Small Instances of Violence in the Checkout Line

nothanxThis is a shout out to everyone whose never worked in customer service. Having worked almost exclusively in retail and food service, it’s gotten really easy to spot you. You’re the person who’s sulking over there about not having the right nut butter, or tricolored quinoa, or $12 maca chocolate bar in stock. Or you’re the one complaining to me about the price of produce, or having to wait in line like I’m responsible for droughts that cause price fluctuation, or like I forced you to come shopping at two in the afternoon on a Sunday.

I understand that it’s inconvenient when you expected to only visit one store, but now you have to visit two. I know that paying for food is annoying. However, let me remind you that I am still a human being and not your verbal punching bag, friend, or therapist. I’m just at work, and unfortunately, part of my job is deflecting your micro (or major) aggressions. I am literally not allowed to defend myself, even when you are blatantly rude or hostile. I would be fired. If you hissed at me on the street that way you do at the cash register, believe me, I would let you know that you’ve overstepped your boundaries.

The expectation that people working in customer service put aside those boundaries is ridiculous. The labor that we do is not reflected in our wages, and for customers to treat us like we should be grateful for our jobs, or like we’re brand ambassadors, is unrealistic and unfair. I do enjoy my job, I adore my coworkers, and I like working with food. I even like assisting shoppers and making them feel good, but I don’t like when people assume that my entire identity is comprised of my work. I don’t like being guilt tripped for things not being the way that others expect, especially because I have absolutely zero say in how the company I work for is run.

At my last job, a woman threw her groceries at me while I was checking out someone else. I was called disgusting. I had dozens of women recommend teas, high fiber breads, and cleansing potions for weight loss. Plenty of people would talk down to me, with the assumption that folks who work in retail do so because they’re too stupid for “real jobs”. Plenty of men would call me inappropriate pet names, or talk about how I look, or antagonize me over my tattoos and facial piercing. I mean it when I say that it would happen every single day. That was just at a tiny health food store.

Consumers, please pay more attention to how you behave when you’re shopping. Please feel free to speak up when you see another customer abusing a worker. Be mindful. Realize when you’re speaking inappropriately to someone who is trapped, and who is forced to be nice to you because of the looming threat of losing their job.

3 thoughts

  1. Well said.
    It’s upsetting to hear about those customers who tried to “correct” your weight. I get comments all the time on my hair and clothes, and things I need to change. Most of them come from men twice my age who appear to be trying to sculpt me into their fantasy. A friend of mine has facial microdermals and worked at a mom and pop grocer– people also offered “advice” to her every single day. Some blatantly said things like “you will regret those” with no prompt or follow-up. Why they felt compelled to insult a stranger for no reason is a mystery.
    I’ve also noticed that dealing with customers as a female clerk is a bigger hassle than what our male counterparts have to deal with. I constantly have customers touch me or grab me. Customers will linger in the store for uncomfortable lengths of time when they know my boss isn’t watching. They’ll ask me what days I work, and hover outside the store when I leave to go home. When my male coworkers are present they behave. They become afraid and leave me alone. It’s unfortunate that I can’t gather that respect on my own without my male friends’ help.

  2. Gah — I’m so glad you could put my grocery store struggles into words.

    I feel a lot of the hostility, and blatant rudeness (as well as comments about your weight) come from a sense of entitlement that the passed few generations have been plagued with.

    Everyone step up your game, and be a little more human, and a little more respectful.

  3. Ugh- I used to work in a huge franchise of ice-cream parlours- needless to say the products could be a bit pricey. We were a small shop with a staff base of 5 (including the owner)- and again, needless to say, the customer assistants did not get any say in the prices, or what products we stocked- and literally, every shift I used to get people saying “Wow, that’s a ridiculous price, why is it so expensive?” And I would try and smile and be polite and say “Well our products are imported from America” and this generally seemed to make the situation worse.

    If I would bend down to pick up some change I had dropped or a napkin, I would get sarcastic remarks of “I like a woman when she’s bending over”- keeping in mind that I was 15 at the time and the first time this happened it was my second day.

    Bad customer service is my pet hate, I can’t understand why people are rude. So, when I am serving someone, I pride myself in being really helpful, polite and smiley- even when I’m feeling absolutely shit. So, why can’t I get just a little bit of respect back?

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