The Condescending Customer

by admin on September 20, 2011

I work at a grocery store and have for five years so I’ve been subjected to all manner of horrifying breeches of etiquette and common courtesy. I could tell some real horror stories as well as some truly bizarre stories (one lady who told me she hated our mangoes and didn’t want us to sell them anymore…to anyone…ever…) but the thing I really want to comment on is the constant assumption that my position behind a cash register means I am of lesser intelligence.

One day around 4 pm I was ringing someone out and the customer commented on my speed and cheerfulness saying, “You must be almost out of here.” I told him unfortunately, no, I had just begun a 10-hr shift and would not leave until 2 am. “I have miles to go before I sleep,” I told him.

The customer next in line leaned over to me and said in the slowest, most condescending manner, “You know, that is from a poem.”  To which I said, cheerfully, “I know, I read it when I was getting a double-bachelor’s in English and Biology.”

Then, only a few weeks ago I was ringing out a fairly regular customer who asked why he hadn’t seen me for some time. I told him my schedule had been restricted since I had begun MEDICAL school. To which he said, “Oh? are you going to be a nurse?”  No sir, it’s usually doctors that go to med school, nurses tend to go to NURSING school.

(I should note that this last incident may not have been classism for the grocery clerk but sexism for the FEMALE grocery clerk.) Also, I love nurses, they do 10x the work of doctors, it is not my intent to offend. I only want to make the world understand that working in a grocery store does not equate stupidity (especially in a struggling economy). Also, you don’t need to slowly explain to PUT THE COLD THINGS TOGETHER…after 5 years I’ve figured that one out for myself, thanks.   0509-11

One of my daughters graduated from a prestigious cosmetology school and accepted employment at an upscale salon as an assistant so she could learn better cutting and styling techniques and eventually become an upscale stylist.   Part of her duties is to shampoo clients’ hair.  She says that many of them treat her like a raving idiot despite the fact that she has a classical education, is very well read, has an amazing aptitude for languages including Greek and can converse intelligently on a number of topics.   They just assume she must be a moron because she lathers up their hair and therefore treat her condescendingly.    I can’t grasp the mindset of such people.  To me, treating everyone with kindness and civility benefits ME…both in my soul first and eventually in the payback of having a nicer world to live in.

{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

UK Helen September 20, 2011 at 4:37 am

Re: the sexist doctor/nurse thing…

DH and I were once at a small church gathering and a woman asked me how I’d met DH. “We worked in the same department,” I said (we were both engineers). We mingled a bit and DH had talked about his work; then I fell into conversation with the same woman again. “So,” she said to me, “You’re a secretary”. “No!” I said, “Whatever gave you that idea?”. “Well, your husband’s an engineer and you said you worked in the same department,” she replied – !!!

I think we can see how these people’s minds work…

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Jojo September 20, 2011 at 6:36 am

Thank heaven for those of us out there who have worked in service industries and know better ;-) I can’t begin to count the number of Zoologists, Greek Classics grads and Astronomers I’ve worked with in ‘humble’ jobs. I wouldn’t have swapped their sense of humour, friendship and camaraderie for the world. Best wishes to OP in her studies, and just remember that the quiet person with a nostalgic smile standing in line behind the ignorant customer does appreciate all your hard work and has been just where you were.

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lkb September 20, 2011 at 6:41 am

@OP, thank you for being such an obviously cheerful grocery store cashier. There is one in my neighborhood that is that way is well. No matter how long her line is, I make it a point to go to her line because she is so upbeat. She always makes my day a little brighter.

If only everyone, cashier and customer, could really learn that one smile can really make someone’s day.

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Susan September 20, 2011 at 6:48 am

..and what about the customers that have a cellphone attached to their ear as they deal with a cashier? That drives me nuts, and I am merely a fellow customer watching the cashier being treated like a piece of machinery while the offender chatters on. So rude.

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Tess September 20, 2011 at 6:49 am

I’m a longtime reader, first time commenter. I have to say, unfortunately, this is very much the case in any sort of service position. I work in a sandwich shop and am treated miserably on a daily basis. Like the OP I have worked there for five years.

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A September 20, 2011 at 7:43 am

For a number of reasons, I was unable to attend a four-year college in my youth. I did, however, go to a good state technical school and obtain an Associate degree. On several occasions, I have had people react with surprise when they learn my level of education. In their minds, there’s no way I can be good at my job and knowledgeable about a variety of subjects without going to a ‘real’ college.
1. Part of why I am good at my job is because I went to a tech school. My courses were all geared toward developing the skills needed to work in my industry. So why are they surprised?
2. Learning isn’t confined to a college campus. If you want to learn, there are books, classes and online resources that nearly anyone can access.

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Green123 September 20, 2011 at 7:57 am

There was a very interesting debate in a British newspaper last week about secretarial and admin roles, and whether the people who did them, who were usually vastly overqualified, were treated badly by their bosses who assumed they were idiots.

I have a Masters degree and I used to work in a high-powered business role which involved long hours and a whole heap of stress. Eventually this took its toll on my health so I left and took an admin job at a small firm, and I love it! The work is great, the people are generally nice and best of all I can clock off at 5pm and go home to my family without worrying my BlackBerry is going to be going off all night. But yes, I do sometimes feel I have ‘thick idiot’ tattooed on my head. This morning a colleague asked me, very slowly, if I knew how to ‘make a presentation in pointpower’. I just nodded and smiled – I thought mentioning my raft of Microsoft certificates and my vast experience of using PowerPoint at College would just be embarrassing… :)

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Sarah Jane September 20, 2011 at 8:17 am

I wasn’t there, but I’m not convinced those two customers were being “condescending”. The first may have been wanting to show off his/her knowledge of poetry, which might be needy on his/her part, but not necessarily motivated by his/her thinking you don’t know anything. And the second may have just been struggling with making conversation or may not have been paying attention or simply doesn’t know the difference between med school and nursing school. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that he was being sexist, either. You’re the one who bases this assumption on the fact that you are female.

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The Elf September 20, 2011 at 8:55 am

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sometimes I think the nation would be better off if everyone had to work a year in retail or food service. I hated it when people talked down to me when I was a retail clerk. In my case, I worked at a hobby shop, so I sometimes got the triple dose of condescension: because of age (teen), because of gender (male dominated hobby), and then because of the job (retail clerk). But we also had a steady group of regulars and most of them were quite friendly, so it could have been a lot worse.

I’m a rather introverted person, so my tendency towards clerks is silence but for business-related transactions. I’ll say hello and smile, but not engage in small talk.

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BeachMum September 20, 2011 at 8:56 am

Try being a stay-at-home mum. Even working mums assume that those of us who stay home are idiots. I’ve stopped entire conversations at parties when I answered the question, “What do you do” with “I stay home with my kids.”

I happen to have an MBA from a leading business school and I help my husband with various projects at his company. However, my main job is the house and kids. That said, I can actually understand lots of stuff and don’t spend all day watching soap operas and reading cheesy magazines.

To the OP, I really like the people who work at my grocery store and assume that they’re nice people who know their jobs. I’m sorry others aren’t the same.

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admin September 20, 2011 at 9:23 am

My response to the question, “What do you do?”, back when I had small children was, “I am a professional domestic engineer.”

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AMC September 20, 2011 at 9:17 am

I work as a receptionist and sometimes encounter similar behavior from the public; they either think I know everything or that I know nothing. I am fortunate though that the majority or people I meet day to day are kind, appreciative, and treat me with respect. The e-hell demons are usually few and far between.

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Mjaye September 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

When I worked for 7-Eleven part-time, I always said that people think that the wearing of the smock takes away 50 I.Q. points. I was whistled at, snapped at, screamed at and generally treated like a rag. When the regulars got to know me; the story wa different.
Now, when I go shopping, I often have the counter people asking if I worked or are working in retail. When I state that I did; they nod and tell me they figured it out because I was nice, handed them the money and said thank you. Pretty sad statement.

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LonelyHound September 20, 2011 at 9:29 am

You know, I never did get why people treat others who have what they consider a menial job with such disrespect. I probably thought that way once in my life. I will admit that. However, I remeber when a friend of mine got very sick during an ice and snow storm in college. We tried to take her to the hosiptal using the only car we had available to us- a roommate’s Mustang. Not only did we have to call the ambulance but we managed to stick the Mustang half in, half out of the parking space we were trying to get out of. I elected to stay behind to keep an eye on the car until a tow truck could be called in the morning. When the tow truck driver came he said he could charge the owner $150 to fix the car (his required fee) or he could let me attempt to get the car back into position. I told him I was clueless on how to do that so he spent a half an hour, away from other paying jobs, to teach me how to get the car back into position- FOR FREE.

Some would see his job as menial. Get call, go to broke car, hook it up and haul it away. Some would see the people working at grocery stores and fast food restraunts as having menial jobs. Most importantly they see them as servers not as people. After my above experience and then time working in several different service industries to help pay for college I have learned that people are not always what you preceive them to be. However, to some people preception is reality.

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Just Laura September 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

I firmly believe everyone should work in a service-type job at some point in their life, if for no other reason than to learn to treat those people better. There are people who treat waitstaff like garbage, who make fun of fast-food workers (not all deserve the bad rap), and who treat grocery cashiers as if they fell off the turnip truck yesterday. I’ve worked in a grocery store, so I always try to be extra pleasant to these people. I know what they go through.

When I worked at a personal property appraisal firm, I happened to answer the phone. The man on the other end of the line had several questions about some old paintings in an estate needing to be valued. In the middle of answering his query, he stopped me – “Hey, I’d really like to talk to a real appraiser, and not just the secretary. Could you get one on the line?” I replied, “I AM a certified appraiser. May I continue?”

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Just Laura September 20, 2011 at 9:35 am

Sorry, The Elf, I didn’t intend to steal your line! :)

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Kitty Lizard September 20, 2011 at 9:43 am

When I quit working as upper level management, a friend of mine talked me into working at a big box store as service desk manager. I was responsible for the register line. My morning line-up consisted of:
a retired stockbroker, retired real estate broker, retired dietician, etc.. All retired professional women. They were all successful retired professional women who wanted to get out of the house. When one of them would go on break, I would take their register. One time, a man came through my register and one of my neighbors was behind him. His exact words were: “Well, you’ve made quite a success of your life, if, at your age, you’re working at ……..” My response was, “Well, it’s not much, but it does pay for the dockage on my 50′ motor yacht.” My whole line cracked up. He turned red, paid up and slunk (slinked?” away.
Kitty

(This was before my husband talked me into working in his psycho law firm.”

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Bint September 20, 2011 at 9:52 am

I like ‘the breeches of etiquette’. Are they what rude people wear? I think they should be!

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catwoman2965 September 20, 2011 at 9:52 am

Count me in as someone who has in the past, and still works in retail. I do it as a second job for extra money, and to stave off boredom. I have both a BS and MS, and consider myself to be pretty intelligent, however, you wouldn’t think so sometimes the way customers treat me and my co-workers! I’ve been yelled at, had fingers snapped at me like a dog, and been given dirty looks when trying to get info I need from a customer who wants their transaction now, now now, but can’t be bothered to get off their phone!

I agree that everyone should have to work either in retail or some service industry job at some point in their lives; then maybe they’d see that we really do work hard, and are not stupid!

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Virg September 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

I will say that the last sentence of the original commenter should really be separated from the rest. It’s not because of elitism that I’ve said that to a bagger in the past. I’ve got no way of knowing how long he/she has been at the job and more than once I’ve had to tell a college student how to pack a grocery bag.

Beyond that, I’ve found that a lot of people in service jobs have this sort of experience. When I worked at a bank my tellers used to get all sorts of mistreatment from people who had no idea how smart they were.

Virg

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SHOEGAL September 20, 2011 at 9:55 am

I think there is too much emphasis put on our jobs in America espeically. One of first questions somebody asks when meeting another persons is, “What do you do?” Based on that response an entire myriad of assumptions are made about the person. Just think about it – if the response was doctor – or if it was “garbage man” what things pop into your head. A job doesn’t define the person that you are – if it did -then we all be in a position that perfectly fits our personality -and that is almost never the case.

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LaurenP September 20, 2011 at 9:56 am

I’m suddenly very glad for my (otherwise unfortunate) tendency to assume everyone else is about as intelligent and knowledgeable as I am, even though it mostly gets me requests to dumb down what I’m saying (apparently most people are not very informed of the finer nuances of ancient mythology, European folklore or Japanese video games…).

Mum worked for a few weeks at a supermarket before she packed it in, and spent time trying to sneak sociological references into her friendly banter.

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Clair Seulement September 20, 2011 at 9:59 am

Don’t worry OP–as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the rarefied air of grocery stores can leach up to 50 IQ points from most customers.

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Aje September 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

I think this opinion of people working in “lower jobs” had better change. In the past it was only teens who worked at places like Wal-mart or burger king so that they could save for college. Now even people with very high degrees are working at these jobs in America due to our crisis. So many people just can’t find anything.

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GroceryGirl September 20, 2011 at 10:05 am

Hi, I’m the OP and I am so thrilled to see my story posted here today!

@Susan: cell phones are a constant issue. One out of every three people I serve are on their phones. Whether or not it is intentional the message I get is this: “you are so beneath me I can’t bother to make eye contact with you or listen to you say thank you”

And I’d like to add that I’ve never heard someone on the phone giving directions on how to diffuse a bomb or remove and appendix, usually it’s just “Hey, I’m at “grocery store” be home soon” Couldn’t you just go home and when they ask where you’ve been say, “grocery store”?

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squashedfrog September 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

When my colleagues and I work on London we like to play a game which I think is perhaps a sad reflection of what living in big cities has become (I left in my 20′s). We like to visit as many shops on our lunch break (or getting the train back home so Marylebone and Waterloo a lot) – and make eye contact with the person behind the counter throughout the transaction, smile thoughout, and say please and thank you a lot.

It may sound a strange game, but it began to become fun when we noticed the odd reactions we would get by simply, well, being polite? I have had people in the queue behind me give me funny looks, and tut. Someone once muttered “%*$*ing tourist” under their breath at me. For the most part however, its quite nice to see the smile you get back from staff.

I’ll always remember getting off the bus in Notting Hill once and saying thank you to the bus driver, which resulted in several people actually turning and staring at me, and my BF at the time laughing at me and telling me “we don’t do that here!”. Sorry love, I have this “disease”, its called common flippin’ courtesy.

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Mippa September 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

I agree with Sarah Jane. The second customer who made the nursing comment sounds ignorant, but not sexist or condescending. I’ll admit I might have actually made the same mistake myself, and I have a sister going to nursing school and several friends in med school. Best not to be judgmental an assume to understand someone’s heart behind comments.

Honestly, I don’t think I could live with myself if everyone around me were this judgmental. Mistakes are made. Honestly I think it’s better that people try to strike up conversation, however socially awkward they may be.

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Yarnspinner September 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

I am a public librarian. I have a master’s degree and a bachelor’s in American Lit and History. My past jobs include telling and reading stories for story hours that I have organized, including games that reflect the stories; I am currently an adult reference librarian/reader’s advisory and I do acquisitions. One of my former colleagues had I-don’t-know-how-many-degrees, organized summer programming, wrote up grants and papers and bibliographies. She currently teaches at college.

Our LIBRARY BOARD cannot figure out that we do more than point at the computers or get a book for a patron. At one meeting of the board, before my colleague left, the board members were trying to figure out how to get the library involved in a parade. Their first thought was that we should walk along and throw discarded books into the crowd…because nothing says “Come to the library” like getting clocked on the head with a worn out Merriam Websters.

One of the board members (a teacher, who really should know better) “Oh, when will you be getting those nice bibliographies of summer reading books?”

Colleague: Uh, we have them all printed out and ready to go. Why?

Teacher: Well, we could hand those out as we walk along. By the way, who do you have do those for you? They’re very well done, including the descriptions of the books.

Colleague: (Talking through her back teeth): We write them. It’s part of our job description. It’s part of what we DO.

Teacher: Oh, I didn’t mean to insult you! (Digging her grave deeper with a BIG smile) I meant it as a compliment. They look so very professionally done, especially the writing.

Colleague (restraining herself from going over the table at the teacher): Of COURSE they are professionally done. We are professionals! This is a profession! We go to COLLEGE for this. Every one of us in this ROOM has a master’s degree.

Teacher: Oh, uh. Um–er…so, we can have some bibliographies????

These same people speak to us in slow, condescending tones, have opined that trained monkeys can do our jobs and refer to us as glorified stock clerks. The last I will agree with. If the stock clerks didn’t get the produce and the products on the shelf, the grocery stores would founder. And if it wasn’t for us talking with our patrons, checking the demographics and listening to what people need AND want–there wouldn’t be any books on the shelves, movies to be watched or ebooks on the Overdrive.

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Noodle September 20, 2011 at 10:38 am

I used to work at one of those non-medical “senior care” companies but basically my duties were those of a housekeeper. I was treated very condescendingly by the clients and even one of my bosses despite the fact that I had two bachelor’s degrees and it was the only job I could find in the small town I was in before I went to grad school. I also experienced similar treatment when I was in undergrad and working at a discount grocery store and a fast-food sandwich shop.

With this job market being what it is, there’s a lot more instances of people with post-secondary educations that will be working in service-type jobs because that is all they can find. I’ve run into former classmates working jobs like that and I’m not above working one myself. But even if the workers weren’t super-educated, it doesn’t make it okay to be condescending and rude to them. Somehow I imagine the people who are would have a hard time doing their jobs in the first place. That kind of work is much harder than people think.

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AS September 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

I think people just look down upon others in any profession, no matter what the profession is (maybe the only ones who don’t get looked down upon are doctors and lawyers). When I was working towards my Ph.D., I have lost count on the number of people looking down upon me that I don’t have a “real job”! I mean, in all seriousness who goes into grad school unless you really want to be at the cutting edge of research? In fact Ph.D. candidates have a huge responsibility on themselves if they are going to be a researcher, and get paid real low in grad school as compared to their peers in other professions.

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many bells down September 20, 2011 at 10:44 am

I know at least a dozen male nursing students at my small college. I didn’t think there was such a stigma attached to male nurses anymore. I had some surgery this past spring as well, and when I was coming out of the anesthesia I had an odd reaction. The nurse that sat with me for a good hour talking me through it was male.

And honestly, I don’t even know if it’s “retail”. Some people just assume EVERYONE is stupid and they’re brilliant. I get it from my child’s teachers because I look a lot younger than I am, and thus they assume I was a teenage mother.

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AS September 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

OOPS… only part of my message got posted. Copy-pasted it badly.
Here is the remaining part -

Addressing the sexist comment – I have known many people where both the husband and wife have a doctorate. But people often tend to address them as Dr. and Mrs. XYZ, sometimes even if they work in the same department. It is so annoying!

It is nice that OP doesn’t think nursing is a “lowly” profession. But unfortunately, lot of people tend to have that stigma.

Now-a-days, I just tend to overlook the comments. Let people say what they like to say.

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Lucy September 20, 2011 at 10:49 am

I used to be a veterinary assistant, which is a profession that tends to attract young women because . . . I guess because girls often like animals, but the money isn’t great (unless one gets an RVT degree, although even that won’t put you too high up the tax ladder) so most of the women with whom I worked were students living with their parents, or were married to guys with much better-paying jobs. I was the former, and I never made a living wage, even as a supervisor. It’s a very strange situation in which a job depends on mature, intelligent, people working for low wages and minimal benefits.

Veterinary medicine is also a classic occupation in which the customer is not always right. Additionally, people are emotionally stressed because their pets are injured or ill; there is a lot of money involved (also stressful); there is a high possibility that, no matter how we explain it, what we’re trying to do may be beyond the client’s comprehension (a thus will seem needless, overpriced, and, to the hypersensitive, sadistic); and there are lots and lots of myths and wives’ tales with which actual medical knowledge must compete.

For anyone who thinks his or her veterinarian and staff are lining their pockets: Trust me, the overhead costs associated with veterinary medicine will knock the breath out of you. The materials and medications alone are very expensive. It’s basically uninsured medicine. It takes a lot of people to keep our facilities clean and our patients clean, safe, and supervised. Think about it: Would you want to take your dog to a place that was understaffed, hired people with questionable judgment and skills, and maybe not so clean? Do you want someone monitoring your pet who doesn’t have the good sense or the interest to notice if the pet changes demeanor, the catheter comes loose, etc.?

Anyway, clients frequently treated us terribly. On a good day, I only got ribbed a little bit about being a glorified dog-holder, or asked what I wanted to do when I finished high school (I have a B.A. in history, and most of a B.S. in biology–I had a scheduling problem and changed majors my senior year–from a very good college, and I worked very hard to earn/almost-earn both of them). On a bad day, I got to be a verbal punching bag. The receptionists got it even worse because they were on the front line between us and clients–we only had to call the police a few times (one guy, after 9/11, physically attacked an employee who had an Arabic name), but we fired a number of clients who repeatedly abused our staff. A few of them eventually tried to come back, which suggested to us that they had been fired as clients from every veterinary hospital in the area and were making a second round.

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Erica September 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

@The Elf – agreed. After graduating from college I got my dream job… then 9/11 happened a few months later and I was one of the first to go. I ended up waitressing for quite a while at a themed German restaurant until I found a new job in my field. It was the kind of place where the waitresses sang Edelweiss and danced while and a guy wearing lederhosen blew an Alpine horn. While I had a ton of fun, I dealt with customers who blamed me (sometime angrily) for mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes were mine, but not always.

Once… the Alpine horn guy wasn’t there, and that particular evening he was replaced by an older couple who played an assortment of cowbells. I was actually told by one table that I was being given a bad tip because they expected better entertainment.

If everyone had a job at some point in retail or food service then they would learn patience and be a better person for it. After my experience, I believe that a job in food service teaches you empathy. Not only for the server, but for people in general. After all — not everything is as it seems. Think about that the next time you want to leave a next-to-nothing tip.

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Shiksagoddess September 20, 2011 at 11:15 am

Servers (waiters/waitresses) get the same, or worse. People get psychotic about their food.

True story: I worked at a place that rhymes with Lennys on the punks and drunks shift, while working on my degree at a Jesuit university. I approached a table and a man loudly proclaimed “Do you know what ‘tip’ means? It stands for To Insure Promptness. Get it?” I replied without missing a beat “no sir, that would be impossible.” When he said “oh really?” in a nasty condescending voice, I explained that according to Webster’s, “insure” meant to guarantee against loss or harm, and “ensure” means to secure or make certain. As he looked completely poleaxed, I contined “so “tip” wouldn’t apply, and “tep” just sounds funny. Now, can I bring you some coffee?”

So my surprise, he actually left me a tip…not a tep.

- the shiksagoddess

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hedge September 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

I think Sarah Jane has it right. Someone that works in a grocery but doesn’t have the credentials or even intelligence is no less of a person and no less deserving of respect. Those that believe otherwise are just foolish and people that are rude to someone serving them are likely rude and condescending to everyone anyway.

By explaining our credentials we only show that we let that person put us on the defensive. What is the point? Does it make one less of a person if they didn’t know that was a line from a poem? Does a person in Medical school deserve more respect than someone that dropped out of high school?

This is one of the tiresome aspects of dealing with the public and anyone serving people is going to experience it sometimes, even Doctors.

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Caper September 20, 2011 at 11:51 am

Once, at a place I worked before, a nasty man said in a condescending tone “You know dear, you need to get out of this job and get yourself an actual education” to which I responded “How do you think my education gets paid for ?”. Shut him right up, it did.

I also had a man invade my space and ask invasive questions – in front of his wife ! (He accused me of having a hickey on my neck, which I did not. And then demanded to know where it came from because ‘I won’t know unless you tell me.’ among other things, while having his face 2 inches from mine). I simply grabbed my wallet and went to break, leaving my coworker there (in hindsight, I should have called security but I was incredibly angry).

I just remind myself that people who treat me like dirt, simply from working where I do, are ignorant and clearly none to bright. I am far better than they are and all they’re good for is an example of how not to treat others.

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Cady September 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

On top of the fact that it’s just rude to assume people in “unskilled” jobs are not intelligent, in today’s economy it’s unrealistic. I have a bachelor’s degree and work as a receptionist in a medical office. My friend with a master’s slings pizzas. It’s unwise these days to assume anyone who’s working a low-paying job hasn’t been to college, because we’re forced to take what we can get!

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Angela September 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

I’m a college professor and I still occasionally get treatment from students or colleagues that I’m pretty sure doesn’t happen to the male faculty. I was meeting with a male student a few years ago about how to handle a missed exam and he kept interrupting me and talking over me…after a couple of times I said “Listen, when you’re talking to a professor you LISTEN and you don’t talk over him or her…especially when you want a favor!” That was pretty effective. This guy did it to other women too but not to the men. My husband teaches at a different university, much closer to our house, and he does a lot of the taking kids to the doctor, picking up sick kids…but the school will often still call me first even when he is the person who usually does it. The doctor’s office will call me to arrange something, not him and are a little surprised when I tell them that they need to clear it with the dad’s schedule more so than mine.

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Gilraen September 20, 2011 at 11:59 am

The sexism is everywhere. I am a consultant (environmental engineering) and my secretary is male. When we walk in people immediately assume he is the consultant. You don’t want to know how much fun that has caused over the years, we just make joke out of it.

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Elizabeth September 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

To BeachMum and admin,
When I ask people what they do, I am just generally trying to make conversation. If someone mentions their job, it is easy for me to ask about it. But if someone tells me that they are a SAHM, it’s not that I don’t think they work hard or aren’t intelligent or whatever, I just have no question to come back with.

It would be really helpful if SAHMs could say, “I’m a SAHM mom, but before we had kids I … got an MBA, was an astronaut, etc.” Or, perhaps the reply could be: “I’m a SAHM, what do you do?” Because 9 times out of 10, I just get “I’m a SAHM,” and then just look at me while I’m trying to come up with something interesting to say to that, and it’s usually awkward. So then I’m worried that I’ve come across as judging their decision (which I’m not) or that I can’t relate to being a SAHM (which is closer to the truth, as I neither have kids or stay at home).

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Leela September 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat people in the service industry (or retail workers.)

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PhDeath September 20, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Recently, my cell rang while I was beginning to make my purchases at a drug store. The number was unfamiliar and, as my husband recently started a career in a very dangerous line of work, I feel compelled to answer any such calls (I’m told by other spouses that I’ll calm down, eventually!) It turned out to be a quick appointment confirmation.

After I hung up, I apologized to the cashier, briefly explaining that my husband was in a new, scary job and I was still too nervous to let unknown calls go to voicemail. She looked taken aback and replied, “You have no need to apologize, but thank you for doing so. You have no idea how many people act like I’m not here, whether or not they’re on the phone.”

We ended up having a nice chat, but I was struck by the sadness of her comment. How hard is it, really, to acknowledge someone?

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DocCAC September 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

@OP–Interestingly enough, when I was in medical school I was asked once where to find a certain room, and I replied I didn’t know, I would have to find them a nurse. One of the women said to me she thought I was a nurse and I must’ve looked like “Huh?” because she said I was standing behind the desk looking at a chart and had on pink (a pink top and navy pants and short white jacket with Dr. C on it and I was the only person at the desk at the time. Oh, and female). The student nurses wore pink and that’s all she saw. I just said no, I was one of the doctors and found someone for them (they wanted a different wing of the hospital and I didn’t know how to tell them to get there; I was new at that particular hospital). I also didn’t wear pink again for a very long time. The people who mistook me for a nurse or persisted in calling me their nurse were women in their 40s and 50s, never a man, at least not that they ever said anything like “Oh, I thought you were a nurse.”. I decided when I started out not to get bent out of shape about things like that–it was their problem, not mine and I just corrected them. It’s also interesting to note that evidently things haven’t changed that much in the many moons since I went to med. school since I got the “Oh, you’re going to be a nurse like your mother” comments. Like you, I have the utmost respect for nurses, it just wasn’t my career path.

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livvy September 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I definitely think everyone would be improved as a person by working in retail for a year or two! Customers can be absolutely nutty.

I will say, though, that I hope you don’t prickle too much about the advice to put the cold things together….I always arrange the conveyor so the cold items are together, but STILL sometimes wind up with the cold things spread randomly through bags. (I don’t know how or why, but sometimes it does happen.)

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KLR September 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I was once asked by a regular customer if I was a high school drop out, because I have worked at the same restaurant since he started ordering out there. The owners are like second parents and treat me incredibly well. I went to a culinary school for baking, and will one day take over their business when they retire. For me, it’s a smart business decision…to others, who don’t know the details…I’m a 27 year old who can’t do any better. I am thankful that the majority of my customers are friendly, sweet people…it’s depressing to say that a handful of bad customers can ruin your entire day. It’s a shame that people assume things about you before they get to know you.

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Ashley September 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm

In my 25 years on this planet, I have worked at a bowling alley, as a cashier at an office supply store, a cashier at a small restaurant, at a gas station, and as a janitor at the YMCA, all before settling into my currant position as the branch manager of a lending company. Please note there were times I was working two jobs at once so it’s not like I was switching jobs every day. When I was working all the cashier/janitorial jobs, my intelligence was insulted almost daily, weekly at the very least. It’s awful really. Those jobs paid for my schooling, and sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. And if someone insulted my intelligence, I usually managed to come up with a witty retort. Now at my currant job, I finally get treated like a human rather than some lowly servant. It’s taught me a lot. I can’t imagine treating anyone how I was treated some days before my job came with a fancy title.

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JD September 20, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I’ve worked as an office manager for several years now, and most people treat me fairly well, but I had one colleague… He was about 20 years my junior and an engineer, and was trying to work the copier one day, getting really exasperated. I happened to walk near him and he impatiently told me to “fix the thing.” I was very busy and I was no more responsible for that copier than he was, but I paused and glanced at it. It was simple– he just needed to push a certain button to clear it — which I very nicely told him. He sneered, “Look, honey, I didn’t go to (name of big university) for four years just to run a copier!” I raised my eyebrows and replied, “That’s funny; I didn’t go there four years to run a copier either!” and walked on without waiting to see if he got it running again or not. I had graduated from the same college with a four year degree, too, and he had forgotten that. Maybe that wasn’t too polite of me, but he didn’t make that kind of remark to me again.
And my daughter was a checkout clerk in a grocery store while she went through college, so I feel the OP’s pain!

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Maitri September 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I am the lead recruiter at a small staffing company; I happen to sit at the front desk. It makes me giggle, the number of people who walk in and treat me like garbage because they think I’m “just” a secretary, only to find out that I make the hiring decisions. I frequently get calls where someone is like, “yeah the girl at the front desk said I couldn’t be hired but I want to talk to the supervisor.” Guess what, you got her. I’m also the “girl at the front desk.”

I agree with The Elf but would add: everyone needs to work at either retail OR as a server OR as a CSR. It gives you a new appreciation for those who are just starting out in their careers. I worked for 2 years as a CSR before getting into HR, and I am *always* super nice to CSR’s because I know what they go through.

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Maya September 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm

It’s funny, because I actually work as a freelance writer and reporter. People assume constantly that I must make loads of money, have fabulous friends, and live a life of incomprehensible glamor and excitement a la Carrie Bradshaw. They also assume I must have like nine degrees.

I’m broke, under-qualified, and currently working on a technical manual about how to conceal speaker wire when setting up a sound system…and the second I finish my masters, I’m so totally out of here. Trust me, coming from a family of beauticians, I know first hand that they are far, FAR from stupid. The pricing at salons is difficult to understand, and a lot of the women in my family have turned into up-selling, business savvy math whizzes over the years, who could make Harvard MBAs look like chimpanzees trying to figure out the mechanics of the tire swing.

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Susan September 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I work in Academia as a Coordinator. It helps when people have no idea what your title means. They tend to err on the side of importance. I’ve been addressed as “Doctor” in emails. I’ve always been tempted to forward those to my mother.

I’ve worked in Fast Food, Restaraunts and Grocery Stores. Maybe it’s because I was young, but I never felt anyone being condescending towards me. I think a lot of these are simply clumsy attempts at conversation. I’m convinced some people are just raised by wolves, they can’t help it. :)

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