‘Hello, sir/ma’am – come try Malaysian food – we have noodles, curry, satay, roti’ – called out my newest staff member to the passing crowds. We were trading at a market and he was obviously trying hard to show initiative and had been at it all day. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and told him to stop. I don’t grovel for business; it’s just not my style.
They don’t call me The Curry Nazi for no reason.
My dad told me when he first started out, his family was so incredibly poor that he had to borrow money to buy a pack of cigarettes, break it open, then sell each stick individually on the streets.
His younger sister would be right beside him, and once he made a sale, she would beg the buyer to also consider buying a box of matches. Some customers would buy them out of pity.
Packs of matches were like 5 cents when I used to work at the Odeon 30-plus years ago; I imagine they were even cheaper in his day. It breaks my heart to think of how desperate they must have been.
My legendary lack of patience dealing with customers stems in large part from the stories of my parents’ tough beginnings, and also from observing my dad in particular kowtow to people who held his financial destiny in his hands.
One prime example was my dad’s deference to the Odeon cinema’s general manager. Despite constantly humiliating my dad by scolding him in public over God-knows-what petty little thing and threatening to raise his rent (which he did on a regular basis), my dad always apologized. The GM was given free run of our canteen so it became his personal candy bar.
This general manager converted to Christianity after we left for Australia, and even came to visit us once, a much humbler and gentler person in his old age. Back in the day, though, I hated his guts, and that of everyone else who abused their position of power and made life tough for my parents.
To this day I tend to instinctively be very borderline disrespectful of people in positions of authority and in turn I get along great with kitchen staff anywhere around the world where I’m invited to guest-chef.