Etiquette Hell = Where the ill-mannered deserve to go


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I don't know if this is exactly bad etiquette, but it might be something for the new Customers section under Business Etiquette.   I worked for a few months in a cafe that specialized in health drinks. There was one woman who came is virtually every day and ordered the same thing. The trouble was that she only liked it a certain way, and she swore that only two of the people who worked there could do it right (even though we all followed the same recipe and used the same measuring equipment.) If you didn't make it right, she would demand a new one, over and over again until she got tired of it and went off complaining. The two fellows who "knew" how to make her drink, Michael and Lasse, admitted there was nothing odd they did. Two stories came from this: Michael admitted to me that he had tricked the woman by making one, giving it to her and waiting till she was half done, then after asking if it was to her liking, lying and saying the new guy had made it. After that, she was willing to accept drinks made by the new guy. 

The other story is less amusing, but it occurred one day when neither Michael nor Lasse was working and our woman came in wanting her drink and rejecting three different blends. It then so happened that Lasse came in as a customer on his day off. She spotted him and made him stop what he was doing to go behind the counter and make her drink for her.  I eventually quit the job, partly from having to deal with people like her. Funny thing was, on my last day there she actually accepted the drink as I made it...



I had a friend who worked at a shop across the street from where I went to school, so after class I would occasionally go over and say hello and see how he was doing. Once, when I got there, he was trying to deal with a customer, and I sat back and waited for her to make her purchase and leave. She was already really angry with him because she was returning a product. Apparently, she had bought something that didn't exactly suit her needs and had only found out after she had opened it (he sold electronics and electronic components, and that's a fairly common occurrence). So she had come in mad because the omnipotent one who for some reason is making minimum wage selling batteries and cell phones to technologically ignorant small-towners didn't sell her exactly the thing she needed based on the vague description she'd given him. The thing she needed cost a couple of dollars more than the thing that she originally bought, and she decided to write a check. His store has a very specific and somewhat complex policy for accepting checks. People have to show a couple of forms of ID and give some information like their date of birth for the check to go through the cash register-computer. This woman started cursing at my friend because she had to show him a drivers' license and tell him her DOB. She kept screaming at him and protesting about how invasive he was being, to the extent that it took him ten minutes just to get her check and ring up her purchases. Finally, she had written her precious check, and outraged that my friend was aware of her age and the fact that she could drive in our state, she left. She slammed the door. Hard. The door to the shop has a mechanism that makes a slightly annoying digital "ding-dong," noise so that the clerks will know when a customer comes in, and when she slammed the door, she broke the mechanism, such that it wouldn't stop making that "ding-dong, ding-dong," sound. Emitted once every few minutes, the ding-dong is a reasonable annoyance associated with working in a retail shop, but on repeat, it fairly approximates the soundtrack of Hell. So my friend, already barely masking his rage towards this woman for giving him such a hard time on a fairly simple exchange, had to fix the door mechanism. This took several minutes. I remember, because I sat through this fixing process so that I could calm him down at the end of it, lest he get angry with a perfectly reasonable customer five minutes later. I think his manager had to let him go home early that day because of it, and after getting a college degree and an excellent new job in the microprocessor industry, thinking about that day still angers him.



I spent many years working for a large, multi-store electronics chain.  One day, a college student came into the store, where he purchased a large portable stereo that he planned to take to the beach for the upcoming Spring Break holiday.  When he purchased it, I offered to give him [without charge] the cheap batteries or I could sell him the better batteries that would last longer.  He opted for the freebies.   A week later, he came into the store and started yelling, and demanding his money back.  The radio I had sold him had worked just fine for the first few hours.  But the volume got very quiet.  He turned up the volume, and it was okay for a while.  But after an hour or so, it got quiet again, and he had to turn the volume up ALL THE WAY.  It ran like that for just a few minutes, and then quit altogether.  It worked just fine when he plugged it into the AC, but there was something wrong with that stereo--it just wouldn't work when it wasn't plugged in.    I asked him "Did you check the batteries?".  His self-righteous anger withered.  "Batteries?"  "Yeah" I said "I offered to sell you the better batteries, but you declined and took the cheapies instead.  Did you check them?".  Crestfallen, he said he hadn't checked them.  I removed them and they were, of course, deader than Elvis (there's a rumor that Elvis is still alive--these weren't).  In the spirit of good customer service, I offered to refill his radio with the cheap batteries, but he'd have to buy the good ones.  He took the cheap ones....again...... 


I am not sure if this counts as a customer from hell, but this experience did leave me speechless. My husband and I were at a drugstore chain getting passport-size photographs taken. Through the wonders of technology, my photos (taken first) had turned out fine but my husband's were taken with a new package of bad film and had to be re-done. While we were waiting another customer came in to have her passport-size photos taken as well. While the clerk was busy taking her photo, her companion reaches over the cashier counter and rifles through my photographs (waiting for checkout), right in front of me! The second roll of film does not produce photos either, so we have to do another round of photographs. Through all this time, the clerk is polite and apologetic. The aforementioned customer converses with her companion in another language, then in front of the clerk, my husband and I, reaches across the counter, picks up my photos, points at me and says, "But hers turned out!" in an accusatory tone. The clerk apologizes and offers to give directions to another branch, but she gets angry and leaves. At no time did she or her companion acknowledge that I was standing right there watching them go through my things. While I realize that pointing is not necessarily rude in American culture, it would have been nice for them to acknowledge that I was there watching and listening to them point at and talk about me as well.

Lastly, through all of this the clerk was very polite and attentive. When the photographs did not turn out he went to look for the customer to inform her that he had to take more photographs, as opposed to just waiting for them to come back. I feel it was very rude to treat the clerk as though he took bad photographs on purpose.



I work at a payday loan company, and being this type of business we don't always deal with people that have a lot of etiquette. Not that all of our customers are like that, but there are a few. One of them just came in, actually as I was on your site and I couldn't believe the tackiness that she displayed. I'll call her "Joan". She's come here before and there has really been any problems, but this time actually made my jaw drop. I have starting keeping a bag of Reece's Pieces from the bulk store with me, as I'm trying to quit smoking (and stop being my own etiquette breach). She saw them and asked if she could have some of my Smarties as they're her favorite. I said that they weren't Smarties, and she said, "oh I mean m&ms." I told her what they were and she said, "Oh right, can I have a few?" I brought them to her, trying to be polite and courteous, but not really wanting to as she had dirt on her hands and it wasn't very sanitary. I went and sat back down at my desk and starting working on her file. I glanced up and saw that she was rooting around the bag, trying to get a huge handful, which she did and stuck it in her pocket. Then she started grabbing two or three at a time and putting them in her mouth, all the while talking to me with her mouth open, telling me about her diabetes, and that she doesn't really eat much chocolate. I finish what I'm doing at the desk and walk up to the counter. I'm finishing up her loan at the counter when she says "I've always been lucky that I can eat anything I want and not gain weight. Don't you wish you could do that?" and looks me up and down. Now I'm not over weight. I have gained about 10 pounds in the last few months as it's winter, I work in an office now and I just bought a car that I'm getting a kick out of. I am sensitive about my weight though as I used to weigh a lot more. As I was standing there, mouth agape, she continued on, eating more candy, "You know, you should eat vegetables instead of candy (true, but this is cheaper and I only have a few pieces a day), you could be such a pretty girl if you were skinny". I'm 6'1" and 185lbs, a lot of it muscle, as I said, I'm not overweight. I just started shaking my head and tried to hurry her out the door. As she was leaving she mentioned that it was very cold outside and that I was lucky that I had extra padding and couldn't feel it as much. When she left, I remembered the bag of candy and noticed that most of it was gone, and that there was smudges of what I'm assuming was dirt in the bag. Needless to say, the bag is now in the garbage and I'm going to make sure that I'm busy the day she comes in again. My manager can deal with her.



I have a ton of stories I will submit when I have time, but here's a couple for the Customers section:   When I worked as a CSR for a telephone company, one customer gave a PO box as her address.  I told her I needed her *physical* address in order to install service.  Confused, she said, "PO Box 123 *IS* my address!"    We went back and forth for a minute until I got the idea to say, "Ma'am, we can't install service in a PO box.  The jack won't fit.".   That satisfied her, but she said she'd get back with us.  Did she ever?  No idea. 

Another customer, when asked for driving directions, said for the tech to "turn left at the horse and chicken."  Statue of a horse and chicken?  Nope.  Real, live horse and chicken.  I guess they were under order to stay where they were until the service truck rolled by.      



  I worked at as a games operator at a large amusement park last summer (yes, I know).  On a very hot day, I was working the Wac-a-Mole game, which was very busy that day.  A woman came and parked herself and her daughter in front of two games.  When I asked her if she'd like to play, she refused, wanting to wait until there were enough players to win the largest prize (you get a bigger prize if you win against 12 people than three, and so on).    Finally, there were enough players, she held out her money, I took it, thanked her, and checked it, as we had to do, to make sure it wasn't counterfeit.  Uh oh.  It was.  I hated having to do this, but I turned off my microphone, leaned over, and told her very politely that I knew she didn't know this, but that I was afraid I couldn't accept it as it was not real.  And the fireworks started.  She started screaming that it was ripped, and why wouldn't I take a ripped bill.  Besides, she got it at the hot dog stand, so she knew it was real.  I went to call security to take her back there, but she was screaming so much I couldn't just leave.  Her face was turning bright red with rage.  I kept apologizing (why?) and just saying that I knew she hadn't given it to me on purpose (by this point I was thinking she had) and she kept screaming.  Then, "You mean you won't let this child," pushed her child, who looked thoroughly humiliated, forward, "play because of one crummy ripped bill?"  I tried to explain that I would have to pay the amount if I accepted it.  Didn't matter to her.  All the while other customers were waiting.    Finally, she left.  Not very nice on my part, I know, but I was so scared of her that I laughed out of relief.  Well, back she came, louder than ever.  "Well, you're a miserable little b****, well aren't you!!  I hope you're happy with yourself, having spoiled a child's day!"  Fortunately, she made so much noise the managers couldn't ignore her anymore, and took over.  I saw the head manager of games come over about 20 minutes later.... My hands were still shaking at that time.   Thanks for the chance to tell the story.  It all seems so funny now, though.  All that fuss over a game of Wac-A-Mole!  But I really feel sorry for the daughter.



Jeanne, I had worked for many years as a bookseller, starting in a large chain store and then switching to a small family owned independent store.  Of course, I could spend days detailing all the customers who feel the need to treat retail workers as if they are mentally handicapped, but instead I will focus on one story from a woman who was absolutely clueless.  Many owners and employees of independent bookstores are not big fans of the large chain bookstores.  We like being booksellers and enjoy making a living out of it.  We do not like the low wages and poor service that can be expected from deep discounting large chain stores.  Most regular customers are aware of this, but some people just don't get that we aren't too thrilled about companies that put us out of business on a regular basis.  

One day in the small bookstore a woman came in and asked  for a book with very vague details, "It's about a girl, has a blue cover, I think the word cat in the title", you know what I mean.  Well I worked with her for probably 15 minutes until we figured out what she was looking for.  Sadly we did not have it in stock.  I offered to order it for her and she said no, she needed it right away. Ok fine, no problem.  Well about an hour later I get a call from this woman, she says, "I'm in Large Chain Bookstore and they can't find the book.  Can you tell them the ISBN number (number on books used to identify them) so they can order it for me?"  Um, no.  I'd still be happy to order it for her though.  Again no, she's sure it would be cheaper here.  Well you get what you pay for.  If they don't know anything about books that's their problem, I'm not going to help them put me out of business.



I work for a coffee shop and while most of our customers are wonderful, polite people; there are some who deserve to burn in etiquette hell forever.  I have a story to share with you:   A woman in her mid-thirties was a frequent customer of ours.  She had two sons, ages 7 and 3.  She often came in alone, but occasionally she'd bring her kids.  One time, she brought both of them and decided to sit in the cafe to enjoy her coffee instead of leaving right away.  The 7 year old didn't like that, he wanted to leave right away.  After some arguing between the two of them about whether they would stay or go; the kid, upset that he wasn't getting his way, pulled down his pants and urinated all over the cafe floor. (The seven year old!)  What did the mother do?  Nothing.  She gathered up her stuff and her kids and walked right out of the store.  She didn't say anything to the people working at the time, much less offer to clean it up.  Unbelievable.  The kicker?  She's still a regular customer!  



I worked in a small textbook store in a college town.  A young man came in and asked me if we had a book.  We looked and we did have it so I handed it to him.  He looked at the price tag ($85) and said, "Wow, that's a lot!,"  I told him that I agreed, but that the publisher sets the prices, etc.  He said, "Could I get this cheaper online?"  I told him I really wasn't the person to ask and he'd have to do his own research on that.  He said, "Well can I use your computer?"  I said no and he left without making a purchase.



 I work for a chain of candle stores. Every spring we, beginning around the end of January, we start getting the "wedding" customers. While most of these "wedding" customers are pleasant, and then there are these two. Story A: For the Valentine's Day "season" we had these little candles that looked like chocolate truffles. We had a ton of them, and they sold very well. A week or two after Valentine's Day, we had a couple of  them left over and they ended up on the 50% off shelf. A woman walks into the store on a rather busy Saturday, and picks one of the truffle candles and walks over to me. She wants 250 of them for favors at her daughters wedding, in 3 weeks! We only had ten or so of them left. I tell her that is all we have. She was livid! That was not the answer she was looking for. She began screaming at me at the top of her lungs, in front of everyone. She saw that we had tons of them a month earlier and she was waiting for them to go on sale! She had not let us know that she wanted that many she we could get them from a warehouse for her. But somehow I was expected to produce 250 of the truffle candles or I would ruin her daughters wedding. The moral of the story, don't wait until the last minute, to get something that can "make or break a wedding!" 

Story B One day a groom walks into our candle store, and asks us if we have any unity sets. For those who don't know, this is a pillar candle and two taper candles that are sold as a set. The bride and the groom light the large pillar candle with the taper candles at the wedding in order to symbolize their "unity." The candle store does not sell them. We never have and probably never will. We tell the groom that we don't carry them. He become very argumentative and starts to pick a fight with me and my manager. Sorry dude, we don't carry them, we don't even specialize in weddings. We tell him to call several bridal salons, they might know. This was like asking us to move the earth from one side of the galaxy to the other. After 10 minutes or so of arguing with us, he leaves. What did he want from us, to pull a unity set out of thin air! I have started to really dislike anyone one involved in a wedding. Thanks for letting me vent.



My particular story (or set of stories) takes place at my job. I'm a cashier at a major chain movie store. We get a lot of angry customers complaining about any number of things from late fees to thinking something costs too much. I've learned to take most of it in stride, but this particular incident was so amusing I had to repeat it.

We have a strict policy for membership applications. You need two forms of ID and neither of them can be a social security card, which is a state law rather than our rule. Even if it was our rule, there's nothing I can do to change it. This does create a problem for young adults who are no longer in school and don't have anything in their names but their licenses and social security numbers, so the majority use their parents cards. One particular young man came in and asked about getting a membership with us. I explained he needed two forms of ID and that one couldn't be a social security card. He immediately said okay, and removed his license and social security card. I explained it was a state law and I could not accept it. He suddenly flipped out and began shouting obscenities (keep in mind, the front of the store also contains the game section, candy racks, and kids movies, all of which are places where at any given time anywhere from 1-7 kids can be found with and without their parents). His girlfriend (who was standing with him) began to scold him for his attitude. He refused to listen and instead started to storm out after making an obscene gesture at me, swearing some more and tossing the movies he'd picked up before all this began into the candy shelves.

Sometimes God does work in amusing ways, however. This guy was so caught up in making a scene that he neglected to notice that we have an entrance which does not open from the inside and an exit which is behind my station. After he realized his mistake, he had to walk all the way back around my counter with everyone staring at him and his girlfriend yelling at him. I don't think I've ever seen anyone turn that particular shade of red before.



I worked for a grocery chain for 3 years as a Bagger, and eventually as a Stocker.   Many of my favorite moments involve people that I would gladly throw into Etiquette Hell.

Christmas Eve was always fun.  The store is normally a 24/7 business, except on certain holidays.  Christmas Eve always produced many jerks that you just want to beat with a blunt object.  The store closes at 6pm, we lock up the doors at 5:45 so we can have the customers rung up and out of the store by 6-6:15, so the employees can clean up and be home by 7.  I am a large man, so I was always asked to "stand guard" on the door when we closed.  You would NOT believe the attitude people give you.  All this yelling and cussing about how they need "just a few things" for their Christmas dinner, and that its not 6pm yet.  They whine and moan that they wont make it home to see their families if they have to search the city for a store that is still open.  What about us employees who want to go home to our families too?  The worse thing that happened to me doing the door guarding gig was a drunken male taking a swing at me.  Hope he enjoyed spending Christmas Eve in the drunk tank.

Thanksgiving Day, 2001.

I had been promoted to Stock Clerk two weeks ago for the Holiday Rush (I was demoted after New Years, but that's another story).  I ended up pulling a double, because one of my co-workers, predictably, called in sick on Thanksgiving day (He was fired the next day).  I had been there working since 12am, getting the store back in shape for the big rush.  As I was running around the sales floor making sure that items were in stock and the seasonal things were plentiful, I noticed a woman looking very befuddled, and I ask if I can help her find something.  She politely declines, and I went on my way.  I ran into this woman four times over the next hour, every time, she had that befuddled look, and I would always offer to help her.  After each encounter she would be a bit more rude, so the next time I noticed her, I avoided her.  A little while later I went to the break room to eat my lunch, and catch a quick nap, when my manager comes in, with the customer berating him mercilessly.  She points at me, and starts hollering and screaming that I was stalking her throughout the store, and sexually harassing her.  The Manager reviewed the security tapes while I sat in his office, explained to the woman that it is part of my job to ask anyone who looks confused if they need help.  He also told her that he would speak to me about not asking multiple times.  Everything turned out ok, but some customers are just complete psychotics.


I punched the time clock, expecting a nice simple 4 hour coverage shift.  Little did I know I was going to watch my boss get completely humiliated by a customer.  I'm having a conversation with my boss about how we want to set up the sale displays for the next week, when a lady walks up to us and asks where to find something.  We take her to the item, ask if she needs more help, and return to our discussion as we walk away.  Suddenly, she just lets loose in her loudest voice "HEY, YOU! GET BACK HERE! IM NOT DONE WITH YOU YET".  We both turn back to her, and duck as several cans of tuna fish come flying at our heads.  My boss tells me to go go go, which is "code" for call the police (only ever heard it before with violent shoplifters), so I run to the nearest phone and call the police and get security to put a camera on it before running back to my boss, to make sure she's ok.  I get back to the aisle, and she's on the floor, on her stomach with her shirt half ripped off, being choked with a piece of her own blouse by the woman.  I tackled her off of my boss, and we pinned her down till our security officer got to us with a pair of cuffs.  To this day I have NO clue why she went off like that, or how she tackled my boss.  My boss was a very sweet woman in her mid 40s, I felt so bad for her, standing in the aisle amidst broken bottles and ruined merchandise, filthy and with her shirt torn off.  I had a clean work shirt in my locker that I ran and got for her, I ended up getting a raise for that whole incident.



In high school and a little afterwards, I worked in this nice little museum in a rather touristy town. I worked in the gift shop and gave tours. Most of the guests were very nice or at least polite enough. Every once in a while we had some bad ones, but this lady took the cake. By the way, there is only one high school in this city and it doesn't have the best reputation, but hey, I turned out OK. We'll call it "Hall High." That will be important later.

One day we got in a tour group of "sweet" little old ladies from a nearby city. I gave them the tour and they liked it and were very appreciative. The tour ended right by the gift shop, so of course this group of thirty ladies goes in to buy the postcards, books and other little trinkets. We were very busy that day with these ladies and regular guests trying to buy tickets. There were four girls (ages 16-22, or so) behind the counter, but that only gets you so far when there is only one cash register. So we're doing our absolute best to keep up, but the women buying multiple trinkets are a little hard to ring up.

Then one of the women turned sour. She started going on about how she used to work at another tourist shop in the same town, and they didn't need some silly COMPUTER to tell them what the taxes were on items! They had a sheet next to the cash register with the price for every item, and if we had that we would have rung them up by now. Never mind that 1) PCs probably did not exist when she was working at that shop and 2) a price/tax list is kind of redundant when you have a computer there to add it all up for you. She's getting nastier and nastier about how little math we know, and she finishes with the line I'll never forget: "I guess Hall High don't teach that."

You may be able to calculate taxes in your head, lady, but at least I know grammar.



Shortly after graduating college, I was working for a national retailer that specializes in jeans at one of their downtown Phila. stores. The clientele was - rather different from most of our stores. We frequently had young teens with fistfuls (yes, truly fistfuls) of cash buying for themselves and friends. The language would have made a longshoreman blush but you got used to it. Shoplifting was an hourly occurrence and we had a near riot the day LL Cool J came in. It was truly a learning experience.     My ehell story however has to do with the customer from hell. I was ringing up a young woman in our store who had her small son with her. The boy was about three and was very, very tired. He was swaying on his feet and whining about how tired he was, understandable. His mother preceded to finish paying me and did not seem to hear him. I give her the receipt and change and say "Thank you". She pockets the change, then without batting an eye picks up a belt from the display by the register and proceeds to wallop -and I mean wallop- her toddler with it. I know I should have done something but I was truly stunned and unable to move. She finishes and replaces the belt and leaves child in tow. What do you say to that, "please Mam, do not beat your child with the merchandise unless you have paid for it"?!!!


This is not so much a “faux pas,” but is shows just how stupid and sue-crazy some people can be.  I had just graduated from college and took a temp job in the customer service department of a nation-wide music/movie chain.  I received a call from a mother a few months into my employment, here’s the general gist of the call:  The women’s son’s friend STOLE a pornographic movie from one of our stores and “forced” her son to watch it, “scarring” him for life.  She wanted to sue us for “scarring” her son.  I actually went over this a few times with her hoping that she’d realize how completely idiotic is sounded (and making sure someone didn’t sell this underage boy a porno, in which case I would have understood the mother’s anger at our store), but she wanted me to fix it then and there and wouldn’t get off the phone until she was compensated for her son’s traumatic experience.  I promptly told her since she said she was going to pursue legal action against us I could no longer talk to her and she’d have to contact our legal department.  This was almost four years ago and I still laugh thinking about it.


Over the years working in personal lines insurance, I have come across some rather interesting customers. My job requires I deal with people dealing with difficult and confusing situations. However over this winter one particular set of customers came very close to crossing the line.

I had received a new file and began the necessary investigation on a Friday afternoon.  I was struck very ill over the weekend and was out of work for almost a week. The nature of my illness made being in mere feet of a restroom necessary. My condition during that week lead to a visit to the emergency room. I have since been diagnosed with a disorder that requires regular medical visits and some absences when my poor body is under siege.

While I was out of the office, I did keep my understanding manager and coworkers updated on my status. My voicemail was updated daily and any messages were logged. My coworkers handled any inbound calls and urgent issues until my return.

When I returned to work, two coworkers filled me on inquiry calls received from Mr. and Mrs. X, from the late Friday file. The X's screamed at my coworkers that I was a) on vacation b) no longer working for the company or c) ignoring their messages because during those 4 days I was never at my desk when they called. My daily voicemail message clearly stated I would be out of the office and unable to return calls and gave simple instructions on how to reach the next available person. And the topper?

On Day 3, Mrs. X called in and DEMANDED my home phone number so I could explain myself. My very professional coworker (bless her heart!) advised Mrs. X, a) she would not be provided with my home phone number b) the file was being handled and the investigation process continuing even in my absence and c) I was not in the office due to illness.

Mrs. X's response? To hang up on my coworker. And then call right back and demand my home phone number AND cell phone number from the next available specialist. Mrs. X hung up on the second coworker and called back a third time and demanded to speak with my manager. My manager explained for the third time in a half-hour Mrs. X would not be given my home contact info, Mrs. X was not entitled to said information and that the file was being handled in my absence.

Upon my return to the office. my dealings with Mrs. X always have snide comments about my "February vacation". Yup, those wonderful 7 days/6 nights in lovely Sal de Bain on the shores of Porcelain Bay. "February vacation" has now become my office code with my manager and coworkers whenever a fresh round of illness occurs.



When I was in college, I used to work at some fast-food chicken joint located on campus.  I have had my share of stupid customers and this particular individual stands out in my mind as being rude.  One day I was taking the order of a young woman I'll call "Susie." Susie came into the chicken place with her cell phone practically glued to her ear.  She does NOT get off her phone at all during the time I am taking her order, making her food, and ringing her up at the register.  I even told her politely to refrain from using her cell phone while making an order.  She ignored me, took her food, and left without saying a word to me and she was still talking on the phone!  The customer behind her sympathized with me as we both shook our heads in disbelief.


Page Last Updated May 18, 2007