So I accidentally pissed off a customer today.
This woman had left her cart, with her two kids in it, in my line, and – while she hadn’t walked away completely – she started paying attention to something in the other direction. Her daughter, probably about four, stood up in the basket of the cart to see what mom was doing. And, since the customer in front of them had just left, I needed to pull the cart forward.
“Sit down, please,” I said to the little girl, who, still looking after her mom, ignored me.
“Sit down, please,” I said again, “or get out.”
And of course, this was the moment that Mom decided to pay attention to her children.
“Or get out?” she repeated. “You do not talk to my daughter that way.”
“I asked her to sit down, please, or get out of the cart,” I explained, knowing I’d already lost. “Those are the options; I need to move the cart forward, and it’s not safe for her to be standing…”
“You’re rude! What’s your name?”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” I insisted, showing her my name tag. But I was panicking and no longer able to even defend myself. I could hear my voice growing higher, almost whiny. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything.”
“I’m moving over here,” she said, taking her cart to the back of the next line. And then, to the cashier at the front of that line, “She’s rude!”
And then, of course, she spent her entire transaction complaining to the cashier, and then, of course, she complained to my supervisor on her way out the door.
I hate this aspect of my job. I am so fucking nice and polite to these people; I hold back so much of what I would like to say; and then to have something innocent get misinterpreted like that?! If I’m going to get complained about for being rude, at least let me try to earn the complaint by actually being rude.
As soon as I could, I closed down and found the supervisor the woman had complained to, so that I could tell him my side of the story. He understood – they usually do – and told me by the time she got to him, she had a completely different interpretation of what I had been so rude about. (She didn’t even mention that I had told her daughter to get out of the cart, and was now stuck on my “those are the options” line, which, from what he’d understood from her, now had something to do with lollipops.) And then he gave me some static line about customer service being an important part of our job, so maybe I should just try to be aware of how I sound to people, and then he said the incident wasn’t worth telling our manager about.
Still, I cried and stamped my foot and told him how frustrating it is to get these undeserved complaints. (This would be my second; the first time, I’d told a man I couldn’t help him search for the wine he couldn’t remember the name of, because I was on my lunch break.)
When I got back to my register, I was still shaking a little from all the adrenaline, but tried to ignore it and make pleasant small talk with my customers. A good-looking, slightly greying man – probably in his late-30s/early 40s – came up with a full cart.
“What’s going on this weekend?” I asked cheerfully.
“I’m getting ready to have a baby,” he said.
And then the strangest thing happened.
I pursued this line of conversation: “When’s that happening? Is it your first? A boy or a girl?”
And he answered all my questions, and we made a couple jokes, and I congratulated him and wished him luck… And I didn’t feel even the slightest twinge of panic or jealousy or regret, or whatever the accurate label for that hot, sinking, need-to-escape feeling is.
And all I can think is that maybe, in this case, I took what I could get, to get my mind off of the woman who’d yelled at me. Maybe, for once, talking about an impending baby was the lesser of two evils. Maybe discomfort is relative: I can’t be blind-sided by something that usually makes me feel shitty, when I’m already feeling shitty about something else.
Sure, it may have been different if it was the nine-months-pregnant mom who’d come through my line, instead of the harmless, handsome dad. But for that one moment, I felt almost normal talking babies with a stranger, and that realization certainly provided a bright spot in my otherwise demolished workday.
It makes me think of the tried-and-true strategy for bonding rabbits: you take two rabbits who don’t know or like each other, and you put them together in an uncomfortable situation (take them on a car ride, put them in a box on top of a running washer/dryer). Before long, they will start to huddle together, seeking comfort in the face of this common enemy. Theoretically, if you do this a few times, eventually they’ll start to like each other without the enemy around, too.
Maybe my aversion to pregnant women could be “scared out of me” in this way, by giving me some real problem-people to deal with, so that the nice pregnant women and their big, intimidating bellies start to seem like a relief. Then again, I’m not sure I want to try it and find out.