Would you like a helping hand? Maybe not, but …

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Giving help to someone with multiple sclerosis, or any other disability for that matter, can be fraught with difficulty for the well-meaning person. And that difficulty comes as much from our reaction as to any mistake on the part of the person offering to help.

Yes, we all like to do what we can, to maintain as much independence that we can and we have all met people who show an amazing amount of insensitivity; virtually forcing us to begrudgingly accept their interference. You know the ones, they don’t so much offer to give assistance as swing into action to give help before you have time to react.

helpBe honest, how often have you felt “put upon”, that the offered assistance was really unwanted and unwarranted interference? I suspect, more often that most of us would like to admit!

Additionally, many of us have often fought to preserve our much-valued independence and used, intentionally or not, a terse “I can manage” or “I don’t need your help” – probably said snappily.

In the face of such responses, it should be no surprise that so many people who could help decide not to do so. In fact, fearful of being given the proverbial brush-off, they often don’t even offer.

It really does not cost those of us who are disabled to be polite. We can all learn to treat with courtesy the people who want to give their assistance. That’s not to say that we always have to accept, far from it, but surely we can say “thank you” for the kind offer while politely saying that we are able to do it ourselves.

Saying “no, thank you, I can manage” doesn’t have to be rude or give offence.

Like cleanliness, you will find that politeness costs nothing. What’s more, it doesn’t hurt. No, really, it doesn’t.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

Helpfulness and politeness are so delightful

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One thing that Lisa and I have noticed since moving to the Iberian peninsula is how helpful the Spanish people are towards others. Indeed, we have experienced this first hand on a number of occasions.

Arriving at a large general store that seems to have whatever you want, we found that there were a number of steps up to the door. We did not see the ramp, so Lisa took my wheelchair up the steps and made uit ready while I slowly climbed up one step at a time while using the one handrail. Having completed our shopping, one of the staff guided me down the stairs, carried the wheelchair down and then helped bring our goods to the car.

Since then, on arriving at the same store, we realised that there is a wheelchair access ramp at the far end. This leads up to a lengthy walkway along the front of the building to reach the front door.

So far so good, but the access walkway was blocked close to the door by various items put on display to catch the attention of anyone passing by. Just as we got there, though, a different the staff member came outside to enjoy a cigarette but that took a poor second place when she saw us. Instead, she quickly moved everything out of out of the way and made sure we could get in safely. After we paid, the same young lady made sure that we got down the ramp safely before bringing all our shopping to the car and then loaded it in for us – not a service they usually provide.

Two other examples of Spanish good manners have both happened outside the medical centre we go to in the main town nearest our home. It’s about six miles away.

The first time was when a man saw Lisa struggling to get me in my wheelchair up the so-called dropped kerb. Well, it is dropped from the full pavement/sidewalk height but still leaves a definite step up from the roadway itself. On this occasion, the man, a member of the public, offered his help and he quickly got me up that step and wheeled me inside, through two double doors, before considering his task complete.

This morning, however, took the prize. Having had some difficulty getting the car’s ignition key out of the steering column (a problem that I have since overcome), I said to Lisa to go in without me. Once I had solved the key conundrum, I managed to find a closer parking spot and decided to try ad wheel myself inside. I got the chair out of the back of the car and assembled it. I then struggled to push it across the road and up onto the pavement.

It was at this point a another man, again a member of the public, appeared and asked, in Spanish, if it was my wheelchair and if I would like his help. I understood enough to say that it was my chair and, yes, I would like to accept his kind offer.

He held the chair steady while I got in carefully and got my feet into the rests and then he pushed me inside before asking where I needed to go. I told him I had to reach the nurse clinics and so he wheeled me there where I found Lisa again.

Neither of us have experienced any similar acts of such helpfulness or good manners in either the UK or USA – although I am sure that some people must have done so – but it has created in our minds such a delightful impression of helpfulness and politeness on the part of Spanish people.

Please smile politely, thank you

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It may be an old fashioned attitude but, to me, good manners and politeness are still an important part of everyday life.

Today, such things as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are so often ignored as we go about our 21st century lives.

Sadly for children in our modern society, the lapse in the use of common courtesy comes from people who should themselves be good role models and should also be correcting their offspring for not being polite.

I saw an example of this lapse in the following story posted on Facebook from Joanne, a friend of mine.

She wrote: “So I’m up at the beach and decide to get an ice cream from the usual Mr. Happy go Lucky man, due to the fact there isn’t another one there, and I say with a smile: ‘Could I have a 99 please?’ Expressionless man says ‘£2.20.’ Note, no ‘please’ and this is as he is doing my ice cream. He shoves the flake in and practically throws it at me. I say ‘Have you any red stuff (fruit sauce) please? A very emphatic NO was the reply! If I hadn’t been so hungry I would have told him what to do with his ice cream.

“So I take it back to my car, then a man comes to the car next to me with four ice creams and says to me: ‘How on earth do they do any business here? What an obnoxious man selling ice creams.’

OK, so he may not have been as busy as he wanted but, for goodness sake, at least smile. I will NOT be spending money with him again.”

I commented: “Not a great example of customer relations or good manners.”

And Joanne replied: “No, not at all Ian, but I’m afraid it seems to becoming the norm.”

Is it? I hope not. It does seem to be here in the UK but I wonder about the rest of the world. So many societies have politeness and good manners as intrinsic values but we seem to have forgotten how to make good use of them.

In this guy’s case, he is certainly not doing himself any favours in terms of business and he clearly knows nothing about good customer relations.

When it comes in increasing profits, it’s essential to give attention to existing customers and for an ice cream vendor that means a friendly smile, a chatty attitude and offering each customer that ‘something extra’, such as having the fruit sauce available and offering to add it free of charge – without waiting to be asked.

If he is incapable of doing that, or unwilling, maybe he should find a job which does not involve contact with customers or the public. He certainly appears to find a sales role unfulfilling.

Satisfying existing customers is essential to keeping any business thriving and the way to attract repeat business is to treat all customers in a way that has a positive effect on them.

A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ would be a good start and that would also be a great example for all children.

• There are other examples of good/bad service and good/bad customer relations that will be the subject of a future blog – or two.