Monday, November 8, 2010

The Do's and Don'ts of Public Conduct

Etiquette lesson for the week: Phone calls in public are a definite don’t, as is poor customer service.

I was running errands today, and I had the misfortune of having not one, but two unpleasant retail experiences, both at the hand of rude store clerks. While it was frustrating, I’m thankful, because it gave me the inspiration to write this etiquette lesson.

The monotonous task of errand running is not pleasant for anyone. It’s unpleasant for you, and people working in retail settings. The situation is only exacerbated by people who refuse to show minimal-politeness, by refusing to make their phone calls during an appropriate time.

Allow me to elaborate, there are appropriate and inappropriate times to make/receive phone calls.

It is inappropriate, when you are dealing with a store clerk, checking out, and there is a line behind you. Everyone else in line has places to go, people to see, and things to do, please, don’t be so egocentric and truly selfish as to believe that YOU are the only person on earth who has priorities or obligations. We all have priorities and obligations. Respect for your fellow man should be a lesson learned many moons ago, but just in case, enjoy the refresher course.

Hooray for you, you’ve received a call in the middle of a treacherous line! You’re popular! Rejoice! Oh if only that were true, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It is impolite to the clerk, the other persons in line who do not want to be privy to the details of your personal calls, to whomever may have accompanied you to the store, and the rest of the store staff. Yes, browsing through aisles, and aisles of miscellaneous objects is a tedious task; but, you’re at the store doing one of two things: you’re on a mission for a specific item, or you’re killing time. Either way, this does not mean that you have the right to devalue anyone/everyone’s time, privacy, etc by taking personal calls in public. When put into these social situations, do the right thing, press ignore, and call them back when you have a free moment, it only takes a second of your time, and you’ll have fantastic bonus-karma points awaiting you in the car.

There are exceptions, of course, and that’s why I adore the science of etiquette, it is an enigmatic art...or is it a science? The best example, might be if you are at the grocery store, when you realize you may have forgotten to write something on your list  in that circumstance, make a quick, quiet phone call “Darling, do we need tomatoes?” Get your answer, and end the conversation. But, don’t forget to pull your cart over, and be continually mindful of other shoppers and their needs.

Do not allow it to become an inappropriate call by shouting your questions/answers at the person on the receiving end of the line, or the call segues to something more private, “Yes, she left him for their children’s art instructor!” Audible Gossip in the grocery store, or any store for that matter, is tacky.  Idol gossip in general is tacky. You’re only making yourself look cheap. Your ultimate goal in life, should be to never cheapen yourself, or the opinion of yourself.  This rule applies to everyone from strangers, to close friends. My best advice to you, is to always make your interaction in the most timely, swift, and polite manner possible, and then leave the store.

Now, we have covered ways to be polite in public, but what is equally important as being timely, and courteous, do not be a door-mat. This is a tricky line to walk; on one hand, you never want to be impolite or pushy, on the other you do not have to put up with maltreatment in any situation. Do not think so little of yourself that you should be willing to accept poor customer service. You deserve to be treated with respect, as you are giving respect in a retail or public situation. The old adage “The customer is always right” is unfortunately, a thing of the past, in most retail situations. Be realistic, you’re buying blueberries at Trader Joe’s, not a Carolina Herrera Ball Gown from Neiman Marcus.

I had a lovely Halloween, and I hope that you did as well. My Halloween was so lovely, that I purchased too many supplies at a national-chain beauty supply, I’ll allow you to use your imagination (another etiquette lesson, it is impolite to name names unless completely necessary. It is almost never completely necessary.) I had some items that I needed to return, and I needed to purchase a few toiletry staples; I collected the things that I needed, and headed to the register. It took the staff two minutes to realize that I was standing at the register, customer-service faux pas number one, then, in the middle of my transaction, the store clerk took it upon herself to take a phone call. This slowed her momentum down to the pace of a snail, while not one, but two staff members looked on, breathing heavily through their open mouths, which, ironically, is an etiquette lesson they should have learned years before joining the workforce.
It took 19 minutes for me to exchange two items, and purchase two items. I’m a fairly patient woman, but that is nothing short of ridiculous. This both wasted my time, and tried my patience. The clerk neglected to bag my items, or ask me where I would like my new receipt. She also neglected to say goodbye, or thank me for my time or patience, which again, is just brutish, sad behavior from someone working in a customer-related field. Shame on you, Betty, shame on you for having no work-ethic, or integrity.

My second encounter took place at a national drug store, on the way home, where the store clerk was distracted by another co-worker, who was busy spitting out questions at my clerk, rather than waiting her turn to speak, when my transaction was complete.
One of the most disappointing, and distasteful traits socialized into most american people is a lack of patience. When you interrupt what anyone else is doing, or when someone else is speaking you are sending them a very clear social message. That message being that “My time is more valuable than yours, my ideas are more pertinent than yours.”  This brash staff member didn’t even wait for my store clerk to respond, she answered her own question, by moving my handbag and cellphone out of her way, and grabbing a stack of candy bars that the bag/phone were sitting under. This made my transaction take 3 times what it should have, first of all, and secondly, it invaded my privacy, personal space, and possessions. This is the type of instance when you are allowed to invoke my “don’t be a door mat” advice. You don’t have to stand for such behavior. I intend to call the store manager, and suggest that he discuss what appropriate and inappropriate behaviors are with is staff. Large companies are often guilty of allowing, accepting, or teaching deplorable behaviors to their staff, their ultimate goal is the mighty dollar. In my personal opinion, my dollars are valuable, and can easily be spent elsewhere, perhaps in a store with polite staff! Every day is election day in retail, my darlings, always keep that in mind! Take your business elsewhere, if you’re not happy, I know that I will!

It is easy to become resentful of the fact that because I’m clearly in my early 20’s I am not treated with respect, the way that a patron in their 80’s would be afforded. The reason for this, is that people understand young persons will accept, and expect poor treatment, because they generally don’t command, or understand the difference. I urge you to take a stand, and, like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

Good taste isn’t about money, or status, it is a matter of knowing the difference between the meanings of the words class, or classless, and living those differences, even when there is no “reward” for doing so. Having class in a classless nation is its own reward.

I hope that you’re having a wonderful week, and you’ve enjoyed our lesson. The holiday season is approaching, I am coming up with some really lovely, and exciting holiday related topics to discuss. Until week meet again, behave yourselves!

1 comment:

  1. Well said, friend! The 2nd to last paragraph says it all. Cheers to that!