I was reading the Bad Business Etiquette archives and it brought to mind an incident which occurred a few years ago. I’m not entirely sure that this qualifies as an etiquette faux pas but I thought your readers would get a kick out of it anyway. At the time I was really irritated but in retrospect, I can’t stop laughing. The incredulity I felt hasn’t faded in these three intervening years though…
For a conference, I had traveled to a small city near D.C. with a population of around 25K. Not large by any means but not small enough to have no exposure to the world outside. Btw, I’m Canadian. After a lovely day wandering around D.C. I drove my rental car to my hotel and stopped at a humongous chain department store for some toiletries I’d forgotten. While there, I noticed with glee that there was a wine section (the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled by my province and other than a couple of small, sanctioned, pop-up shops in grocery stores, the only way to buy alcohol in the city is to go to the provincial stores). After a few happy moments of browsing, I decided to pick up a bottle to enjoy with my dinner because well, why not! I took my purchases to the register and as expected, I was asked for I.D.
I explained that I was Canadian and that I had my driver’s license but perhaps the cashier would prefer to see my passport. Though this varies from state to state, my license has frequently been accepted as I.D. for alcohol purchases, especially in states close to the border. The cashier looked confused, took my license, looked at it and told me she couldn’t accept it. Okay, no problem. Would she like to see my passport? The response? “Well I need to see some American I.D.” I explained again that I was visiting from Canada and since I wasn’t American, I didn’t have any American I.D. but I did have my passport. I pulled it out. She looked at it dubiously and again asked, “Is it American because I need to see some American I.D.” Up to this point, I had been extremely pleasant, asking how her day was, joking about my excitement at finding wine in the store but she was seriously beginning to try my patience. She was a older lady and may have had a slight mental handicap so I fought to maintain my politeness and asked her what she felt we should do…perhaps there was a manager available? I was beginning to consider just leaving the wine behind but by then, I had already mentally pictured myself enjoying a glass and I was loath to walk away without it.
The cashier stopped a passing manager and told him, “She wants to buy a bottle of wine but she doesn’t have any I.D.” Yet again I explained that I did have a Canadian driver’s license but I understood if they couldn’t accept that. I also had my passport. By then, I may have begun to speak faster out of frustration. I was still quite polite. Manager also looked uncertain and confused. Three years later, I forget exactly what he said but it was enough to make me lose my cool and say, “So what you’re telling me is that you cannot sell alcohol to Canadians? Fine, forget it…forget the wine.” Maybe because he could see I was visibly upset, he took my passport. He was flustered himself and instead of checking the photo page to confirm my identity and my age, he started flipping through the pages reserved for visas. I asked him what he was looking for, perhaps I could help him find it. Turns out he was looking for the entry stamp (confuses me to this day…did he think I was an illegal alien?!). I was so agitated by then that I confused the date and accidentally showed him a Mexican entry stamp I had received earlier that year (I guess I flipped the month and day). As I showed it, I realized my mistake but before I could correct myself, he looked at it, nodded and told the cashier to sell me the wine!!!!!!!!!! 0708-16