Heck, I'll admit that I think I've done so only once, and that was probably more than five years ago when I happened to be outside doing yard work when the crew from Waste Management came by. As they loaded up our bins, I shouted out a thank-you and waved. I must have sprouted a second head or a third arm because the guy on the truck just stared at me as he drove away.
I had the opportunity to live for a time in Australia. There, I discovered, the people flipping burgers at McDonald's are happy doing their jobs and quite often aspire to nothing more than that. Same for the plumbers, waiters, pool guys, HVAC repair people, construction workers. Even the staff at the DMV were pleasant and seemed to enjoy their work!
At first, this confused me. As a Yank, I was used to surly service professionals. As I relaxed and settled into my new home, I observed a fundamental difference in the way Aussies view each other, and the work they do.
Someone's got to flip my burger
There, the view was overwhelmingly that, in this small town on the edge of nowhere, someone has to do every job or society would break down. Someone has to fix the toilets. Someone has to issue driver's licenses. Someone has to clean pools.
Someone has to work at McDonald's.
Whether consciously or not, everyone recognizes this fact, and everyone sees this need. So no one undervalues anyone for their choice of job. In fact, many of the people who were flipping burgers when I arrived were still flipping burgers almost five years later when I left, and were just as happy doing so.
There was no one around to tell them that this was supposed to be a temporary job, or that being a service professional was menial, or less important somehow than, say, being a doctor. Both were valuable to the local economy, each in their own way.
This understanding is even codified in their educational system -- it is not uncommon for students to graduate high school after their 10th grade year and enter an apprenticeship program to learn a trade. This isn't seen as dropping out the way it would here in the States.
There, only those destined for a university education continue for their 11th and 12th years and those two years are dedicated to college preparatory education. For everyone else, a rich apprenticeship ecosystem exists wherein apprentices are matched with masters to learn their crafts. Young people enter the workforce more quickly and without the cost burden of a four-year degree that, let's be honest, they don't really need.
Back on this side of the pond, though, we indoctrinate our children that the only path out of high school that is of any value involves a college education, regardless of the career desires of the child. We undervalue the contributions of those in service jobs to the point that we don't even see them, preferring to pretend they do not exist in many cases.
I know I need to remind myself on a regular basis that someone needs to flip my burgers, and that I really need to give thanks for the trash man.
Try not taking your cans to the curb this week.
Let me know how they're smelling by week's end....
How can we make a difference in how society views the essential contributions of service professionals?