Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dear Diary: Customers Are Assholes Because America Fetishizes Capitalism

Dear Diary,

Human beings are a mixed bag. We have the capacity for kindness and love beyond measure, but can also be angry, petulant, egotistic little shits actively disregarding the well-being of anyone but ourselves. And for some reason, we seem to occupy the latter mindset much more than the former when we are exchanging money for goods and services.

Anyone who has ever worked in retail or customer service can tell you that customers are selfish pools of garbage water come to life. Heck, anyone who has ever been in a store could tell you that. We've all been out shopping or at a restaurant and seen a fellow consumer of goods and services become unhinged at an inconsequential occurrence that they perceive as an apocalyptic setback.

Hearing "My potato wedges are not seasoned properly. I need to see a manager. I DON'T CARE IF THERE IS SALT AT THE TABLE!" or a diatribe on professionalism and keeping the entire Wiggles CD catalog in stock isn't all that shocking to the average American customer. Something happens to us, even if we don't all have public meltdowns, when shopping doesn't go exactly the way we want. You may not lash out at the Subway employee who gives you mustard instead of honey mustard, but for a split second you feel as though your sandwich is ruined.  Or your mood might a little too affected when you have to settle for your second favorite toothpaste, because Target is out of the cinnamon whitening plaque control.

Part of this is because shopping is awful. You know Amazon and UPS exist, and yet there you are like a sucker dragging your buns around Dillards looking for the lightweight, casual jacket for days that are cool but not COLD that best fits your personality. Every jacket that isn't right is an affront to your sensibilities and the physical manifestation of more time you have to spend in Dillards, while the smell of Cinnabon taunts you. But, you sift through all the chaff until you find the perfect match, and it's a bit of a punch to the gut when you realize that the store has every size except yours.

You did your job. You went to the store with your method of payment, having turned a blind eye to the concept of layering (I just need a slightly heavier fleece jacket, Brenda! LET ME LIVE MY LIFE!), ready to send numbers from your bank account into a corporation's bank account. You might feel like Dillards didn't live up to their end of the capitalist contract. Any setback is going to be amplified by the fact that you're already doing something inherently annoying. You might think, "Well, this was a waste of time." It's fine to think that and be bummed out. It's not fine to yell that at the sales clerk. For two reasons: It's not their fault that the sizes available don't fit you, and they also don't give a shit if you buy anything from that store. They don't get paid more or less depending on your purchase and they don't own the store. Unless the people where you are shopping/eating are actively being mean to you, you as an adult human need to keep your shit together, lest you sound like a child.

Here's a thing that happened to me which involves an adult man, who looked like the offspring of James Taylor and Ebeneezer Scrooge, acting exactly like a child. For a little bit of context, I work in a used bookstore. As a used bookstore, we don't accept returns or exchanges, with rare exceptions. This is pretty common to places that sell used things. The items are as is and sales are final. Yet, we still have people who bring items back (mostly CDs and DVDs, though also books) months later wanting to do an exchange. We don't do this, because that would make us a library minus the public funding.

This gentleman came in wearing a suit and looking very much like an adult man. He explained that he had bought a book several weeks ago, but he already owned it, so he needed to return it. I explained that we don't offer returns just because someone decides they don't want a book anymore. He reiterated that he already owned it. I explained that his situation was not the fault of the store's and all sales are final. The man then stomped his foot on the ground, while exhaling loudly and rolling his eyes at me. When confronted with the consequences of his own shopping mistake, this man acted like I had just told him he couldn't have any ice cream before I tucked him into bed. I understand his frustration. I also get frustrated when I bone myself out of $5, but I don't throw hissyfits at everyone who can't/won't help me unbone myself. But being out and about dropping Lincoln's doesn't make us immune to things not going our way.

Want more evidence that people don't think clearly while shopping? Here's a real conversation I had with a different adult man:

Him: I'll take these items.
Me: Okay. Your total is $8.42.
Him: (hands me his method of payment)
Me: (I enter in the cash received/swipe his credit card or whatever)
Him: (bitterly) You're welcome!
Me: What?
Him: You're welcome! Ridiculous. Where are your manners? Don't even have the courtesy to say thank you when I come in here and buy something.
Me: Thanks?

This man, who can best be described as a little shit, felt that it was the highest insult and impropriety that I didn't thank him the instant he began to pay for a transaction, which we were in the middle of. I was physically still doing the commerce. Never mind that Thanks Yous and Your Welcomes come at the end of an interaction. We aren't posh Brits here. No need to punctuate every physical movement with a My Dear Sir, How Very Kind. When we're done, a single catchall Thank You will suffice. But what the hell am I thanking him for?

Don't get me wrong. When a customer says "Thank you," I usually respond with a "Thank you." But really, "Your welcome" would be fine. I have nothing to thank them for. I am working in a store providing the goods and service. They thank me, because I am doing something for them. This angry, little man did not see it that way. In his mind, he was the one doing for me, by paying for something. I understand that businesses without customers don't last long, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the business is the one doing something for the customer. The grocery store sells butter so we don't have to churn our own. Restaurants prepare and serve food so we don't have to make a sandwich (with ham we didn't have to butcher on bread we didn't have to bake). Taxi drivers take us places so we don't have to drive or even own a car. Businesses and customer service providers are there so customers can avoid doing something, be it harvest our own oranges or die of boredom.

What American capitalism has done to this cranky man who snapped at me, and many other people, is condition them into thinking they are the heroes for spending money. The mindset is "I have to blow my fat paycheck somewhere, who deserves it." This guy wanted to be thanked for letting me even feel his supple currency in my sweaty, hourly wage fingers. He's a shopper. The end all be all. Humans are here to earn money, and he has afforded me that opportunity. I must show the proper reverence.

What he failed to realize is that, one, the single purchase he made isn't going to make or break the store, and two, I don't own the fucking store. I get paid the same whether I have one hundred customers or zero. Yes, zero customers will eventually result in the store closing and a new career path for me, but his purchase didn't get me an extra round at the bar this weekend. I could not care less if he had bought nothing. And the same goes for any big box store employee. Yelp and Facebook is littered with complaints about slights customers feel they suffered at the hands of a cashier, an employee to who didn't respect the fact that someone was spending money. The phrase "I spend good money here" comes to mind. I've had it directed at myself. The hourly employee's paycheck is not affected by one person's purchase (or years of purchases). And one person spending a lot of money doesn't trickle down to me.  The person who does make money off of your loyal patronage probably makes too much money to give a shit about one person's spending habits.

But, we've all been told that, as long as we are spending money, we are always right. We are infallible. We're the goddamned Pope once we enter a store with legal tender. And we aren't. We're just people born into a currency-based economy. The customer is no more right than the hunter-gatherer was. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be treated with respect while you're out shopping, but you don't deserve more respect because you are shopping.



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