Confession No. 60 — I’d like to order a smile with that service

I‘m extremely fortunate.

I’ve loved every job that I’ve held in my adulthood. Yes, almost every day is Friday for me. But it wasn’t always that way.

As a 15-year-old working at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken I really wanted to like my job, but I was often bored … and hungry. When I wasn’t joking with customers that Col. Sanders was really a Nazi spy (hey, I grew up in the 80s), I could be found in the stall of the men’s restroom eating a two-piece snack. I was caught twice in the walk-in fridge eating cole slaw and pudding cups. The second time was the final straw.

It was then on to Red Lobster, where they told me I’d have to work my way up from the dish room. I might have worked there for three months when I decided that I was tired of smelling like cocktail sauce, grease and rancid fish. After all of my pleas, I was once allowed to scrub potatoes. On another occasion, I dredged tiny shrimp in some sort of crumb mixture. But each time, I was sent back to clean up everyone else’s mess.

Maybe construction could’ve been my thing, except, I liked neither heat nor hard work. As a 16-year-old go-fer working in the middle of the Texas summer, even the $10-per-hour cash (in 1986, no less) wasn’t worth it.

But through it all, whether I was dealing with a drunk customer at the drive-thru, or a surly construction foreman who spent about 10 years too many in the sun, I managed to find some sort of satisfaction. Oh, I wasn’t always happy scrubbing bowls, lugging around lumber or packing nine pieces of Original Recipe into a small bucket. But you’d have never known it from the other side of the counter.

A few weeks ago, I stopped at a convenience store for some beer and Lemonheads. I asked the lady behind the counter how she was doing.

“Not very good,” she responded.

“Why not?” I replied.

“Now, why you gonna ask me ‘Why not?’ when you really don’t care?” she shot back.

“Well, I care, else I wouldn’t have asked.”

“You don’t care,” she said. “People always be coming in here asking me ‘Why this?’ and ‘Why that?’ when they don’t really give a damn. Truth is, it ain’t none yo business anyways, so I don’t even know why you asked.”

I just laughed at that point and told her that I hoped her day improved. Fast forward to this past week, when I entered the same store and the owner was working the late afternoon shift. As it goes, he had to let his bundle of sunshine go, because “she just didn’t know how to deal with people.” You don’t say…

A checker at one of my favorite local grocery stores is another usual suspect when it comes to being tight-lipped and less than courteous.

During a shopping trip last month, the scanner declined my check card. So, I scanned it again with the same result.

“It declined your card,” she said, without expression.

“Yes, I know,” I responded. “It looks like it’s going through and as soon as the signature part comes up the screen goes blank.”

“Your card is declined,” she repeated in the same monotonous voice.

“Yeah. Is it my card? Or is it the machine? Because, it gets to the signature part and then goes blank”

“It declined your card,” she said for the third time, her stare just as blank as it had been for the previous 30 seconds.

So, I pulled out another card and everything went through fine.

“Looks like I used the wrong card,” I said to her with an embarrassed laugh.

Then, without a word, she handed me my receipt.

Words, I’ve noticed, are also hard to come by for some counter workers at fast food restaurants. But lately, when I approach the register and the person wearing the flop hat and name tag just looks at me, I look back.

I’ve lost a lot of staring contests through the years, because I can’t help but laugh. The only way I tend to win is when I think of something sad. I’ve not had to take it that far at the local McDonald’s or Burger King, since most of them break at about 15 seconds. But, I’m more than willing.

Before you go thinking that my own little case study involves only low-paid workers in high octane working conditions, consider the pharmacist — a position for which the median salary in the U.S. is about $115,000 annually (

Ever notice that he can make eye contact with you all day long and remain expressionless? I often feel as if there are some ivory tower qualities about that raised enclosed little section of the store. While we’re on the subject, why does it take 45 minutes to count 30 pills and place them in an amber-colored plastic container?

And what about judges … on competition cooking shows such as Chopped? Though I could find no hard salary data, my research tells me that these guys make a minimum of $100,000 — per episode. But let’s be conservative and assume that they make only $50,000 or even $25,000 per episode. At $25,000, each judge will add more than $375,000 to his annual income by the end of August. Not bad.

I don’t make nearly as much. Chances are, you don’t either. But — I’ll bet — we smile a lot more during our day jobs than they do.

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I’m neither Chinese, nor am I sharing with you an ancient recipe. This is one that I — a German — developed about 20 years ago. While I’ve had some pretty good Chinese eggrolls over the years, these are my favorite. They became my wife’s favorite as well — after I threw a fit following her initial tepid review.  Feel free to change the ratio of meat to vegetables. I’ve also added chopped mushrooms and a small amount of chile paste. The results were tasty.

World’s Best Chinese Eggrolls & Three Dipping Sauces

How good are these Chinese eggrolls? Good enough that I don't eat them with sauce. But if you like to dip yours, this trio runs the flavor gamut.

These really are the world’s best Chinese eggrolls.

World's Best Chinese Eggrolls
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Chinese
  • 1 – 16 oz. bag Shredded cabbage (tri-color cole slaw mix is fine)
  • 1 cup – Fresh bean sprouts
  • 1 – 8 oz. can Bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed and chopped finely
  • 1 – 8 oz. can Water chestnuts, drained, rinsed and chopped finely
  • 1 – Celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 – Green onions, chopped
  • 3 – Garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp – Fresh ginger root, minced
  • 2 tsp – Five spice powder
  • 1 lb. - Ground pork
  • ½ lb. - Shrimp, cooked and diced
  • 1 – 14-16 oz. pkg. Eggroll wrappers
  • Beaten egg (for sealing egg rolls)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. In medium skillet, cook ground pork over medium heat with 1 tsp each of the ginger root and garlic. While pork is cooking, mix cabbage, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, celery, green onions, shrimp, remaining garlic cloves, ginger root and five spice powder in large bowl. Drain cooked pork and pour on top of filling mix. When cool enough to handle, mix well.
  2. Spoon about ¼ to ⅓ cup of the filling in the center of the eggroll wrapper from left to right. Grab the bottom corner of the wrapper and fold it over the mixture, tucking it. Fold in the sides (it'll resemble an opened letter envelope at this point), then roll the eggroll until there is no more wrapper. Dab the eggroll with beaten egg so that the top corner of the wrapper sticks to the roll.
  3. Repeat process until mixture, or wrappers, are used. (Mixture freezes well and makes a great starter for next time.)
  4. Use a deep fryer, if possible, heating oil to medium high. If using a skillet, pour enough oil to reach at least halfway up the eggrolls. Fry eggrolls until golden on all sides. Serve hot. Makes about 20 eggrolls.
Apricot Sweet & Sour Sauce
  1. /2 cup – Apricot preserves
  2. TB – Soy sauce
  3. TB – Rice vinegar
  4. TB – Fresh cilantro, chopped
  5. Mix preserves, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Cook uncovered over low heat in small saucepan until preserves liquefy. Turn off heat, stir in cilantro. Allow to sit for about 20 minutes to cool and thicken slightly.
Soy Chile Sauce
  1. /4 cup – Soy sauce
  2. TB – Chile paste -or- chile garlic paste
  3. TB – Green onions, chopped finely
  4. tsp – Honey
  5. Combine all ingredients.
Mustard Ginger Sauce
  1. TB – Ground mustard
  2. tsp – Ground ginger
  3. tsp – Rice vinegar
  4. tsp – Soy sauce
  5. tsp – Water
  6. Combine all ingredients.



  1. fransiweinstein says:

    There is an epidemic of unsmiling, discourteous service going on. I encounter it everyday. At the very least you’d think people would be grateful they have a job.

  2. The Mom Chef says:

    I always wonder, if you can’t be nice to the strangers who are paying your salary, how do you treat your kids and spouse once you get home? Then I cringe and try harder to make them laugh so maybe some of life’s joy will rub off, even a little. Or, I could rub one of those egg rolls on them? I love, love, love a GOOD egg roll. And the only sauce I take with mine is a good hot mustard, though the thought of adding ginger (why not grated fresh?)…it makes me smile.

    • Mom Chef – I think we pretty much know what those people are like when they get home. In most cases, they aren’t exactly a pleasure to be around. Too bad for them and the people who love them. I appreciate your kind words. As for the ginger in the mustard? You can certainly use fresh. It’s difficult for the ginger to come through (no offense, ‘Chopped’ judges), which is why I use the more concentrated powder version in this particular sauce.

  3. These look and sound really good. I haven’t made egg rolls in a long time. Might have to. The sauces sound great too.

    • Thanks, Marti! Seems like you always have the freshest produce around, so I’m sure yours will be ‘Better than the World’s Best Chinese Eggrolls.’ By the way, you can use any variety of cabbage with great results.

  4. I’m also annoyed as hell by cold, disinterested workers but, Chopped judges aside, I’m not sure I agree about pay scale and economics not being factors. The clerks at my supermarket are cold but the managers are friendly. And I can take care of my pharmacy needs at a large, well known and highly impersonal chain store or I can patronize the small independent pharmacy on the next corner. I chose the latter and that pharmacist and all her staff are as nice and friendly as can be. I chatted with her about it once (yes, she’ll chat) and she said that with the big store so close, her staff had better be extra nice if they’d like to stay in business.

    • Anita – Money is definitely a factor, but I don’t think it should be. It’s OK to not like your job because you make $8 an hour. It’s not OK to act like an ass or a recluse toward the customers because you make $8 an hour. By the way, I use ‘he,’ referring to mankind. (It’s what they used to teach us in English class before politics entered the curriculum process). But my use of ‘he’ with regard to pharmacists is meant to point to men. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a less-than-friendly she-pharmacist, be it a big box or a mom & pop store. I’m not sure why, but that’s my experience. As for your local pharmacy, those are the small businesses that I root for. We still have a few around here that I’ll choose over the national chains (though they are more expensive) for that reason. Glad you stopped by!

  5. juanitascocina says:

    My wife likes to tell the story of her visit to Church’s Chicken. Her tooth had just been removed after it had cracked in half after a rogue Mardi Gras bead incident. She was waiting for her dental crown to come in to the dentist’s office. And she was feeling self conscious (it was a top front tooth) and stopped at the chicken place with no intention of talking to anyone. And that’s odd for her….because she’s a social butterfly. She kept her head down with the intention of ignoring any attempts to converse. And then she looked straight into the face of a grinning employee at the order window…who was grinning WIDE and big as a possum, and who was also missing a front tooth.

    Linda likes to say she learned that day that there’s no excuse not to smile and be friendly…even if you’re missing your front tooth.

    I learned today how to make egg rolls and Linda has been asking me for some forever. Guess what we’re having for dinner?

  6. Maybe I see the world from a slightly different angle, but when the clerks and counter personnel are less than courteous to me I just think to myself ,”this person is really my servant for this brief moment in time , I am the sole reason they exist in this space”. ………servant ….master……..Ilike being a master,life is good. who cares what my slaves think?

  7. I think it’s his sexy legs that get him those extras!

  8. I get great fun by being excessively nice and chatty with the servers who do not respond. It seems to have one of two outcomes. Either they become totally surly when they see me coming (A win of sorts for me.) or they manage to open up just a bit and engage in conversation (A win for both of us). Happy face wins most of the time.

  9. BTW, the hair net does little for you!
    Have a great weekend,

  10. I enjoyed your story! The best fast food customer service I have encountered is Chick-fil-E. They blow me away sometimes with their genuine verbiage of kindness; and this is usually early morning before work.

    Your Chinese egg rolls with 3 dipping sauces look absolutely delicious! You have a great blog!

    • Thank you, Judy. Chick-fil-A customer service is indeed outstanding. Did you know that you have to go through three interviews before they’ll hire you? But, unlike a lot of other places, they’ll work around your schedule if you happen to be a student. By the way, I want you to know that I go to your blog when I have a sweet tooth.

      • Thank you for that information. We talk daily at work of how customer service oriented they are. And now I know why; wonderful! Publix is like that too.

        Thank you so much for the kind compliment. I appreciate it.


  11. Love this!!

    Went to Dunkin’ Donuts for a decaf coffee and a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with egg & cheese (my favorite!)…and my driver’s side window auto button was acting crazy!! The window would come down & go right back up again!! So I had to hold my left finger on the button to keep it down…so I could get my coffee & food!

    Well, the young girl at the window handed me my bag of food, the coffee, and my change all at the same time…I didn’t have enough hands to grab it all…so I HAD to let go of the button holding the window down! The window started up while I still had the hot coffee in my hand!! It crushed the cup, hot coffee poured out all over my window, and into my car. I barely got my hand out before it was crushed by the window!!

    And the young girl with no expression whatsoever says to me, “Do you want another cup of coffee?”

    Really? I know it wasn’t her fault, but no, “I’m so sorry you almost burned yourself and got your hand crushed…can I give you something to wipe your coffee stained car door with???

    I believe they’re taught this “don’t get involved” attitude at this Dunkin’ Donuts, because last month I went there again…fifteen minutes BEFORE closing, asking for a donut…and the young boy with no expression said, “We don’t have any donuts.”

    I looked at the sign, looked at the boy, and drove away!!

    “Great post!! Love your outlook on life, and your egg rolls look yummy, too!!” I said with a smile!!!

    • What you encountered at Dunkin Donuts were a couple of kids with absolutely no training — except in how to run the register. Out of donuts? At Dunkin Donuts? Some manager believes that he is saving his company some dough by not having to throw away donuts at the end of the evening. What he doesn’t realize is that thousands of people will see your comment. Ah, well.. I’m glad you stopped by and hope that all is well. :-)

      • My sentiments exactly!!

        Gee, at our favorite Bed & Breakfast in Spring Lake, NJ, the owner made the best bread pudding out of leftover crumbled up muffins!! They served every variety of muffin you could think of for breakfast…froze the leftovers, and when they had enough, she made a huge pan of bread pudding!! Delicious!

        Must be something you can make with leftover Dunkin’ Donuts!!

        • You think there might be a homeless shelter nearby? Seriously. Can Vladimir not get a tax write-off for donating food?

          • Our Drama Team actually works with a Homeless Shelter…I’ll suggest that tax break idea to Vladimir!!! And we’ll bring some Dunkin’ Donuts!!

            We’ll have to let the kids at Dunkin’ Donuts know to make extra, since they close at 9 pm, and are normally out of donuts by 7 pm!!

            Ridiculous way to run a business!!

  12. Always love your posts and musings about life…so true…but, love your recipes even more! These sauces are great! Keep smilin’ my friend! xo Ally

  13. mylifeisthebestlife says:

    I completely agree with what, I believe, is the root of your story. It’s fine if you don’t like your job – lots of people don’t. But you should have the courtesy to at least be civil to others. I’m always delightful to people, and I’m honestly SHOCKED when I come across someone who just ignores that and chooses to remain grumpy.

  14. Love the picutre, share the sentiments about words being short and inadequate in today’s brief encounters!

  15. You would think that with unemployment as high as it is the ‘unfriendly’ ones would think twice about being more friendly with customers. AND for how long it takes to count pills, you sound like a person that has been in multiple jobs and can figure out that after getting the job there was more to it than you knew before being trained in that particular job, I dont count pills but my sister does, and you have several things going at one time, more than one customer to count for, as well as filling insurance claims, making sure you are not on something else that you should not take that pill with, typing the info in so the label can print, etc while making small talk with the customers and getting to know them and picking up on things that matter with the pills they are taking, maybe? I have been a nurse before and have had to deal with the same thing, how long does it take to get a pill and bring it to me, lots of things to check before just handing you one sir, and if i get it wrong it may mean your life and my job, and you can bet that that and other things was not taught in nursing school so by the time you have gone to that much school and get to the job in the real world things are quiet different, SORRY this is so long, got long winded, I have never tried your recipes, I want to and also my favorite is POTSTICKERS, but I love it that you responded to each person and as I read your responses I could see your smile and great outlook on life,

    • Carol – My wife is a nurse, so I understand the need to multitask sometimes. If it were just a pharmacist behind that counter, I could understand. But the pharmacist, in the places I frequent, don’t handle everything you mention. And my insurance is already in their computer. Just sayin..;-)

  16. I’ve never made egg rolls thinking that they were really hard to to & that I’d have to drive into Chinatown in Boston to get the ingredients but lo & behold, looks like I can get all the fixings at my supermarket. Really love the sound of that sweet sauce.
    I would think you bring out the best in people, but just goes to show, some people lost their “best” somewhere along the way. It’s timely reading this since a friend & I have been talking about how it seems some people seem to just be looking for something to be angry about or to be offended, shocked, even horrified.
    Do you think people over-use those words?
    Maybe it’s just because my friend & I both use AOL and get the Huffington Post “news”. They have a tendency to use headlines that say “I Was Shocked when….” or “You can imagine my horror …” and I always get sucked in to see what was so shocking & horrifying. Usually it’s something that most people would say “oh well” or “I was annoyed”. Last week there was a “shocked” mother who brought her dog to a T ball game and was SHOCKED that a little girl came over to play with the dog. Ok, that part didn’t shock her, but the little girl’s mother was on a cell phone and didn’t come over to get her child when apparently this woman decided she was tired of the little girl. Rather than tell the little girl to go back to her mother (of course this woman would never be so rude to a child, plus what if the child were kidnapped on the way to her mother?) or walk her back to the mother saying “you lose somebody?”, this woman decided to stew the entire game then rant on her post about unfit parents.
    I much prefer your approach – show ‘em what happy & polite looks like, then laugh. So were you SHOCKED by the clerk’s behavior? If you didn’t make her laugh, know that at least you made me laugh & I thank you.

  17. I am so glad I’m not the only one who has noticed the modern day death of smiling on the job/smiling at the people(customers) who make sure you HAVE a job. I have been known to go to customer service if a cashier is pleasant and cheerful and praise them to the management just because it’s become so darn rare and I want to make sure that those who do it are noticed for it.

    As to the egg rolls, will you marry me? Just don’t tell my husband or all the other bloggers I’ve proposed to.

    • Janet – It’s hard not to notice. Just Sunday afternoon, I went to Kroger to pick up a few odds and ends and started out in the produce section. I said “How’s it going?” to the man (probably about 50 years old) who was stocking bell peppers. His response: “No comment.” What an ambassador for the company! By the way, I’ve proposed to a number of bloggers myself, so your secret is safe with me.

  18. Hey, nice hairnet! I wear them as a “lunch lady”. My colleagues like the knot in the front of their foreheads because it is easy to peel off at the end of the day. I miss the sequined ones they used to sell in the five and dime stores.

  19. I love your attitude about things Adam. I had one of the rudest experiences of my life on vacation and I am still kind of in shock over it. I don’t quite get being rude to a customer. It’s just not the way I was raised. On the flip side I hate when customers are rude to people who work in stores, like taking out the long lines on a Saturday before a holiday on a checkout girl. That crap drives me nuts too. The world is a weird place now, it’s that whole “all about me” mentality. Crazy!

    I am digging the egg rolls. I’ve never been a huge fan of them but my hubby is. I need to try these out for him. They look like perfection to me.

    • Yeah, well … My wife was never a huge fan either — until I acted like a 3-year-old. Nowadays, she tells me what I want to hear (hence the name ‘World’s Best Eggrolls.’) On a side note, are you on WordPress now?

  20. Looks amazing, Adam. Eggrolls have been on my to-do list for awhile. I think when I finally get around to doing them, I’m gonna use some pulled pork. What do you think of that idea?

  21. Great post! I’ve been meaning to write the same thing myself for some time. I am firm believer that smiling makes the day smoother and human interaction more pleasant.

    I’d like to go into great detail about the time I was served at a child’s clothing store by a surly teen, clearly suffering from an intense hangover, protectively covering her delicate head and light-sensitive eyes with her shabby black hoodie… but that might make me grumpy. I shall save you my tirade and simply say: I hope you have a great day today!

  22. There are a lot of unhappy people out there. Dealing with hundreds of people every day can really wear on your spirit if you are not naturally outgoing. I worked on the front lines in the hospitality industry for 15 years. Many customers are just as surly and unsociable as your employee examples. It is hard to recognize when a customer really cares or they are just having a joke at the expense of the worker who has no choice but to not react, if they want to keep their job. It is easy to go numb. I think compassion is the way to go…and not to attempt to engage a worker who is obviously having a bad day.

  23. First off, your post made me smile. So thank you for making my day. Sad to say, i am sometimes guilty of this offence. I work in A & E and while I always start my shift with a smile (most days), I find that at the end of my shift or after one too many drunks, I’d go into zombie mode and try as I might, I just could not muster enough energy to smile. Oh and I’m not Chinese but those rolls do look great…

  24. What can I say?Life’s hard and you never know what is going on in someone’s life.Fast food is a hard living.Being the first one to make the move to try to break through and let people know that they are still human is a kindness.Who knows if you planted a seed that may not have sprouted then, but , maybe later,or with a little more fertilizer from someone else?
    Thanks for the ‘Like’; I will be back!

    • Having worked in fast food, I know that it is not the ideal work place (for me). I try to be kind to everyone I encounter. But, let’s be honest here … How many workers, be it fast food or whatever, told someone in a job interview that they were more than willing to smile at the counter? And, although I’m probably not the person to make this point (I tend to be a bleeding heart), if all I want is a hot fresh Big Mac, should I really concern myself with the cashier’s personal problems? Again, that same counter worker promised someone during a job interview that he would tow the company line. Besides, everyone has problems. (Just playing devil’s advocate here.)

  25. You’re right.We all have problems but we all need to deal with it.It is THEIR job to make the first move.They are getting paid to serve YOU. We’re on the same page.

  26. Haha this post is awesome. Especially about the card part. I used to work at a Sweet Factory at the local mall and when people use their debit cards I ask to see their id because we didn’t have the machine for their pin numbers. I usually got the “it’s a debit card” response and I just laugh cause apparently they didn’t know that I knew that they were trying to pay with their debit cards -__- Oh customer service…people used to think I was “weird” when I asked them how they were.

  27. YUM – used your sauces (or variations of them) and your eggroll recipe helped me make mine. I will be linking my readers back this way when I do my own post.

    ALSO…. may I use your delicious photo to link readers over here?

  28. Most dunkin donuts do not make the donuts on site. They are made at a warehouse and delivered to the stores. I know this because after the 4th time of visiting to find no donuts, I asked. One time there was still 3 hours until closing and they were out of donuts.

  29. I completely understand what you’re talking about with customer service. I am a flight attendant and am required to be courteous at all times. But what about the passengers, why aren’t they required to be courteous at all times? Love the dipping sauces. Mary

    • adamjholland says:

      I sort of appreciate Southwest Airlines’ mantra — treat (the employees there) like you want to be treated, else they’ll toss you. Seems to work for them. I appreciate your kind words.


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