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 }

Kat September 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Not E-hell approved, but I do this a lot anyway:

“What do you do?”
“Make sarcastic comments.”

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Doc's Wife September 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

My husband is a foreign medical graduate and so he had to take licensing exams when he moved here. During that time I primarily supported us while he studied. One afternoon at a party I was with a close friend and an acquaintance I know through that close friend and we were talking about work and home.

My friend commented, “I can’t imagine only having one of us working and having to live off one income!”
I jokingly said, “Hey, hello?? Look who you’re talking to.”
She said, “That’s right, I totally forgot.”
The acquaintance then said, “Oh I didn’t know you stayed home…..”
DOH!

Why do they always assume it’s the man supporting the family?

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Annelise13 September 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Having worked those sorts of jobs myself in the past, I confess I completely judge people by how they treat those in service and admin assistant roles. I’ve discovered more than one person’s true colors that way.

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Lizza September 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Oh, I feel your daughter’s pain! I too am a cosmetologist, and not to brag but I am rather intelligent and went to “normal” college for several years before deciding it wasn’t for me. I love what I do, but it burns me up that people assume that I do hair because I’m too stupid to do anything else! They’re always so surprised when I mention I tried college or talk about something out of the ordinary. (Last year there was a gathering for “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman at the House on the Rock for Halloween and I lamented that I couldn’t go – the response from one guy was, “You read?!”)

Anyway. I don’t understand how people can be so rude and condescending – you really can’t assume anything about anyone due to their job. And they should remember that many people, especially now, are working their way through college.

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Calypso September 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm

With respect to Sarah Jane, while we can’t be 100% sure the people in the OP intended to be condescending, the tendency for *some* people to make assumptions about the “inferiority” of those in the service industries is unquestionably the truth. I think, at its heart, it comes from a fearful insecurity and a desperate need to believe in the “hard work” always equals great financial and prestige-laden success and “good education” (which in itself is a very very debatable term) always equals the same. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but people lacking in innate ability need desperately to believe it, so, conversely, the only reason for working in an “inferior” job is that you didn’t work hard enough or get a “good” education.
I’ve noticed two things: most truly intelligent, talented people never condescend this way, no matter how high up they are. And, as a PP has pointed out, I benefited so much from working many blue-collar jobs when I was younger, because I believed in the Great Myth as much as anyone until then. When I got to know the people in those jobs, it was different, but from the outside, the false premises held.

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Margaret September 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Did anyone else look for a “like” button when they read Kat’s comment @#52?

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Sara September 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Ugh….I used to teach at a private school, and the two secretaries working in the front office were routinely treated like total idiots by the parents. Apparently, none of them knew that one of the secretaries has a degree in math from Harvard and the other was a practicing attorney for several years; both are retired and just took jobs at the school as a way to fill their days and bring in a little extra cash.

Although I do have to say, on the “bagging cold things with hot”–I don’t ask for it in a rude and condescending way, but sometimes I do have to ask for those things to be bagged separately. I have actually come home from the grocery store with room-temperature dairy products on more than one occasion because the person bagging my groceries didn’t realize that it’s not a good idea to put a hot rotisserie chicken in the same bag as a carton of yogurt. I realize this is completely beside the point, but I just had to mention it. :P

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The Elf September 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm

You said it, Leela. My father-in-law is a perfect example. I always get embarrassed by the way he tears into waitstaff for the slightest thing and then doesn’t leave a tip (or leaves an inadequate one). I’ve taken to going to the bathroom just as we are leaving so I have an excuse to walk by the table again and drop a real tip. If I didn’t already know he was an ass, I’d be convinced by that.

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Etta Kett September 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I worked the counter at a dry cleaner’s. The worst was customers spelling their names at me before I had the chance to ask. Names like K-I-N-G and W-A-R-D. Or worse, the people don’t even say their names, just start spelling because they assume I won’t know how to spell it even if it’s spelt just like it sounds…

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Mary-Sue September 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I worked in fast food for more years than I care to admit, and I could write of novel of all the hellish behaviour from customers I had to put up with. From being screamed at for something that happened when I wasn’t working, being talked down to like I was an idiot with a room temperature IQ, having people literally throw their money at me to pay for their stuff….you name it, it happened to me. It was quite the eye-opening experience to see how rude and condescending people could actually be.

Not long ago I was getting my favorite yummy coffee drink when the cashier informed me they were out of the size I wanted. No big deal, right? Except the cashier was bracing herself, as if she was expecting me to yell at her for being out of something. I just shrugged and got another size drink. It makes me wonder how many people threw a hissy-fit and demanded the poor casher get them something the place didn’t have and get it for them now Now NOW!!!

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--E September 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm

It happens at all levels. I work with a lot of academics, and sometimes they look so stunned that I know something about X or Y, when I only have a Bachelor’s degree. They’re doubly flummoxed when it’s some topic that isn’t their area of expertise, but that I happen to have studied in depth, on my own.

Do not get me started on those who think a PhD in their specific field translates into being an expert in how to do my job, which is of a variety that is strictly learned via apprenticeship and on-the-job experience.

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LS September 20, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I live in a university town, so the joke is that we have the best educated bartenders and clerks around.
In a good way, it keeps people from making assumptions about those in the workplace.

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AS September 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Sorry for submitting another comment, but I just wanted to share another story.

One morning, I got a free coffee and doughnut because I was all smiles to the cashier at the coffee place I go frequently to and the manager was around. Manager came up and told the cashier that I don’t have to pay because it is nice to see a friendly, smiling face in the morning.

That is when it struck me that people notice when you are nice to them, and I continued to make sure I greet anyone providing me any service (I don’t expect free service every time though ?). So everyone who wants to be condescending or rude – just remember that people notice and appreciate friendly gestures.

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hannah September 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I’m a RN now — still get plenty of comments to the tune that nurses are just people who weren’t smart enough to get into medical school. Or “why didn’t you go to medical school?”

On the other hand, I work in a field where LPN/LVNs often dominate. So when patients hear that I’m not only a RN but a BSN, they immediately begin to bad-mouth LPNs and “thank god to have a real nurse.” Ugh!

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anotherloginname September 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm

My first day of university we were told “You’re in a university town, be nice to your servers, they are probably better qualified than you are”. It astounded me the number of people who thought that was a revelation. I just wondered why we shouldn’t be nice regardless.

There are a lot of highly qualified people in service positions (been there, done that, got the t-shirt). There are also a lot of less qualified and/or intelligent people as well, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect. Personally I treat service staff the same regardless. I don’t assume they are stupid, I just think smiling and asking how there day is going is an appropriate interaction for the circumstances, and one that fits nicely regardless of why they are doing the job they are.

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Hanna September 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm

“(I should note that this last incident may not have been classism for the grocery clerk but sexism for the FEMALE grocery clerk.)”

I would NOT jump to that conclusion so fast. Nursing is in the medical field, it would not unusual for someone to assume that one can go to medical school to become a nurse. And really, someone asking if you’re going to become a nurse as opposed to a doctor is not offensive, at least it wasn’t in this context. Nursing is just as a respectable job (if not moreso almost) than a doctor’s.

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The Other Amber September 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I’ve worked a number of jobs – I’ve been a file clerk, done taxes, teaching assistant, tour manager, concert manager, cashier, and now I’m self employed. I try to be pleasant and friendly with cashiers, servers etc because I know how demanding and thankless their jobs can be. I don’t assume this job is “the best they can do” for most of them, although I will admit that for some it’s probably the case. There are a few cashiers that I make an effort to avoid because experience tells me they’ll take 2 – 3 times as longer than other casheirs to complete the transaction, and certain servers I will make an effort to avoid because I know something will be wrong with my order otherwise. I’ll also say that there’s one vet at my local veterinary office that I avoid because honestly she’s just not that good – doing a bad job is not limited to those in service roles.

I’ll also say that there are an astounding number of people in “professional” jobs that really should not have those jobs based on their performance and lack of knowledge about their professions, and I’m willing to bet that it’s mostly those types of people who display the levels of rudeness and arrogance talked about here to those working in service positions.

As for the objection to the “what do you do” question – I also think that most of the people who ask it aren’t trying to pigeon-hole or categorize others, but as a conversation starter. If I find out what job someone has I might ask questions like where did they go to school, what’s their area of specialty, what kind of training is required for that etc. It’s not because I’m going to think more or less of them because of their occupation, I just want to have something to talk about. As a PP has pointed out, often we have no idea where to go with a response of “I’m a SAHM” other than asking about your kids, which is fine but I want to know more about YOU. Maybe we should start asking about hobbies first instead of work.

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GroceryGirl September 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Hi, OP again, I can’t help but just add one more thing. I know that it shouldn’t get under my skin when people tell me to keep their cold items together (although, generally I wish I could point out to them that they can always bag their own stuff and make life easier for all involved) but in my case I work at a very small store and have for a relatively long time in the grocery world. I’m not just one face of a thousand at super stop and shop; I’m one of 40 at a tiny store with seven registers and I know most of my customers if not by name but at least face. If they could put their iPhones down for a minute they might even get to know mine.

And I agree with all that your level of education doesn’t matter at all. Everyone deserves courtesy and respect.

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Geekerella September 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I’ve worked in the video game and computer sections of a couple stores and I have to say I got so many condescending comments from people who think I have no idea what I’m talking about just because I’m a female. I’ve been playing on my MUM’s Atari 2600 since I was a kid and had all my own systems for gaming and these days build my own computers, but I have so many people walk up to me and ask to speak to the man who works in that department. There’s quite a few days there’s only us girls around too.

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Micha September 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I worked a couple years at a go kart/pizza/arcade place… thing for a few years, including right after I graduated from college. Oi, the prize counter was the worst. But I’m a better person for it.

Heck, recently, the stylist at the salon I went to for the first time gave me a hug and said she’d never forget me, since I perked her day up during my haircut. (I’m moving out of state, so sadly can’t become a regular).

I know too many people in customer service jobs that tell the most awful stories of how they are treated. Really keeps one on track with treating people like people. Even people who act all nice to the waiter so they think they don’t have to leave a tip. ><

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me September 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm

The sexism part reminds me of an old riddle I was given in a metaphysics unit when I first started uni:

a man is driving his son to school. they get into an accident and the man dies. the son is rushed to the hospital and when he arrives for emergency surgery the doctor says “i cant operate on this boy, HES MY SON!”…..how can this happen?

although the riddle is old now and one would assume that the answer is obvious, only 10% of the class figured out that the doctor was the boys mother, the most popular answer was: The first man wasnt his real dad. Even myself who is studying hard to get into medical school, took a while to work it out I am ashamed to admit.

On a side note, my husband works in retail management and was recently accepted into a higher management training position and the second in charge of his department took over his old role. The thing was that she couldnt actually do it so my husband was asked to go back and train her and do the work she couldnt, out two sons (aged 4 and 5) hardly saw him before this so it was not a good arrangement; but only for six months so we put up with it. Then this woman starts complaining my husband was not putting enough effort into doing the job HER JOB!!! on facebook. She was taken into the office by the manager who had seen the comments and ended up quitting ‘because they were so unfair’. Then her and a friend of hers were saying degrading things about my husband and the manager on facebook again, I politely (yes VERY politely) asked them to remove the comments for everyones sake including their own. Well I was hit with a tirade of abuse like I have not seen even in high school! They told me I had no right to comment, I was lazy and had never done a days work in my life and so dont deserve an opinion, that I diddnt have looks OR brains and was a worthless mother (among more graphic things) I was genuinely shocked! These women were in their 40′s so I expected a little more of a mature attitude, I was only 24 at the time. I have also worked as an apprentice mechanic at 18 and a laboratory analyst at 16. I am now in university with a GPA high enough for med school. I am ashamed to admit that I was quit rude in this next part, but keep in mind these women told me to hang myself because it would make my kids better off.

I did tell her that I had achieved a lot more in my life than she had (I diddnt mean to put down retail workers, but this woman had NO drive whatsoever and no education).

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Lassie September 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Sort of related, rather condescending thing happened to me, out to dinner with husband, his boss, and boss’ wife. Wife: “So, Lassie, what do you do?” Me: “I’ve been a stay at home mom for the last few years.” Wife: “Oh…so you don’t work.. tell me, did you ever have a job outside the home?” I think she phrased it badly and didn’t mean for it to come out like that, but I had to laugh. I was a 45 year old woman with a 5 year old, married for 6 years – who had in the past worked, yes, outside the home, since age 15! And gone to school. What did she think I’d been doing between high school graduation and the present time??

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Marna September 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I’d like to ask UK Helen what is so all-fired horrible about being mistaken for a secretary.

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Catherine September 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I’m a zookeeper. I have a bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology. I have a vast knowledge of genetics, ecology, psychology, and zoological anatomy & physiology – not to mention years of experience working hard to care for many beautiful, exotic animals and save them from extinction. And yet still, on more than one occasion, I have had parents point me out to their children while I’m cleaning, and say things like, “See, that’s why you stay in school – so you don’t get a job like that!” Um, excuse me? I love my job. It requires intelligence and skill, and I worked hard to get where I am. Don’t assume that just because someone is doing something that YOU wouldn’t like to do, that means a) That’s ALL they ever do, or b) It’s beneath you.

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Another Lisa September 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm

My sister is also a successful cosmetologist & hair stylist.

One day a customer commented that her teenaged daughter wanted to become a hair stylist as well. When my sister replied, “Oh, that’s wonderful!” the customer looked astonished. She said, “She gets all A’s & B’s. It’s ridiculous that she would WANT to do something that requires no intelligence whatsover!”

My sister replied, “Excuse me, but I was a 4.0 student who never missed being on the honor roll. I played sports and edited the yearbook. I was voted most popular and best all-around.” And then since she had built up so much steam… “AND I was the PROM QUEEN!” LOL

That customer hasn’t come back.

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PrincessSimmi September 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Oh, how I hate it when people treat me like I’m stupid purely because I’m young, and a waitress. It’s my SECOND job. My OTHER job in an OFFICE pays my MORTGAGE.

My favourite customers are the ones that look me in the eye and call me by name. My least favourites are the ones that talk on the phone, mumble, fail to look me in the eye and leave without tipping me.

Speaking of mumbling… the customer I had the other day took the cake. I think she was about 13 or 14, so old enough to know better!

Me: And what can I get you to drink?
Girl: mmnggreh.
Me: Uh… I’m sorry, can you repeat that please?
Girl: lllllennnnghhhh.
Me: Lemonade?
Girl: Nods while staring at the ceiling.

*Sigh*

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greenpea September 21, 2011 at 12:12 am

Squashedfrog, your story reminds me of a couple of recent incidents in Singapore. The first one: I approached a cashier, smiled and said “Hi, how are you?” as I handed up my items. For a moment, he was in shock and almost dropped my items, before he was able to stammer out, “I’m good, thank you. How are you?”. After, he apologised for his surprise and explained that in all his years in the industry, he’s only heard that phrase uttered to him less than 5 times. The week after that, when a sales assistant wished me to “Have a nice day!”, I replied “Thanks, hope you have a great day too.” She also looked at me in amazement and (in a kind of sad voice) told me that no one ever said that to her, and that the usual response was “Yeh, OK.”… Wow….

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Gracie C. September 21, 2011 at 12:37 am

@Elizabeth – the easiest responses to the SAHM answer are, “Oh, how many kids do you have?” “How old are they?” That sort of thing. After a couple basic questions, you can easily shift to a question about hobbies or such.

For those of you who don’t like the “What do you do?” question – I read a tip somewhere that I thought was great, if you give it some thought and are ready with the answer. Just “misunderstand” the question, and give an answer that has nothing to do with your job. For example, instead of saying, “I’m a waitress,” respond with, “I play tennis, and I love going to movies. And I just started a photography class,” etc.

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Rifish September 21, 2011 at 4:11 am

@ PrincessSimmi:

My husband spent a season as a ski instructor a few years ago. During one lesson he was explaining something to an 11-year-old student and she said “it’s creepy that you look at my eyes when you talk to me”. He was taken aback and asked why. Apparently, she and her friends don’t make eye contact while chatting because they’re constantly looking at their phones!

Maybe your mumbling teen was of this camp who think it’s rude or weird to look at people you’re talking to.

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The Elf September 21, 2011 at 8:58 am

Etta Kett, the immediate spelling of the last name (or first) might be a reaction to many times asked. My last name is a short one, a common word in the English language, spelled in the typical sense and phonetically. Yet, I’ve been asked to spell it numerous times. I think many customer service representatives automatically ask for the spelling to ensure it is entered into the database correctly. Oddly, I still see it mispelled (and I’m not sure how that is possible).

Since I would have to spell out my first name anyhow (it is unusual), I usually just spell the second as well. I usually do so without being prompted whenever my name is being taken down for something. This isn’t meant to be condescending, and I hope you don’t take it that way.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson September 21, 2011 at 10:58 am

When I was young I was very, very pretty, and I worked retail. If I were physically able I’d probably STILL work retail, as I loved it. But some of the customers — oh, yeah. The men who assume that because you sell things you are for sale (or at least rent) as well, that because you don’t make much money you are open to unsavory suggestions how to get more. I got so tired of them looking down my blouse — even asking me to get something out of a low display case just so they -could- look down my blouse — that I started wearing turtle necks to work.

And then there were the wives, the ones who thought they were entitled to be snotty to sales staff just because they were married to a man with money. And they were always the ones with the most difficult kids. Once when I worked in a place that sold lots of little ceramic tchatches, this unsupervised kid, despite being asked by the sales staff and told by his mother (you know that kind of admonishment — the vague “Sweetie, don’t do that” without even looking) not to play with the figurines, the kid kept doing it, with the well-known “I’m getting away with something” smirk. Finally I stepped very close to him and asked, “Do you know what will happen to you if you keep playing with the merchandise?” Mute headshake. “Your hands will fall off.” You never saw a kid stick so close to his mother for the rest of their stay!

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Yet Another Laura September 21, 2011 at 11:57 am

I’m always as nice as I can be to tech support, customer service reps, people behind the counter anywhere, servers at restaurants. I agree with the posters who think everyone should work a year at a customer service job.

A couple gems from my experience.

When I worked as a tech support agent with a computer manufacturer, I would answer the phone with “Thank you for calling XYZ tech support, this is Yet Another Laura, how can I help you?” and the response would often be: I’d like to speak to a tech. Sometimes I’d get them asking my location and since it wasn’t the same as Corporate, they’d want to be transferred to a tech in (state where Corporate is located) because those techs told the customer the techs in (my state) were idiots. And then I’d usually fix the problem the techs at Corporate couldn’t solve. I have Happy Customer Letters from a couple of them.

And when I worked at the city desk for an electronic parts warehouse, customers would tell me they had a question for one of the guys. The most fun I had with that was this one:

Customer: I have a question for one of the guys.
Me: They’re all on the phone, I can help you.
Customer: I need to ask one of the guys a question.
Me: It’ll be a while, the phone’s ringing off the hook. (It was. One guy hung up and instantly the phone rang and there were two calls on hold.) I can help you.
Customer: (Noticing the phone craziness for the first time) Well, all right. What is this?

He held out a resistor. I told him what it was, a 1k ohm, quarter-watt resistor with 5% tolerance and that they’re 5 cents a piece in aisle 7b.

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Margaret September 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Re: Lassie (#73) — When I first had kids, I used to get that “not working” comment a lot. Finally one day I said, “I’m working harder than ever — just not getting paid!!”

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Jamesy September 21, 2011 at 1:04 pm

@RiFish:
That is the most horrifying anecdote I’ve heard to date. Am I allowed to run through the streets, slapping phones out of the hands of obnoxious pre-teens?

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Enna September 21, 2011 at 3:20 pm

@ Sarah Jane, I think it was because the OP is female that the costomer made that assumption. The first customer stated “You know, that is from a poem.” in a slow condescening manner, instead of joining in politely and say “I know that poem too!”.

Sometimes we make assupmtions by mistake, inncontely but there are cases when this happens and it is done in a rude manner.

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Shiksagoddess September 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm

@ Yarnspinner: my DH and FIL are teachers and college professors, and they talk to EVERYONE the way you described. They both come across as very condescending, but they aren’t. They’re just … teachers. When I asked my DH if he knew how he sounded to other people, he was genuinely confused. Other people, whom we have just met (and are perhaps more tolerant) would say “you’re DH is a teacher, isn’t he?”

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Jennifer September 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I was working at a Little Caesar’s when some guy came in and said “Hail Caesar!” and then “You know who Caesar is? You should, even if you only work at a pizza place.” I was about to go off to college at a (I worked all through college as well, I don’t believe you’re ever too “good” for a job_ and had been tired of people treating me like I was stupid. So I said “I was born as free as Caesar, so were you…” from Cassius’s speech in Act 1 of Julius Caesar. The guy looked at me going “wha?” It probably wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but I was a tired 18 year old.

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Kay L September 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Everyone deserves to be treated kindly regardless.

When you defend yourself against someone’s condescension by bringing up your own achievements or degrees, you are in some small way admitting that it is by those achievements that you should be treated kindly and nothing could be further from the truth.

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PrincessSimmi September 22, 2011 at 12:00 am

@Jamesy, I think RiFish’s comment was great. It’s so true. I didn’t know what colour my cousin’s eyes were until about a week ago, because he was always too busy staring at the computer.

@RiFish: It’s possible. I find I get uncomfortable from people looking me in the eye. I tend to look at the bridge of their nose. I used to work with a large group of men who were of a different background, and had never seen blue eyes before, so they would spend hours staring at mine. It freaked me out.

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me September 22, 2011 at 7:19 am

Kay L September 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I cant agree there, if you are merely trying to state you are not as stupid as they assume, but i do agree that everyone should be treated with equal courtesy

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delislice September 22, 2011 at 7:44 am

For a while, I held a master’s degree and worked in a supermarket deli. Yes, people will treat you as if you are uneducated! Meanwhile, my coworkers were all along the spectrum as to how much education they had, but they all were much more experienced and knowledgeable about the job we were doing, and they taught me a lot.

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Gracie C. September 22, 2011 at 10:38 am

@Kay L – hear hear. Some of the comments were rubbing me the wrong way, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and I think your comment shed light on it for me. You are right, the endless strings of accomplishments seem to indicate a thought process of “don’t talk down to me, I’m well educated, accomplished, adorable, etc.” when it should really just be, “treat everyone with respect, or at least basic kindness.”

As for that thought that everyone should spend a year working retail – seems to me the people who treat retail workers like dirt, would mearly turn into the retail workers who treat customers like dirt. There are bad apples on both sides of the register.

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Asharah September 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm

My nephew graduated from college, worked an office job for about a year, then decided to return to the same line of work he did while in college….waiting tables. I think he’s actually making more money in tips then he did working in an office.

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Silvia September 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm

@ Kay L – I was going to say a similar remark but you phrased it better & more succinctly.

For the record…. An education does not make you more intelligent or more worthy. I’m lucky enough to have an education yet I know many intelligent, well-read, hard-working people who did not have the opportunity to even complete high school.

Even if someone is doing a menial job because they have an intellectual disability, they are still entitled to courtesy and there is no reason to ever treat someone in a condescending manner.

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lucky September 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm

A few years ago I started a job at a toy and hobby shop, with most of the hobby regulars being guys who were into RC helicopters and vehicles, and were very much the man’s man type. On my first day there I was behind the register when a regular RC customer walked up to the counter to pay for the replacement parts he was buying to fix his busted RC Helicopter. My new manager warned me that this customer was known for being flirty and condescending to any of the girls that had worked at the store in the past. As he walks up to the counter he sees me, a new face and the only female working there, a petite, attractive, 20-something. He gave me a big smile and said “Well hello there honey, it’s good to see they’ve hired a pretty new face for me to look at.” I smiled said sweetly “Thank you, sir. I can also read and write, my parents are so proud.” He broke down laughing and extended his hand, introduced himself, and said, “I’m sorry, that was not okay of me. I like your style.” While I saw him treat subsequent female workers in the same “hey there darlin’” manner he initially approached me with, from that day forward he always treated me with respect, always called me by name and never “honey” “darlin’” or “sweetie” as he did with the other girls, and never treated me as anything less than an intelligent human being.

I think sometimes it pays to sweetly and politely remind people that you are a complete and multifaceted human being and not just a mindless automaton that lives behind a counter.

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Xtina September 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I’ve been an executive assistant for the past 15 years–early on in my career, my manager was venting to me about how his daughter was not doing well in school and how he couldn’t get it through her head that if she didn’t get good grades and take an interest in something, that she would end up as “a secretary or something”. Ahem–I kindly reminded him that I had a college degree and had stayed at this job because I liked working with him, not because I couldn’t do any better. At least he had the decency to turn red about it.

Some people–geez.

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Kendo_Bunny September 30, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Every once in awhile at my service jobs, I’ll joke that that’s what I went to college for – lifting heavy objects, breaking down boxes, counting inventory, re-loading the credit card machine. People are surprisingly willing to take that as a statement of fact, rather than flippancy. It’s usually “Oh, did you go to trade school?”, or sometimes “Where did you get a degree like that?”. I then state that I got a degree in English Literature, focusing on the development of science fiction across cultures, and thus went to college to learn how to work in the service sector.

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melbatoast September 30, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Working as a grocery store cashier is soul destroying!! I did it throughout high school and 20 years later I still carry the (emotional) scars! (: A lady once threw a block of cheese at me and then yelled at me (until I cried) over a dime she insisted I short-changed her. You really see the worst in people when you work in customer service in any capacity.

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Sam October 3, 2011 at 2:28 am

In my time working in food service, I have come across all manner or presumption and rudeness. It has become bad enough at times that I have since declined to go back to medical school (I already hold a bachelor’s degree in medical science) because the idea of being around people every day who are going to yell, scream, swear and mutter at me turns my stomach. Give me microbes in labs – they don’t talk back!

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Maryann October 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Here’s something I don’t understand. The association between education and intelligence. I’ve known some uneducated people whose thoughts and ideas I believed to be far superior to some of the most educated people I know. Education is as much about ambition, opportunity, and work ethic as it is intellect. And, speaking of intellect, there are a variety of types.

As long as we’re on the subject of not being condescending, it might be time for some to examine their own habits. Listing one’s educational achievements doesn’t make you look smart so much as smug.

I would have it that we treat everyone as intelligent, no matter their station, and work from there. My mom is a housekeeper. She only has a high school diploma. She passed the test for MENSA. Something to bear in mind.

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