This morning’s trip to Wal-Mart to purchase hair dye and fake eyelashes turned into what my friend Paul would describe as “interbitch aggression”.
I was innocently browsing dental floss when a 50-ish woman in stretch pants and an oversized T-shirt came around the corner. She was irritated with the smocked salesgirl trying to help her find the brand of electric toothbrush she was looking for. The salesgirl seemed unsure whether they still carried it, so she took her to where it used to be and started to look for it. Seemed like fine service to me. Better than I’d expect from Wal-Mart, honestly. When our new friend spotted her toothbrush before the salesgirl did, she pointed it out in a voice dripping with condescension and an eye roll before turning her back on her and ignoring her politely spoken, “Are you all set?….um, okay, well have a good day then…” I gave her a sympathetic smile as she walked away looking abashed. The instant she was gone, our friend looks at me and blurts, “She’s so STUPID Jesus Christ!”
Maybe this next detail is not relevant to this story, and maybe it is. You decide. The salesgirl was young and brown and had an accent. Our friend was an uneducated Tea Party sympathizer, I’d bet on it. (My ability to sense Tea Partiers is like a cursed kind of gaydar.) I work in town and I know her type.
I could have ignored this woman. If she hadn’t spoken to me first I’d have just walked away. But I needed her to know that I was not on her side.
“You were rude;” I said.
“What?” I’m not sure if she really hadn’t heard me, or if she thought she’d heard wrong, or if she was calling me out.
“YOU WERE RUDE,” I repeated, louder. She just walked away. There were more things I could have said. Shame on you, You’re the one who’s stupid, She was just trying to help you. But confrontation of any sort scares me. My legs go all shaky and my ability to communicate deserts me. I’m afraid of confrontation, but I’d rather deal with momentary fear than with pent-up anger afterward because I didn’t speak up.
A few years ago, I was waiting in line at the deli on Christmas Eve and witnessed a woman become enraged because the deli boy hadn’t sliced the cold cuts to her specifications. “I TOLD YOU TO SLICE IT REAL THIN,” she yelled as she chucked the bag at his chest. Deli Boy, of course, couldn’t react. She was a customer, although I believe violence toward an employee is grounds for ejection from a store. I caught the eye of a few people who witnessed the incident – Our faces all said Can you believe that? And on Christmas Eve, no less – but no one spoke a word to that wretched woman.
I have always regretted that I didn’t defend Deli Boy’s honor on Christmas Eve.
There are few things that will cement my low opinion of your morality, intelligence, and decency the way mistreating a service person will. I’m not saying every waiter or checkout girl is above reproach (inferior customer service will be the subject of a blog post all its own someday, I’m sure), but there is a type of person who feels entitled to behave abominably toward service people. It’s because they know they can get away with it – they’re bullies who wouldn’t dare attack someone who could actually react.
You get a bit of this working in libraries, but since everything is free at the library it’s lessened. We are public servants, not public slaves; which I feel requires a certain amount of tongue-biting but never, ever ass-kissing. Generally, I reject the “Kill them with kindness” theory of dealing with rude people because that is enabling their behavior. Sometimes I use the *blink*blink*blink* tactic. You can, too! It’s easy: Grandma turns into a banshee because she didn’t pick her hold up in time and it got sent back? Screechscreechscreech. It’s impossible that perhaps she made a mistake, no, you are incompetent and she’s going to make you pay. First, you turn into an automaton and hurry to finish the interaction – you are neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but a cool, neutral professional. If Grandma recovers enough at the end of the transaction that the banshee recedes and she actually says, “Thank you”, just *blink*blink*blink*. If you’re lucky, they might look a bit surprised. Good. They are NOT welcome, why say what is not heartfelt? Get out of their orbit as quickly as you can – you have other things to attend to. This is why I could never work for tips.
The Checkout Girl has loads more tales from the retail trenches.