Today I decided that I’m not shopping at one of the local grocery chains anymore- at least, not the one nearest to my apartment.
When I moved into my new apartment this spring, the location, just a block away, seemed like a great place to shop. It’s so close, why not use it to stop and grab a few things when they’re on sale? I mean I work at a grocery store so I buy nearly everything there, but once in awhile I would want something I couldn’t get there, or that this other store would have a good sale on. At this point, though, I’ve had three different awkward encounters with three different employees, and three times is a charm, as they say.
Before I continue I feel like I need to reiterate that I work in retail myself. I’ve been working as a cashier for a little over a month now, and at the same company for over a year. Further engaging customers, yes, yes, yes, I get it. I do it all day. Ask them how their day is going, if they have any plans or did anything fun. Ask if they found everything. Find something they bought to comment on (that one is great! Have you tried that before? Which of these do you like best? What do you do with your [insert weird vegetable here]?). Have a conversation. But I feel like there are good and bad ways to do this, and this is the story of three bad ways.
The first was over a month ago now. I stopped in for a couple of things in the evening, and I was using a reusable bag I got at the Disney store last year. I like this bag- it has Merida from Brave on it, and it’s a good size and is made of that recycled plastic that a lot of bags are made out of now that reusable bags are a “thing”. Well, I get to the register and the cashier is a girl close in age to me. Maybe a little older or younger. She’s ringing me up and I tell her I have a bag, and show her. I forget if she said something about it being Disney first or I did, but I explained I got it at Earth Day and it was basically free, and she says, “right, and then you’re advertising them for free whenever you use it!….just kidding.”
I actually didn’t tell anyone this story when it first happened, because it felt so awkward. Like an inappropriate joke backfiring. I mean I don’t *think* she was trying to offend me, although I guess in a way that isn’t really the point. It didn’t feel, to me, like something that a cashier needed to comment on. I feel that, for better or worse, as a cashier the saying “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” applies to everything. Don’t let customers be mean to you, but don’t be mean or rude or nosy to them. And this felt like a joke that was…rude.
The second story was a couple of weeks ago. Now, if you know anything about me, you will know that I like ice cream. One of the main thing I buy at this store is ice cream, because they have a lot of buy one, get one free sales on it. Of course I’m going to buy two! On the day in question, the Kemp’s brand, a big favorite here in Minnesota, was on sale. I also saw that they had their ‘mini donut’ flavor, which I can’t eat but my roommate really loves and had been looking for the week before. So I buy that and some other flavor, grab whatever else I wanted to get that day, and head to the checkout. I forget who my cashier was, which the way my experiences at this store are going, is probably for the best. They said something like, “Oh, mini donut!” to my ice cream, to which I simply said yes, it’s good. Then comes my bagger, a guy I see there almost every time I go in. “Oh, mini donut ice cream! Your kids are gonna love you!”
…What? I don’t have kids, thanks. I’m buying that for my presumably grown up roommate and myself. Again, while not intended to be rude…I don’t think it’s a good tactic to make assumptions about strangers. You have no idea if I have kids or not, or want them, or even can’t have them. And I don’t think that it’s even more likely I am buying ice cream for kids (in fact, I think that ice cream tastes far better when you are an employed person buying it for yourself, but I digress) and it also felt rude because really? Are my forehead lines that bad? Do I really look like a mom to you? It just felt weird. And I didn’t know what to say in response, so I didn’t say anything, and wondered the whole way home if I was overreacting, or if I was looking really old that day, so again I didn’t tell anyone this story until now.
The third story, then, was today. It’s watermelon season, and I was buying one there because they’re hard to take home on a bike. I also saw that ice cream was on sale again, two for one, so I bought some-two, in fact, because again, of course I’m going to buy two if they’re half price. So I get to the front, and my cashier doesn’t notice I’m there at first. One of the other people working tries to get her attention, and she finally sees me and says hello, starts getting out all of my stuff, and says, “Are you having a party?” Maybe it was her tone. Maybe it was the fact that I’m tired. Maybe it was because I don’t think that, for a vegetarian who avoids wheat and doesn’t drink, a little ice cream is that much of a vice. So after a moment of uncomfortable silence I responded, “No, actually. I just wanted ice cream. And watermelon.” Pause. “Oh. Well, that watermelon sure looks…good…” and I waited in silence until she was done, left as quickly as I could, and fumed.
Now, here is what I think is wrong with asking someone if they’re having a party. If they’re not, what does that say about your opinion of their purchases? And why do you even think you get an opinion? If I buy a pie and ice cream and four kinds of cheese, and you ask if I’m having a party, and I’m not, that tells me you think I’m either frivolous with money or a greedy pig (or, as my roommate would say, a “fatty”). It tells me that you think someone like me should be buying nothing but fruits and vegetables and lean protein, and that someone whose diet includes chips, ice cream, and full-fat cheeses must be either fat or on the way there. Because isn’t that what we think fat people eat? Fox “news” is full of pundits judging the shopping of people who use EBT cards, the internet is full of stories and jokes about what we see fat people eating and lists of food that are “why America is fat”, as though that reason is the same for everyone. And while I am probably overreacting just a little bit, the fact remains that I am a young woman in America. I am constantly judged for how I act, how I dress(today I wore a shirt dress covered in cats. I love it, but I got at least a half a dozen comments on it, mostly positive, a couple confused), how I look (a co-worker with facial piercings was recently asked by a customer if her mother had seen her lately). I don’t need to be judged on my downtime, when I’m just trying to shop. It’s annoying. It even borders on hurting my feelings when I’m having a bad day, like when my dad would say to me as a kid, “you’re eating all that?” Yes, I am, because I’m hungry. Because this is what I want. Because most of my diet consists of fruits, vegetables, and protein bars. And because the older I get the less right I feel we have to take note of what other people are eating…and because really, if you think two cartons of ice cream at a time is a lot, well then you should stop working someplace where they’re always putting it on sale for half price.
Being a cashier can be a lame job (I know I’m trying to get out of it), and it can take a lot of energy. But you have the ability to make someone really happy with what you say- or the ability to really make someone question themselves. I don’t need to shop somewhere that judges me, awkwardly insults me, or generally makes my day a little worse. And I will eat all the ice cream I please.