Beverly Godfrey: Checking out manners
I was at a grocery store for some late-night shopping recently, waiting in a line that was longer than usual because only one register was open. I could say I was entertained by the conversation two employees were having, but that implies I was e...
I was at a grocery store for some late-night shopping recently, waiting in a line that was longer than usual because only one register was open.
I could say I was entertained by the conversation two employees were having, but that implies I was enjoying myself. To say I was mortified is going too far, but suffice to say, I didn’t approve yet found it impossible to ignore.
A previous customer, apparently, had said he wanted plastic bags. Then he changed his mind to paper. Nope, wait, he changed his mind to plastic again.
I thought the cashiers should have been able to roll with it. But in their opinion, the man was an “idiot” and “the worst” and “so stupid.”
My anxiety rose when it was my turn to check out. I was afraid that I, too, would do something stupid and that the people behind me in line would hear all about it as soon as I left the store.
I once spent a summer working as a grocery store cashier in the Cities, so I do have some experience in the matter. We received two weeks of training - more than most cashiers get, I suspect.
Rule No. 1 was that you never say bad things about the previous customer with the customer in front of you. It’s unprofessional, and ultimately might turn away customers.
The incident got me thinking about other things I was trained to do.
Don’t comment on what I’m buying. I bought about 20 packs of orange Kool-Aid once, and the cashier laughed at me, “Somebody likes orange Kool-Aid!” I didn’t know what to say back except, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
When I was a cashier, I was able to ring up a man’s purchases without chuckling even though he bought only roses and condoms. If I can do it, you can, too.
Hand back coins first, then bills. When handing back change, put the coins in a customer’s hand, and then give them the bills. Don’t rest the coins on top of the curved bills and hand over the unwieldy mess. Those bills become a virtual luge run, and the coins can fall on the floor.
Don’t roll your eyes if I want paper bags - or if I brought my own. I know the plastic bags are easier to fill, but bag choices are a political and environmental minefield these days, and I appreciate your support in whatever I’m choosing to do that day.
Of course, some customers could be easier to deal with. I didn’t appreciate being handed coupons for items they weren’t purchasing - and getting an argument out of it. Some customers could be plain-old mean. Once, in a brief moment of confusion, I was sarcastically told, “Basic math is tricky, isn’t it?” Another person called me “effing” stupid - but he said the real word.
Some have a big, complicated problem that should be dealt with at the customer service counter, and not in the checkout line. And some people straight-out steal stuff.
Maybe the incident the other night speaks to the inexperience of the employees - or the lateness of the hour. Still, they should save their indignation for people who are actually doing something wrong and leave the “I changed my mind over bags” guy alone.
To paraphrase Scottish writer Ian Maclaren, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Maybe he wrote that after he tried to buy some late-night groceries.
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at email@example.com .