Wednesday, 1 August 2012

To the Non-Swimmers...

My mother-in-law knows only one joke.  More accurately, she has told only one joke that I remember, and it is so funny that she need never tell another.  It's about the German airliner, Lufthansa, and a plane that gets ditched into the Atlantic Ocean.  If you're old enough, imagine this in Sgt. Shultz's voice.  The pilot, in my mother-in-law's perfectly overblown but completely authentic German accent, instructs the "schvimmers" (swimmers) to deplane onto the right wing, and the "non-schvimmers" to deplane to the left wing.  He then stands on the fuselage and instructs the swimmers on the right wing to head towards Iceland.  "To the schvimmers, dot vay is Izeland.  Gut luck!"  He turns and salutes the remaining passengers and delivers the punchline.  "To the non-schvimmers, tank you for flyink Lufthansa!"

It's beautiful because it encapsulates the impression we have of Germans as being, shall we say, a little cut and dry.  Delivered in her impression of an authoritarian pilot with a heavy German English accent, my mother-in-law has us on the floor laughing before she even gets to the punchline, no matter how many times we've heard her tell it.  And finally, the "thank you for flying Lufthansa!" is a perfect a combination of procedural politeness and brutal dismissal.  It's the unexpected punchline that makes a joke worthwhile.

Somewhere in that is a lesson for all of us who hear unreasonable complaints, and however rare that is, they do happen.  When it becomes apparent that nothing we can do will remedy the situation and the customer will forever unreasonably hold us responsible (they're non-swimmers in an ocean of reasonable expectations and good manners), it wouldn't hurt to put a smile on our face and end the conversation politely, thank the customer for their patronage, wish them well, and then start swimming for Iceland. 

It also helps me to hear my mother-in-law's voice in my head dismissing the non-swimmers because, in truth and through no fault of the organization, there's just nothing else that can be done to please them.  It always brings a smile to my face just exactly when I need it most.

Thank you for flying Lufthansa.

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