditional sense, at least. I’m a grown woman who just bought a bumper bag of confectionary on a Friday night. The more I analyse it, the more passive aggressive that “enjoy your evening” becomes.

In all honesty, I may be niceness’s biggest fan. But, as a true affability wonk, I know that it should never be born out of orders from management. It’s hardly surprising that the average waiter makes minimum wage. What is surprising, perhaps, is that we require these people to smile at us. It’s not enough that so many in the service industry work hard for wages that barely keep them in white shirts, and are stung by unfair zero hours contracts. No; expect a tip? You’d better reassure me of my pointless existence by asking me how my day is going. And don’t forget to curtsey.

Admittedly, my own experience as a server is limited. There was the burlesque themed cocktail bar where I worked two solid shifts. My uniform was a corset and stockings. There was banter. Christ was there banter. As soon as the management realised that I had the charm and ability to remember orders of a beached sea cucumber, I was sent down to the basement to crush ice. I remember being down there long enough for my pupils to turn to slits in the dark, and to come to resent the Above People. When it turned out I was too damned maladroit to carry out even the most menial of tasks, I was compassionately “let go”. My short string of subsequent bar jobs were all terminated for similar reasons. I smiled throughout, but inside I was pummelling every single customer, with a sack of insufficiently crushed ice.

This is why I appreciate rude service. I don’t actively seek it out, only eating in restaurants with Yelp comments like, “waiter called me a noisome disfigurement on the face of mankind”; but when it comes my way, I’ll still tip.

There’s plenty of room for servers who take pride in their work and whose amiability comes from a genuine and deeply rooted belief that humans are OK. It’s just that, when anyone who makes my coffee wants to let me know that I’m a heinous bourgeois parasite, I’m fine with that. After all, no one likes that turd Ferrari sitting in Starbucks, tweeting a picture of a cup with his name misspelled across it, as if spelling “Zachary” with a K is equivalent to the barista having spunked in his coffee.

As Homer Simpson said, “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike: you just go in every day and do it really half assed.” Refusal to massage every customer with niceness is, perhaps, a sort of personal strike. So, next time you’re served by a surly waitress, consider supporting strike action and tipping her anyway.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Jeremy Corbyn's speech on terrorism will do him more good than harm

The Labour leader's criticism of police cuts and western foreign policy will resonate with voters.

The election campaign, if there was any doubt, has resumed. In his speech responding to the Manchester attack, Jeremy Corbyn did not limit himself to expressions of sympathy and solidarity. He squarely targeted Theresa May on her home turf: policing and security.

The Conservatives' repeated warning is that Corbyn is a "threat" to his country. But the Labour leader countered that only he could keep it "safe". Austerity, he declared, "has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap." May, having been warned by the Police Federation while home secretary of the danger of cuts, is undoubtedly vulnerable on this front. Under Labour, Corbyn vowed, "there will be more police on the streets" (despite Diane Abbott's erroneous arithmetic), while the security services would receive whatever resources they need.

Corbyn swiftly progressed to foreign policy, the great passion of his political life. Though it is facile to reduce terrorism to a "blowback" against western interventionism (as if jihadists were Pavlovian dogs, rather than moral agents), it is blinkered to dismiss any connection. As Corbyn noted: "Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home" (the Tory-led Foreign Affairs Select Committee is among those who agree).That the former Stop the War chair has long taken this view absolves him of the charge of crude political opportunism.

Corbyn was also more careful than his pre-briefed remarks suggested to caveat his criticisms. He emphasised: "Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.

"And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre."

But he maintained his central charge: western intervention has made the world more dangerous, not less. "We must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working," he said. "We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism."

Though Corbyn's arguments have appalled Conservatives (and some in Labour), they are ones that will likely find favour among the public. Polls have consistently shown that most voters oppose western adventurism and believe it has endangered the UK. Corbyn's words will resonate among both the anti-interventionist left and the isolationist right (this is, after all, a country which has just voted to retreat from even its closest neighbours).

The speech, given at 1 Great George Street (in the room where Ed Miliband gave his resignation address), was marred by Corbyn's refusal to take questions. But it was unarguably well-delivered. "Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror," he warned in a pre-emptive strike against the Conservatives.

Corbyn's decision to give an overtly political speech four days after the Manchester attack is being widely described as a "gamble" or even a profound error. But the election will now rightly focus more closely on the issue of security - nothing should be beyond democratic debate.

Many of Corbyn's life-long stances, such as unilateral disarmament, do not find favour with the electorate. But there was little in his speech today that the average voter would contest. The Conservatives will hope to turn the heightened security debate to their advantage, ruthlessly quoting Corbyn against himself. But on this front, as on others, the Labour leader is proving a tougher opponent than they anticipated.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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