Follow-up Question

Here in New York City, we stand in a lot of lines. The customary procedure — at, say, one of our archetypal delis, during lunch hour — has always been for the person behind the counter to holler “NEXT!!!” when it’s time for the queue to shuffle forward. It’s blunt, simple, and gets right to the point, which is how we like things around here.

A couple of decades ago, as the city tried to show a slightly more genteel face to the world, a cutesy-poo refinement appeared on the scene:

“Can I help the next customer?”

It took some getting used to, but now I hardly notice it.

Lately, though, a disturbing mutation has spread throughout the city. I first noticed it at a Starbucks, and thought it was just a grotesque, localized aberration, but now it’s everywhere:

“Can I help the following guest?”

First of all, hotels have “guests”. Delis have customers. But what really throws me into queasy disequilibrium, every time I hear it, is that “following”. I always expect names to be read off afterward, as in:

“Would the following guests please report to the delousing station immediately: Mr. Princip, Mr. Guiteau, Mr. Czoglosz… “

It’s all too much for me, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to this one. But here’s what I’ve been wondering: is this bizarre neologism local to New York, or has it metastasized? What say you, readers?

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  1. Kevin Kim says

    I’m sure George Carlin would have a lot to say on the subject.

    Interestingly enough, there are at least two commonly used words for “customer” in Korean. The technical (or should I say generic?) term, “go-gaek,” comes from two Chinese characters. It simply means “customer.” In stores and restaurants, however, one often hears “son-nim,” which might be translated as “honored guest.” (The “nim” is an honorific particle, as in “Yaesu-nim” for “Jesus” or “Bucheo-nim” for “Buddha” or “seonsaeng-nim” for “teacher.”) So for me, switching “customer” out for “guest” doesn’t sound so grating.

    Posted November 11, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    But how about it, Kevin? Do you hear this down where you live, in the shadow of our nation’s Capitol?

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  3. Frederik Von smellsburg says

    I know I’m getting ripped off when people are too polite to me.

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Kim says

    I don’t really hear “guest” down here, but then again… I don’t stand in a lot of lines! Haw haw haaaawwww…

    Actually, I stand in plenty of lines, but they’re usually very narrow and orderly, so there’s never a need for anyone to shout “Next!”

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  5. Dom says

    In South Jersey, all I hear is “Can I help the next person in line please?” But all stores have those “snake queues”, where everyone stands in the same line (that snakes around) and the next person goes to the next available cashier.

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    So far, then, no “following guest”. Maybe the infection is still local to New York (though I have to say it has a creepy Southern California feel to it).

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  7. Ron D says

    In a somewhat related story (the use of language), I was riding the subway tonight during rush hour and the train was very crowded. As people where getting on/off the train, the conductor loudly announced, “Please use all of the doors,” over the PA as though it was somehow our fault that the train was crowed. Then I stopped to think about exactly what he said. Sure, I know what he meant, everyone should exit/enter the train as quickly as possible. But what did he literally say? If I was to exit the train using every single door (there are 30 or 40 doors), then it would surely take me much longer to finally leave the train. And imagine if everyone had to use every single door when entering or exiting. That would be chaos.

    So, it seems to me that he is telling us to do something that is the exact opposite of what he actually wants. “Move your asses,” is more exact, don’t you think? Maybe I should bring this up to the MTA.

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Ron, have you ever heard of the “two-slit” experiment in quantum mechanics? It illustrates the wave nature of light by showing that when you pass a beam of light through a screen with two narrow slits, the pattern formed on a photosensitive sheet behind the slits exhibits a striped wave-interference pattern. The curious thing is that the pattern still forms even when you turn down the intensity of the light source so that only one photon at a time is emitted. Close one slit and the interference bands disappear. Apparently, even single photons somehow go through both slits at once!

    I always think of this whenever I hear the conductor say “USE ALL THE DOORS!”…

    Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink