The fast-food speaker repeated the phrase after almost every sentence: “My pleasure.”

“It would be my pleasure to serve you today ... You would like another sandwich? It would be my pleasure to add that to your order ... It would be my pleasure to read your order back to you ...”

Of course, the voice repeating the line came from a young woman taking food orders from customers and a job instruction from her employer. The line is apparently part of the restaurant’s mantra.

Likely, a manager drills it into the employees’ heads to answer “my pleasure” as much as possible. Sort of like some restaurants have employees say hello as soon as you enter the door, or others say so long by saying see you tomorrow ... subliminal ways of putting the thought into your head to choose them again the next time you’re hungry.

Even knowing that this is some form of brainwashing with both employees and customers, I couldn’t help but think, isn’t hearing “my pleasure,” well, quite pleasant.

It certainly beats the places where cashiers treat customers as nuisances, where employees refuse to acknowledge a customer’s purchase with more than a grunt let alone a “thank you,” where contempt registers in the employees’ eyes while the cash register rings a higher total.

So, “my pleasure” was my pleasure, too.

Still, I couldn’t help wonder how this young woman, a teenager, would eventually break herself of this habit. Such things have a tendency to leave a stamp on a person both on and off the clock.

In college, I worked for a year as a resident assistant. Part of the job required a commitment to always respond, no matter when, to the sound of a fire alarm. Living in a dorm filled with college students, fire alarms sounded regularly all hours of the day, especially in the middle of the night. As an RA, you heard the alarm, you didn’t think, you acted automatically.

Granted, this doesn’t have anything to do with language. But, really, neither does saying, “my pleasure.” It’s about reflex. It’s about response. I jumped at the sound of an alarm whether or not I was on duty in a dorm. Hearing an alarm, I prepared to scramble for an emergency for a few years after being an RA. The sound of the alarm became that ingrained.

If we aren’t careful, even in the land of the free, even if we fully believe in free will, we all have the potential to become Pavlov’s dogs. We will respond to that which we’ve become conditioned, especially if our response means the continuation of our paychecks or the possibility of a raise.

I have occasionally answered my personal phone, “The Valdosta Daily Times” or “newsroom.”

So, I couldn’t help but wonder about the possibility of this young woman struggling with “my pleasure” outside of work. Because at work, she included it with everything she said. It had to leak into her non-working hours.

At school, asked by a teacher to share something with the class, “It would be my pleasure to answer the question.”

With friends, “It would be my pleasure to go to the movies with you.”

At home, “It would be my pleasure to do the dishes.”

Stopped speeding, and asked for her driver’s license, “My pleasure.”

Called about a late bill, “It’s my pleasure to take your call.”

I wondered how often she said, my pleasure, outside of work, regarding things that brought her no pleasure at all. Then, I recalled she had to deal with the madness, desires, irritations, aggravations, wants, demands and all of the other sordid, whiny behavior of “the public” every workshift.

After dealing with “the public,” anything else probably is a pleasure.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.

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