The Many Meanings of “Yes”

Yesterday, I wrote a blog entry about fussing at the Trolley Driver in Hong Kong.  In hindsight, I feel a bit embarassed!  Do I actually think it matters if I fuss?  I don’t actually think that one grumpy old codger like me will make a difference, do I?  Also, as I thought about it, it was plain that what I did was so, very, American!  A Chinese person already knows the world doesn’t revolve around him, and he will just grin and bear it.  He already knows what I should have known, that it’s not "worth it" to bother. 
I told one of my Chinese friends today about my little temper fit.  She replied that she thinks one difference between Americans and Chinese is that the Americans are more likely to complain.  The Chinese will simply accept poor customer service (or whatever) and not say anything.  My thinking about this subject reminded me of another exchange this summer that I found a bit humorous.  It, too, was a case when an employee said something other than what he meant, in a customer service setting.  Except this one happened in the USA. 
While yesterday’s entry could be titled "When No Doesn’t Mean No," today’s entry could be titled, "When Yes Doesn’t Mean Yes." 
In June, I arrived at the Detroit airport early in the morning after a very, very long flight over the Pacific.  My original flight had been delayed and rerouted.  I hadn’t been able to sleep at all on the very uncomfortable overnight plane trip.  I was extremely tired and a bit dazed when I had to switch terminals in the Detroit airport.  I couldn’t figure out where my new gate was.  It turns out, I couldn’t find my gate because it was in a different terminal. 
I was confused about how to do this.  I asked an employee at the Northwest Airline ticket counter for directions.  He gave me complicated directions, something like, "walk to the escalators, go down, go outside, catch the shuttle bus right there."  
I know, in hindsight this instruction was very easy, but at the time I was so tired that I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  I asked him again, peering around and looking for the escalator as he pointed in that direction.  He could see that I was obviously still confused about where I needed to go.  Kindly, he said, "I’ll take you there."  He came out from behind his counter and personally walked me to the escalator I needed.  From there, it was very simple to get to the bus stop.  
Yesterday, when I mentioned random acts of kindness by strangers, his action would qualify as one of them.  He was a ticket agent, not an airport guide, and walking a dazed passenger to their gate fell completely outside of his job description.  He saw that I needed help, and he helped me.  I was very grateful. 
But before this really helpful, kind person could walk me to my bus stop, he had to field a query from one really irate passenger.  Due to the Northwest pilot’s strike, a lot of peoples’ flights had been delayed, rerouted, canceled, etc..  A man came up with his family in tow and was yelling loudly.  His face was very red.  The airline employee who was helping me found another flight for the man, but the man didn’t like it.  He yelled some more.  The employee found a different flight, but that wouldn’t do either.  The man was livid and yelling.  The airline employee then gave the passenger directions to a different place where they might be able to help him.   He pointed out to that man some distant location, showing him the direction to walk in as well about how far it was.  After that man left, he walked me, so tired, to the escalator where I needed to go catch the shuttle bus. 
After we were walking toward the escalator, I asked the man, "Will the manager be able to find that person a different ticket?"  He replied, "No, I’m the only one who can reroute him, but whenever they get really loud, I send them away.  By the time he comes back to me, he’ll be calmed down a bit."  Talk about anger management! 
The employee — who was in the middle of being so outrageously kind to me — had simultaneously and cheerfully sent another customer on a wild goose chase wandering through the Detroit airport!  Similarly to this, when I told my friend today about my exchange with the Trolley driver, she smiled and replied, "At least he said "no" instead of giving you the wrong directions."  We both laughed, because we’ve both been given wrong directions before.   
So . . . yesterday I wrote about a case in China where "No" didn’t mean "No"; and today I’m writing about a case in the USA where "Yes" didn’t mean "Yes"! 

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