Can complaining lead to a better life? Amy Fish, author of I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need, thinks it can! In fact, as the “Chief Complaints Officer” (also known as the ombudsman) for Concordia University in Montreal, Amy spends her days investigating, analyzing, and resolving complaints for a whole variety of people. She believes we all can make the world a better place by standing up for ourselves — even about the small things.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
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You need to have the courage to live life. This includes learning to ask for what you need or want. Sometimes you are out to correct an injustice or right a wrong; other times all you’re trying to do is order a side of fries.
Let me introduce you to Teenage Me. I’m with my friends. It’s lunchtime. We are hungry, and we’re allowed to leave school. It’s Julie’s turn to go to the counter and place our order. I ask her to get me fries.
There are eleven of us in a red vinyl booth that would be tight for four. I am fourteen years old and have eaten nothing but celery and egg whites for three days.* Julie returns to the table, presumably having placed our order. Fifteen minutes elapse, which might not sound like a lot, but in fry time this is close to a year.
None of us have been served. I am going to pass out from hunger. My body will slide to the gummy floor and melt into the linoleum, and generations of fry eaters will tread on me until my face becomes part of the tile.
Our server arrives with pizza, subs, and a couple of salads. He is fryless.
I swallow back tears. (They are salty but lacking in crunch.)
“Jules,” I say to my best friend, tucking a strand of her light-brown hair behind her ear, “what do you think happened to our fries?”
“Well, like, I went up and ordered them?” Julie speaks in questions.
“Uh-huh?” I ask.
“But, um, I’m not sure if they heard me,” Julie says.
I want to SCREAM. You’re kidding, I think. You mean to tell me that all this time, I’ve been waiting for french fries that we never even ordered? I’ve been counting the minutes, saliva gathering in my taste buds, ready to gnaw off my arm in hunger! I’ve been waiting for fries that were never even on their way? I want to say all this out loud, at the top of my starving lungs, but instead, I look down at the empty plate in front of me and mumble to Julie, “I wanted fries with that.”
The following lessons strike me like lightning:
- Speaking up, and asking for what you need, is harder than you think.
- If you don’t ask for what you want, you will not get what you need.
- If you send your friend to ask for what you want, she may not be able to do it, in which case you won’t get what you need.
- I was born with the ability to make sure my voice is heard, and I need to use this gift wisely. For example, I should have been the one to get up and order the fries.
- Many of us need help building this skill, and it’s in my best interest to teach you how, if only so that I could send you to pick up my fries next time, because Julie clearly doesn’t have this one nailed.
Fourteen-year-old me is still in the diner. Starving.
I’d better get out of here and run to the bakery before class, because it doesn’t look like I’m having french fries anytime soon.
Minutes later, once I have a whole-wheat bagel and a frosty Diet Coke in my hand, and my blood sugar returns to normal, I think about all the fries that go unordered, all the questions that go unanswered, and all the voices that don’t speak up just because people don’t know what to say or how to say it. I believe that with the right guidance, anyone can learn how to complain effectively.
Right then and there, I commit to teach fourteen-year-old girls ordering fries (and the rest of the general population) how to make sure they can get what they need. How to make sure that when any of us asks for something, we are stacking the odds so strongly in our favor that we have the best possible chance of getting what we want.
In other words, I commit to making sure that people know how to complain effectively.
For the past few years, I’ve been Chief Complaints Officer — also known as the ombudsman — at a huge city college with over fifty thousand students. Students and staff come and see me when they believe they’ve been treated unfairly — fries that are too soggy, fries served cold, fries that were never ordered. Just kidding. Julienned potatoes are not within my jurisdiction.
I help with exams that have been graded incorrectly, campus jobs that turned out to be not as advertised, group projects that have gone off the rails, and one memorable incident with a lab rat that — well, I’ve said too much already.†
Listening to complaints all day, I’ve amassed a giant headache. Nah — I love what I do. Listening to complaints all day, I’ve amassed a giant list of what works when you’re complaining and what doesn’t work, and I have a tongue-burning desire to share all this knowledge with you. In each of these chapters we will review tips for speaking up for yourself, and I will provide a real-life example for each.
* Huge exaggeration. Although I did follow many stupid fad diets in my day (Miracle Soup?), this is an extreme example meant to show you I was hungry.
† There wasn’t really an incident with a lab rat. I’m joking.
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Amy Fish is the author of I Wanted Fries with That and the ombudsman for Concordia University, where she responds to complaints from students, faculty, staff, and the community, resolving disputes of every ilk. She has written for the Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, and the Globe and Mail. She lives with her family in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Find out more about her work at www.AmyFishWrites.com.
Excerpted from the book I Wanted Fries with That. Copyright © 2019 by Amy Fish.