I was standing at the checkout at the grocery store yesterday when a pretty, nicely-dressed lady around my age got in line behind me. I turned and smiled politely, and she smiled back. Her face then grew pinched and troubled as she confided, “I am so upset! A woman just yelled at me.”
Apparently she had been pushing her shopping carriage around the quiet, narrow-aisled store when a miserable woman with a daughter in tow started screaming that this lady had hit her. The lady was stunned, as she hadn’t felt her carriage hit anything.
“Well you ran over my foot!” the nasty woman claimed.
“Uhhh, I think I would’ve felt my carriage run over something…but I’m very sorry if I’ve bumped into you,” the nice lady conceded remorsefully.
Nasty-woman-with-daughter-in-tow stomped off in a huff, and nice lady finished her shopping, shaken up and feeling badly from being reprimanded so fiercely.
We spoke for a few minutes, and I encouraged her not to let some wretched stranger ruin her day. She had such a sweet smile, and I told her that it had brightened up my day, as I’m sure it lights up a lot of people in her life. She thanked me sincerely for my kindness, and I went on my way.
But the checkout counter incident just served as another vivid reminder of all the abject rudeness out there that can just devastate your otherwise good day—and then spread like wildfire to devolve everyone’s else’s day too. From useless cashiers and incompetent salespeople to obnoxious customers, it’s so frustrating and, frankly, risky sometimes to venture out while in a good mood. It’s like hell’s version of pay-it-forward.
I witnessed an incredulous interaction at another checkout counter last summer—this time at my favorite funky boutique in the little historic whaling village of Sag Harbor, New York. The casual clothing and accessory store has been there on the main drag for years, and there’s a sign posted by the cash register informing customers that returns are for store credit only.
Anyway, I had found a cheap, colorful pair of reading glasses (hey, it’s either use reading glasses or have my arms lengthened!) and I approached the checkout counter. Before I could put the glasses down, two older women raced through the front door of the shop and beat me by a step to the register, almost elbowing me out of the way so they could be served first. One was carrying a paper bag, and from it she removed a pair of black cotton pants that she wanted to return. She was chatting with her friend as she tossed the pants, the receipt and her Visa card at the cashier. The cashier, a petite young Asian woman, patiently waited to get the customer’s attention, and when the customer finally turned her attention away from her friend, the cashier meekly informed her that according to store policy, returns are for store credit only. She pointed out the sign behind her on the wall.
The customer balked.
“No one told me that!” she insisted.
Well, not only is it posted on the wall, I wanted to say, but to the best of my recollection, it’s also printed on the store receipt. But I held my tongue.
“I drove all the out way here from Manhattan today just to return these pants!” she bellowed. I hid my “yeah, right” face.
“You need to take them back! Where’s your manager?” she snarled.
When the cashier explained that the manager was not on premises, the customer demanded that the manager be called. The cashier obliged from right there at the register, nodding while the phone was pressed to her ear. In short order, she relayed the manager’s response, reiterating the store’s no-exception policy.
The customer went on and on like an angry lunatic about how she would never have bought the pants if she didn’t think they could be returned for a refund—insisting that whomever had rung her up had told her she could get her money back. The cashier had returned the woman’s credit card, but the customer was still brandishing it, persistently trying to push it back on the cashier for a refund.
It was while she was waving the credit card about and loudly berating the poor cashier that I used my weird superpower to look askance stealthily, and I was able to read the name imprinted on the card. Holy freaking cow: this obnoxious bully was actually a famous photographer and children’s book author! I instantly recognized her name—one of her most prominent books was my sister’s favorite growing up, and I vividly remember the cover, the photos, the story chronicling the day-to-day life of (big hint for us girls who grew up in the late-70s!) a young ballerina. A quick google image search confirmed her identity.
I was thoroughly disillusioned.
For her closing act, she shoved her credit card back into her purse, threw the pants at the cashier and roared, “Fine! Just keep em! I don’t want em and I don’t want store credit!” And with that, she stormed out of the store, muttering nasty comments to her friend.
The poor, flummoxed cashier was humiliated, nearly in tears. Although I was ready to pay, she clearly needed a moment to compose herself after this ridiculous drive-by. As I’d been standing not two feet from the whole interaction, I tried to comfort and reassure the cashier that she had been remarkably polite and classy in dealing with this unreasonable customer.
“I really didn’t need this tonight,” she sighed, still shaken. “I literally just came in five minutes ago, after spending a long day at my other job. I’m exhausted, and so upset now. All I was trying to do was my job.”
I spent a few minutes with this gracious, young woman, sorting through what had happened, trying to raise her spirits while she rang up my reading glasses. I wished her a better evening, and hoped I had helped make at least a small difference in her day.
So what’s my point? I’ll be blunt: be nice, shut up or stay home. Seriously. Don’t ruin a complete stranger’s day with your crankiness and misery. Have a little perspective about what you’re saying and who you’re speaking to. The casher had no authority to give a credit card refund, so why bluster and upbraid her? The lady who allegedly rolled the shopping cart over your foot obviously didn’t do it on purpose, and she apologized. Get over it and let it go. It’s just galling sometimes, the complete lack of civility, and I’d even venture to say lack of humanity. Here we are, on a heroic mission to save people in other parts of the world from mistreatment when we can’t even muster common courtesy in our own daily lives. Must be some kind of perverse amusement to purposely bring down someone else’s day. I just don’t get it. But I dare say it’s a contributing factor to our nation teetering on the brink of the sewer.
Honestly, would it really kill people to be a little kind? To have a little understanding and stop being so self-centered? And I’m pushing it here—maybe even smile? Trust me: a little more sunshine would go a very long way at a checkout counter, in our families, in our schools, in the community, and ultimately in our nation.
Glad to get that off my chest. And use the words “flummoxed” and “upbraid” in the same piece as a bonus.
I’m Andrea Reiser, and I approve this message.