Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Honey" Costs Food Lion Money

This has happened three times in different supermarkets, during the past year: The supermarket hired another “outgoing people person” as a cashier—despite a local tendency for customers to prefer quiet, discreet, self-contained store employees. Cash in hand, I watched the register while Chatty Cathy went into one of those little monkey fits that attack extroverts when people politely ignore them. She chattered, flapped her hands, pulled faces—anything, anything, to keep from having to win real respect by doing an honest, efficient job! If she had simply done her job, ringing up the purchases, taking the payment, and thanking the customer, poor Chatty Cathy might start to doubt that she was still human.

Of course, like most of my own customers in this part of the world, I see no particular need to try to help anyone who is in any confusion about this. If you're all that easily confused, you're not completely human!

Desperate for attention, Chatty resorted to making herself annoying. She addressed me as “honey.”

I’ve discussed Scott County’s current “honey” problem on this web site, more than once. I think it’s a serious problem. I think we all need to help remind store employees that when people who aren’t being paid to be in their store are kind enough to pay for purchases, rather than robbing or vandalizing the store, the correct manner to show these kind and honorable ladies and gentlemen is respect—not some kind of boorish pretense of chumminess. Anyone who hands money to a store employee is either a “Sir” or a “Ma’am.” And, if the store employee is aware of any emotional feelings other than gratitude toward the customer, the store employee should be very quiet and try not to be noticed until the employee is able to get competent professional help to address those emotional problems.

There are situations when it’s good for everyone to ignore a deliberate insult. Caring for psychotic patients, testifying against criminals, and helping no-talent musicians achieve the oblivion they deserve when they add threats and insults to their acts, are three situations like that with which I’ve had some firsthand experience.

There are other situations when it’s not good to ignore an insult...when failing to complain about bad behavior merely encourages incompetent workers to whine, "But other people aren't complaining."

So, I had to chastise Chatty Cathy. I could not overlook her bad manners, just as I could not walk out of the store without paying for my groceries. This was my Christian duty. And although I chastised Chatty in a quiet and temperate way, I think what unhinged both Chatties most was that I didn’t let their little monkey tricks distract me from watching the cash register.

To be fair, it was only one store in Kingsport where I think most local people over about age thirty learned that, if you look at a cashier instead of watching the cash register, you will be paying for more than you take home every single time. Some customers and cashiers know each other. Some of the eye contact and conversation that take place in supermarket checkout lines are just ordinary, although misplaced, social interaction. However, because anything that distracts attention from the cashier’s actual job looks like the familiar routine of a group of well-practiced thieves, cashiers need to be trained to keep their eyes on their job and focus on making sure they have not scanned the most expensive item three times.

Anyway, Chatty’s hands were twitching, and as she made change she made an honest mistake...in my favor.

Every cashier needs to be familiar with the differences between a “Ma’am” (or a “Sir”) and a “Honey.”

Ma’ams flush toilets and make sure everything goes down. Honeys flush toilets only if they’ve dropped paper towels or wads of gum into them.

Sirs put things back where they were. Honeys knock things over. Honeys are very careless drivers, of cars as well as shopping carts, and have been known to forget to step out of the car before entering the store.

And both Sirs and Ma’ams always straighten out a mistake in their favor. Although they’re not chummy with cashiers, and don’t act chummy in public even if the cashiers happen to be their sisters, they don’t want the cashiers to be blamed for losing money at the end of the day. Honeys could care less. Honeys see an extra ten-dollar bill and think, “Hoo-ha, lucky day.” If it were a stray hundred-dollar bill they’d think, “Even luckier day.”

Calling people “honey” cost Chatty money. If it cost her her job, too, all to the good.

And maybe, if for the next five years or so I buy groceries in those stores without hearing one word other than “Thank you, Ma’am,” I’ll refund the stores the money Chatty Cathy cost them.

When choosing cashiers, I’d like to see stores focus on building an atmosphere of honesty and respect. Efficiency, cleanliness, and frugality are also good qualities in a store. “Friendliness” is not an issue. People who have friends don’t need, or actually even like, people who try to pretend to be friends while they are strangers. I do want to know that a human brain, with some individual judgment, is operating the machine into which I put money. I like a store to invest more in providing jobs to unskilled workers than in buying the latest electronic gadgets. I do not, however, want to know anything about a cashier while I’m buying groceries. If they're my friends or relatives, they can talk to me when other people aren't waiting in line.

Good cashiers are quiet and focussed. They should be able to make eye contact when customers look at them. They should be free from any need to try to make eye contact while they are ringing up groceries. They should have enough background and self-respect to be able to show gratitude to customers, rather than dumping sick ego needs all over the store.

Good cashiers are literate. They should at least have heard, if not learned and performed, the song “You Call Everybody Darling.” They should be able to use the word “honey,” without blushing, only in contexts like “...on aisle four, next to the peanut butter.” 

Really good cashiers are, in fact, people whom customers aren’t ashamed to claim as friends or relatives. And, because they know this, they feel no need to make a public display of chumminess in a situation that calls for task-focus and efficiency.