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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, February 19, 2007

The worse part about being called out

Greetings from Burnettiquette World Headquarters, right next door to the Legion of Doom, in Sunny - today, anyway - Miamish, FL.

I apologize again for being absent the past few days. I've been trying to be a good host to my family-through-marriage.

So their visit has been nice so far. It's been chilly down here. I know, I know. We'll get no sympathy from those of you who live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But seriously, when you're accustomed to it being 75 - 80 degrees every day, and then it drops down to the low 60s or low 50s even (high 30s/low 40s at night) then it feels like it's 10 below.

There was one hitch though. When my mom-in-law was just getting settled to the vacation house they rented at the beach, she got a call from the property manager telling her that there was a problem. The contract my mom-in-law and brother-in-law had signed was dated for last week. However, the tons of emails they'd exchanged with the property manager said they wanted the house for this week. She agreed. They signed the contract and faxed it back. The deal was done.

So here they find themselves late Saturday afternoon being told another family would be showing up any time and they had to vacate the property right away or else.

The property manager even sent two sheriff's deputies to the house to emphasize that she wanted my fam-in-law out of there.

So you have a house full of seven adults and a couple of tired babies with nowhere to go. They could've all come and stayed at Burnettiquette World Headquarters. But it would've been like a refugee camp.

Now, here's the rub: Everybody erred. You always read the fine print on a contract before you sign it - even if the details have been verbally agreed upon. We all know that. No one needs reminding. It's like saying "I told you so." Who wants to hear it? By the time it becomes relevant, who actually needs to hear it? But my brother-in-law called the property manager last week and asked if everything was OK for this week. She said yes. Saturday afternoon she explained that away by saying she was in her car when he called and didn't think to confirm it later by actually looking up the contract.

But instead of giving a "soft answer," as per the Biblical reference, or expressing some empathy, she immediately told my mother-in-law that it wasn't her problem, she wanted everyone out right away, and good luck, 'cause she had no help or advice to offer.

She kept saying over and over and over that never mind what she agreed to in the emails, she had a signed contract in her hand and couldn't care less where they went or how they got there, as long as they got out of her house.

And so everyone blew up.

So here's the deal: If you have to tell someone they were wrong, don't be snarky about it. If you have to break some bad news to them don't be flippant about it. I shouldn't say this, but I suppose an "acceptable" exception would be when you're responding in kind to a jerk.

Several hours later, when things had calmed down, and we had shared a few laughs with the sheriff's deputies the property manager sent out, and we had found a new vacation home for my fam-in-law to rent, my mom-in-law and brother-in-law said the situation would have been easier to handle if the manager had been nicer about it.

Maybe if she'd said "I'm sorry, you did sign the contract for last week. So my hands are tied as far as this property goes. But based on all our correspondence, I could've read it over and called you to verify those dates. So I wasn't as thorough as I should've been either. But what's done is done. Let's both work the phones, and we'll find something comparable for you, also near the beach and make the rest of your vacation as smooth as possible. I'm sorry all around that things worked out this way."

Instead she was mean and condescending about it.

I ain't preaching folks, but it is true: A soft answer really does turn away wrath.

Gotta run. I think I'm doing something touristy this afternoon.

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  • Wow. What horrid customer service. Yeah, everyone should have checked the dates, but that doesn't justify being a jerk when mistakes are made. Glad your family-through-matrimony found a new place.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 1:11 PM  

  • OMG, she is awful! I would report her sorry ass to the Better Business Bureau on attitude alone.

    I will be down there in a week. Staying at the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort. Know the place? Any advice, comments?

    By Blogger Christina_the_wench, at 1:49 PM  

  • Nasty attitude begets nasty attitude. Ain't that Newton's fourth law? Or fifth or something?

    By Blogger Lee, at 2:35 PM  

  • Did your family-in-laws get their money back? I'm just curious. I'm betting she acted that way because she had no intention of refunding their money.

    By Blogger fiwa, at 2:37 PM  

  • Actually, I'd name the company.

    Unhappy customers exact the best revenge.

    By Blogger SWF41, at 3:02 PM  

  • It's obvious that she just has no customer service skills at all and she shouldn't be dealing with paying customers. Mean people suck. :)

    By Blogger Erica AP, at 3:12 PM  

  • What a biotch. An apology makes a world of difference. And there's a huge difference between legally correct and morally correct. The law is definately an art.

    By Blogger Matt, at 3:27 PM  

  • Glad things worked out for your fam. The property manager needs ot work on the people skills, me thinks . . .

    By Blogger Evil Spock, at 3:35 PM  

  • do know it's illegal to rent a house or condo on the beach for less than a 6 month time period, right? If that "property manager" has a real estate licence, she could very well lose it.

    By Blogger Val Prieto, at 3:50 PM  

  • James, your method makes way too much sense. If the property manager had handled the situation correctly, she probably could have kept your in-laws as potential customers the next time around. As it is, they'll probably never rent one of her properties again.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 5:47 PM  

  • Generally I've found that the person who is being the biggest jerk is one who made the first mistake and is covering for their incompetence by being a loud-mouth and trying to act tough.

    By Blogger Jay, at 6:07 PM  

  • I'm wondering, is this a time-share situation with subletting? Is this a real estate agent or Realtor handling the deal?

    Why didn't tell the OTHER group, who hadn't yet arrived, that there had been a misunderstanding, and relocate them?

    NO admission of error, and NO offer of help!!! Abyssmal!

    "'Tis better to be kind than right..." (Forgot who said it.)

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 8:26 PM  

  • People seemingly have a hard time admitting they are wrong these days. I ran into a travel agent that screwed me over the same way.

    Someone decent would have found them a new place.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 8:41 PM  

  • You're right.. BUT... I sure would like to get her fired if it was my holiday week.

    She wasn't "managing" very well and the owners need to know that.

    Afterall, she's getting a nice salary for being "Nice" not "nasty."

    By Blogger Pamela, at 8:47 PM  

  • That's really crappy but I'm glad things worked out in the end. Was there a deposit involved?

    By Blogger captain corky, at 8:54 PM  

  • Sounds like she was hiding behind the printed word (the contract) rather than standing behind her employer's reputation. I hope she finds a job some day in the future she can truly enjoy.

    By Anonymous The Sarcasticynic, at 9:11 PM  

  • I think she deserves something warm, brown and gooey dumped on her car (and I ain't talkin brownies either...) She didn't handle it well at all.

    By Blogger Claudia, at 10:27 PM  

  • Rude people get my goat, James Burnett. GRR. No need for it. No need at all.

    By Anonymous 123Valerie, at 10:51 PM  

  • wow, what a tough situation...definately could have been handled differently. Sounds like you fam-in-laws dealt with it with class though.

    By Blogger bardouble29, at 10:54 PM  

  • Yeah, that could have been handled much better by the property people! I'm glad it all worked out. Enjoy the tourism.

    By Blogger Michael C, at 12:18 AM  

  • catch more flies with honey than acid.

    simple as that. maybe its just how i was raised but even though i have a hell of a mouth on me... when i screw up or even not when i screw up but just to appease the situation... you be nice.

    i'm nice until your an ass then i turn into the GODFATHER... with boobs. well.. marlon brando had boobs... nevermind.

    By Blogger Yasamin, at 2:21 AM  

  • What a terrible experience! I hope the rest of their vacation wasn't/isn't ruined by this encounter.

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 9:26 AM  

  • JB,

    What you have described in your story is can be described as the difference between "service" and "hospitality".

    "Service" is provision of yourself or an effort to perform some task for someone else. it can be for free or it can be paid. it can be a job or a favor. It takes no personal concern nor extra attention as long as the task is completed in the time required. The way it is performed in much of South Florida, service is devoid of pride, concern or understanding beyond completion of the task in an untimely and careless fashion. It ultimately turns people into unthinking, mindless robots or, when in government, bureaucrats. It creates heaps of frustration for residents and visitors alike.

    "Hospitality" is service with sincere attention paid to the outcome of the service done on behalf of the recipient. Sometimes hospitality can be as simple as orally expressed concern "How was your day?" or "Did you enjoy your meal?". Other times hospitality is as complex as helping a stranded stranger change a tire, leading them to a safe place and making sure someone trustworthy is attending to their every need before you go on you way.

    Providing hospitality is considered the most Christian of services because it requires you to act, as Christ did, in selfless service of others as a means of providing for your own happiness before God. It is why Southerners, as self annointed bearers of the mantle of America's Model Christ disciples, pride themselves on their "hospitality". Many good and God-fearing Christian folk south of the Mason Dixon line take the story of Lazarus and the Good Samaritan to heart and try to live their lives according to this doctrine. Never mind that the ignorance and insanity of racist beliefs clouds this effort, once Southern people get over themselves, you will find that they are fairly generous, if not to a fault. It is almost impossible to go hungry in a true Southern town, regardless of your background.

    Miami is not a true Southern town anymore. People who are here, regardless, of their place of origin, don't feel a need to provide others with hospitality for its own sake. Maybe it's because they never learned it, never received it, or never wanted to give it. One thing is for sure, though--the collective lack of hospitality will make all of us suffer here in this magnet for other people's money. For if their money goes someplace where it feels more appreciated, our economy will go with it.

    But don't worry about others--Do your duty and perform a selfless act of kindness for its own sake. You will feel better as a result, guaranteed.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 1:13 PM  

  • Sounds like that good ole Fla hospitality has kicked in once again. Good thing your in-laws don't have a blog or that property would be up the proverbial creek right about now.

    By Blogger Dayngr, at 2:51 PM  

  • if one does not like people, one should not work in a people based industry, such as that jerky lady. she sucks!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:03 PM  

  • First time here. Aside from that fabulous display of people skills I got to read about, what really made me cringe was that you reminded me that my mother-in-law is coming to visit on Friday. Ugg.

    By Blogger Mitch McDad, at 6:08 PM  

  • James, you work for a newspaper. Print the story. Easy, simple, problem solved. No need to elaborate or sound mean, just the facts should do nicely. Even if you don't tell the name of the company readers will call in and ask. Even a threat of that kind of publicity would be enough.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 6:17 PM  

  • Oh, yuck.

    By Blogger hyacinths and biscuits, at 11:42 PM  

  • Sheriff's deputies? Damn, that's harsh. Glad to hear they've got nothing more important to do down there in Fla.

    Yep, sounds like she was covering her ass. You should name names.

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 1:55 AM  

  • Wow, if this is how she acts with customers, imagine how she is at home.

    Isn't the first rule of business to fake it? Who would be so stupid as to not fix a situation? Darn, it's not like they were squatting vagrants or anything.

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 1:59 AM  

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