Sunday, August 21, 2005

Egocentrism in Action

I'm probably about the eight millionth person to write in his blog about the increasing egocentrism and rudeness of the general public, but today's experience at the store left me wondering what goes through the minds of some people.

We have a policy that no outside drinks are allowed unless they're in bottles with tops securely screwed on (we only sell drinks in screw-top bottles, and we ask our gamers and customers to keep the tops on the drinks when they're not actively drinking). Too many bad experiences with Wendy's cups (the local Wendy's is just down the road), Starbucks grandes, etc. have left us with damaged merchandise for which the customer was simply unable or unwilling to pay, so we just ask that customers finish their drinks outside, or that they leave them on a table located near the front of the store, away from comics, trade paperbacks, and other water-sensitive items.

Today, some late-teen-early-twenty type came in with his girlfriend, both carrying paper cups filled with whatever beverage they'd ordered at a local fast-food place. Jared asked that they leave the cups on the counter; the young woman had no trouble with that, but the guy decided to ignore the request. He continued to walk into the store, consuming his drink; again, Jared asked him to leave the drink at the table or finish it outside. At this time, Jared had (so I understand) moved into the general direction where the non-customer was walking, forcing the non-customer to stop his forward progress. At that point, he stood there looking surly, then made a point of finishing his drink in the store and went to the door, crushing the cup on the ledge outside our front window.

Trying not to let the situation get worse, Jared took the friendly approach, saying to the now-hydrated fellow, "Look, I wasn't trying to be a jerk or anything, but we have to be careful with drinks because of all the paper in here..." At that point, the non-customer cut him off and said, "You guys have always been assholes, so that's what I expect," and then continued to swagger around the store, assuming that he'd now told off the employee.

If you know Jared, you know that he's exceedingly polite, very amiable, and certainly not a rude fellow. At this point, I approached the customer, unhappy that one of my associates had been treated so poorly. I asked him if my understanding of the conversation was correct, and he said, "yeah, everyone around here is an asshole." At that point, I told him that rather than have him endure continued abuse from our staff, it would probably be best if he went to another store where he felt he got better treatment. "That's okay," he said, "I wasn't going to buy anything anyway." So why'd he bother coming to a store where, according to him, all the staff has always been so substandard? Who knows.

Now, bear in mind that Jared has only worked here for five weeks--in fact, most all of our staff has only been with us for five weeks, since Brett (our long-time store manager, who'd been with the store for twenty years) chose to leave in late July to find out what other career options awaited him (Brett began working for us shortly after graduating from high school, and he's been a part of the staff ever since, and he just decided that he'd done the retail think for long enough; he's still a friend of mine, and he still comes by the store regularly, so there's no ill will in his departure). The folks who are working for us are exceedingly polite, as is Buck (our store manager, formerly assistant manager)--and Brett wasn't a rude guy, either, even when customers gave him cause to be. But this guy came in with a chip on his shoulder for some reason.

The thing that amazes me, though, is that we see more customers who come in and violate the basic rules of polite conduct in a public place, and then act offended when they're asked not do continue doing that. We see teenagers and early-twenties who begin loud, vulgar conversations, and then look put out when we tell them we can't allow them to speak that way in a famly store. We have customers who try to break the shrink wrap on products that are sealed for a reason, and then seem angry when we tell them they can't do that. And this isn't the first person who's felt like it was his god-given right to drink wherever he wanted to, regardless of the store.

And then there's the gray-area rudeness of people who come into a store carrying on a loud mobile phone conversation and never hang up for the duration of their visit. They shop while talking, come to the register while talking, pay while talking, and never once acknowledge any other human presence. I'm old-school enough that I try to end my phone conversations before going into the store, and if I do get a call while I'm at a register, I tell the caller I'll phone them back when I'm finished... and then apologize to the cashier for the call (if I can see that it's not an important call, I don't even take it, opting instead to simply return the call when I've finished my transaction).

Seems like we have more people than ever who are convinced that whatever they choose to do in a retail establishment should be acceptable. And while some of it is tolerable (albeit aggravating), that self-indulgent and egocentric behavior that is insulting or offensive to my store associates is quite the opposite.

Okay, I've vented enough for now...

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