Greetings of the day and arrogance, perceived or otherwise
The greetings of the day are: Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Good Evening. As a New Cadet, I was expected to greet any other cadet with the appropriate greeting of the day; upperclassmen cadets were to be called "sir" or "ma'am," as in "Good Morning, ma'am!"
As big as the university itself was, it was located in a smallish city in a southern state, that was only then growing from its small town-hood into something approaching urbanity. So it still retained, as did its inhabitants, a great deal of small town charm and manners. Saying "hello" to near or complete strangers was still okay, although something of a culture shock for out-of-state students from the northeast.
It was interesting to me how certain customs in the military mirrored those of small-town, rural or southern America. For much of its existance, the military was itself a small town, or a series of small towns, scattered at posts across the country. But I digress.
Getting out into the larger, active duty army revealed that although the custom of greetings of the day existed, it was something of a relic in many places. Large military installations were much like large urban areas, where you didn't speak to people you encountered on the street or in shops or stores, unless you already knew them. You had to salute more senior officers, of course, but often without even speaking. I found my previous indoctrination made me a bit of an anachronism that way (but I don't really mind being an anachronism; I think of it as being "Old School").
Fast forward to the Foreign Service. The Department spends a considerable amount of effort to ensure FSOs have the language (and people) skills they need to do their jobs overseas and to manage the staff they'll find at their next posts. More than one section of both my A-100 (new FSO orientation) class as well as other leadership and management training classes touched on issues of working with Locally Employed Staff (LES; who were at that time still called FSNs or Foreign Service Nationals). A point mentioned again and again is the frequently and widely held perception by LESs that American FSOs are arrogant and unfriendly.
Why this perception? Leaving aside such cheap shots as the fact that some FSOs are in fact arrogant and unfriendly, many times this perception stems from the simple root of FSOs not saying "good morning" to their fellow LES mission employees. And its not as if they don't know better; they are told this again and again in training.
State Department instructors make sure that FSOs receiving language instruction receive at least a basic grounding in the simple polite phrases necessary to say "hello" or "good morning" or "how are you?" They told at least two or three times in the course of their orientation that if they don't at least make an effort to observe the simple civilities, their local staff will think them arrogant and rude. And yet the problem persists.
Part of it is cultural. In a large urban setting, such as many of the places where new FSOs have attended university or worked, megapolii such as New York and Los Angeles and cities which ape them in their lack of public civility (such as Washington, D.C.), people don't observe the basic good manners of saying "hello" before launching into talking about work or giving orders about what next needs to be done immediately if not sooner. That sense of urgency, of mission, of needing to proceed with the business of the day, whether that be jump-starting the visa interview and issuance process or organizing a press conference or scheduling meetings with local officials, is fine and more than fine, it's essential. But it's not the only thing that's important. As vital to American diplomacy as the diplomats themselves are, to the smooth operation of the actual embassies, missions and consulates themselves, Locally Employed Staff are essential. LES are one of those force multipliers of American diplomacy. They do a lot of the legwork that allow FSOs to concentrate on the things that only they can (or are permitted by statute) to do. So not alienating them by being unfriendly and rude would seem to be a no-brainer.
And yet the problem persists. It's really not that hard either. It's basic people skills. Sometimes you have to jump in with both feet and get right to work, without taking time for pleasantries, and if that's not how you act every day, so much the better; your LESs aren't stupid, they'll know that if you're skipping the formalities you usually practise it's for a good reason and they'll respond. Usually. But that needs to be the exception, or it won't work.