The Chatty Cashier

When is a stranger too friendly? Too intrusive? Do you want retail people commenting on your personal choices? Do you like it when they call you by name?

When I use my credit card at the local Safeway supermarket the cashiers are trained to call me by name. “Would you please sign this, Miss Hoffman?” For some reason, this makes my hair stand on end.  Has someone told them to do this to make the store more “friendly?” I would rather have lower prices and a better selection.  I live in a big city, in a rather rough neighborhood and the employees in the store usually last about two weeks.  So what’s with the “We are your friendly, neighorhood shop” fantasy? Just because they can read my name off my credit card, do they have to shout it so everyone in line knows my name? Maybe I’d rather not have a bunch of complete strangers know my name. Anyhow, I digress.

Scene change to the nearby Target store. I was on a mission to find something cheap and lightweight I could use to support an electric fan. The only thing that fit the bill was a tacky, metal umbrella stand with punched out designs. I placed this along with a few other items on the counter and waited my turn. The man in front of me took his change as the cashier slid his purchase into a bag and said , “I bought one of those last week.” From her thick accent I could tell that she wasn’t born in the USA. Was that why the man picked up his bag without even looking at her and walked off without comment? Or was he just not willing to talk to a cashier? Then it was my turn.

The woman rang up the towels first and then rotated the umbrella stand, looking for the price sticker. “This is very pretty.” Then she found the sticker and when the price lit up on the electronic screen, she shook her head. “That is expensive,” she said. The cashier at the adjacent counter overheard this and looked up in shock.

I could hardly keep from laughing.  This one’s a keeper, I thought, reading the name on her badge. I doubt very much that employees are encouraged to discuss the merchandise in a negative way. “Not too bad, I said. It’s all I could find.” I couldn’t wait to hear what Mae would say next.

“Do you want this in a bag?”  Before I could answer she added, “It will get a lot of dirt to clean, that thing.”

This time, the woman behind me in line rolled her eyes. I was almost in stitches. I smiled at Mae, grabbed my stuff and left with a smile on my face. She made my day!

A few weeks later, I went back to Target, this time to buy a fan. Large aquariums really put out a lot of heat. As soon the daytime temperature hit 70, two fans were not enough. Hefting a large carton under my arm, I looked for the shortest check out line. There was Mae. She was still working there. Who would have thought? I got into her line on purpose.

She appraised the carton. “Buying air condition fan already? It still not hot.”

Even with the less than fluent english, the implication was clear. I was either a spoiled human being who wouldn’t open windows, or I was too dumb to know better. I felt I had to defend my honor. “It’s for the fish tank,” I said.

She looked with confusion at the box. “Is that a heater or cooler?” The woman who was next in line was starting to mentally sharpen knives. Time to cut this wonderful conversation short.

“Just a fan,” I said, handing her the money.

“We used to have fish, but my kids are grow and moved out so now I don’t have,” she said.

The woman behind me started to do an impatient shuffle. I think Mae got the message.  She completed my purchase quickly and I left.

That’s when I started to wonder at my own definitions of “privacy.” Why do I bristle when the Safeway cashiers call me by name, but I laugh when a nosey Target cashier not only tells me I’m making a dumb purchase, or makes comments about my lifestyle?

Any ideas?

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~ by mickeyhoffman on March 20, 2009.

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