Friday, December 18, 2009

Why so mean?

I worked in retail for about 6 years. Only one customer has ever made me cry.

I had a good conversation with one of my coworkers about the incredibly rude comments she has sometimes received from visitors. Many of them made my jaw drop. This conversation left me wondering: How can people be so mean? How does ridiculing someone else for their career choices make people feel better?

With all of my retail experience, I feel that one of the good things I do for the world is to generally be nice to clerks and cashiers everywhere. In my own retail career, I have been yelled at when we're out of organic lemons and only have conventional ones. I have been yelled at for helping another customer (who was first in line), or for answering the phone, or for not pulling every string in the book to get a regular the type of rice milk they wanted on the shelf. I have watched grown men yell at Boston Market employees for putting the baked apples in the wrong container. I don't know how all this anger helps. So I try my best to be the best customer I can be. I was waiting at the post office one day during lunch time. There was one employee working, and I could tell that he was exhausted. When it was my turn, he apologized for my wait in a dejected tone. I met that apology with a smile and told him it was no problem. I don't understand how being rude helps the situation at all.

I have a theory that everyone should have to start their career in retail. There's something about shopping that puts customers at their worst. They are often upset with the cashier when the cashier is only passing along information from a manager or other supervisor. It is generally not their fault that they are out of size small polo shirts. You learn to see the world this way quite quickly in retail. You learn that you are more likely to go out of your way to help the nice customers who are understanding and calm, and that you will do whatever you can to not have to check out the customer who has already thrown a fit in the baking aisle. You learn that many customers will treat you horribly. I still don't understand why it is that way, but it is true.

I feel that I have a unique outlook on life. My mom used to be a waitress, so I know to never tip less than 20%, no matter what my service was like, and to speak to the manager if there is a problem (especially if the food arrived cold or something like that--this is generally not the server's fault). I worked in retail as a lowly sales clerk, so I know to smile when my checkout person at the grocery store seems frazzled and to engage if they initiate conversation. I know to say thank you and to make my displeasure known as calmly as possible. I truly believe that people will treat you nicely if you treat them with the respect they deserve.

The absolute bottom line is that everyone makes choices about their employment. Some have more freedom to choose than others. Some have to take jobs for the benefits, not their passion for that particular job. And sometimes people truly enjoy their work. I know that some folks looked down on me for spending my first year out of college working as a clerk at the local health food store. But I truly cared about my work, and I learned so much about natural remedies, healthy food, organic produce, local meat, and about myself and my needs in the workplace. Making snide comments about a person's chosen career is not ok. I challenge you to help stop this negativity. It's as simple as smiling at the person bagging your groceries. (in reusable bags, I hope :)


  1. I was a waitress for years and people never ceased to amaze me in their rudeness. But it made me a better person for sure!

    *check out my raw revolution bar giveaway - over tomorrow*

  2. Will you come start a nice customer AND nice customer service revolution here in Spain? please? ;) Its so bad here... Also I realized the other day that while I still say, "perdon" if I bump into someone in a tight space, I no longer notice when people run into me and keep right on walking without saying anything or even looking at me... I'm afraid that when I return I will be very rude for a while... :S
    Good blog, keeping being nice to the world!!