Do immigrant-rich areas receive poorer customer service?

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By Pradip Rodrigues

Last year friends who made the move from multicultural Mississauga to Guelph were delighted with the kind of customer service they received in stores and restaurants in their newly adopted city. They gushed on and on about the friendliness of the people they encountered and I thought they were just imagining it. Now Guelph for now is still a white-majority city but its rapidly changing demographics could make the city look and feel like Mississauga in a few short years.

I heard the same observation from some acquaintances who made the move from the GTA to a small town in Eastern Ontario where they joined the six other South Asian families in a lily-white town ten years ago. Recently I spoke with the acquaintance who mentioned that there were now more than 15 South Asian families who had moved there, some from Brampton and here is what he had to say. “Initially when we came here, we made every effort to integrate and people in the town were happy to see us participating in things like community and fundraising events, we even attend Christmas mass with our white friends who helped us cut our first fresh tree down when we first came to town and even decorate it. But the new families aren’t interested in all these things,” he said.

What he feared was a large influx of South Asians could make the need to integrate into the larger community optional. In this town the word ‘community’ refers to all who live there, not the way diverse cities refer to separate communities most living in silos. Some don’t make eye contact or wish other residents on the street which is customary and what he feels is that if new immigrants continue like this, the town could lose the sense of community he and his family has come to cherish.

So alarmed is he that recently when a Brampton resident contemplated on life in his town, he promptly went about convincing him that he’d be a fool to leave Brampton and that his town was boring and horrible.

I know a Brampton family that is debating between moving to either Kitchener or Guelph because they want their kids ‘to experience Canada by living in Canadian society’.

I’ve heard that sentiment from more sophisticated South Asians who’ve moved from very diverse neighborhoods in the GTA to smaller towns just outside. One woman I met not so long ago told me how happy she was that she moved with her family to the Bronte Creek area of Oakville, she loved the feel of her new neighborhood. “Hardly any Indian people here,” she said quite happily. If any of the other Caucasians diners at the trendy Yolanda’s Spuntino Casa restaurant we were at heard her, they’d be positively bewildered. She reveled in the fact that hers was the only immigrant family in her neighborhood. She flaunted the distinction like a badge of honor.

And I’ve heard that statement made by many who consider themselves proud to be South Asian but fortunate not to be living among them.

I suspect the Oakville millionaire South Asian woman I spent an afternoon with would be distressed if more of her own kind moved into her well-appointed lair.

One of the reasons the Brampton family is moving to another city is that they realize that their shopping or dining out experiences in Brampton is noticeably different in places like Kitchener and Guelph. And he thinks that we’ve brought this upon ourselves by gaining a reputation of being rude, loud and nasty, especially when trying to make returns of merchandise after using it. “When making a return in Peel Region, often we get a hard time, not so in places where we haven’t spoilt our names,” he says.

My friend from Austin, Texas who I took out to a restaurant in Mississauga last year noticed the poor service we received and made the same observation. He travels on work all over the US and has noticed that in cities and neighborhoods with large ethnic populations, service standards are poor. In smaller towns and other Caucasian-dominated neighborhoods, the service is definitely a lot more friendly and lovely.

I once worked at a retail store where young co-workers who had previously worked at restaurants offered up this reason why South Asians received poor service: “At restaurants and bars, many either tip very little or don’t tip at all so naturally even the other South Asian servers working with us gave these customers poor service. It’s human nature. Furthermore they tend to be high-maintenance, always calling us and complaining about food quality and demanding we not charge for a dish after they finished almost everything. And not saying please and thank you can be very off-putting” she said. This was only part of her litany of complaints.

So naturally I disagree when South Asians who complain about poor service put it down as racism when it clearly is not. If it were then poor service and hostility should have been very prevalent in places like Guelph and not in Brampton or Mississauga where whites are the visible minorities.

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