Etiquette Hell = Where the ill-mannered deserve to go


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Merchants of Shame

Jan-Jun 2003 Archive

At the time, I was working as a student programmer at a large telecommunications company, whose company dress code was casual. Even so, this being my first job, I still tried to dress fairly nicely. The day this took place I was wearing a nice pair of slacks (beige color, not jeans) and a nice blue sweater. My sister's birthday was the next day, so I went to the shopping mall near my work on my lunch hour in order to buy her a present. I knew she liked clothes from a popular clothing chain, so I decided to look there. After being ignored by the sales staff (I guess I didn't look trendy enough to be shopping there), I found a nice tank top that I knew my sister would appreciate.

At the cash register, I place the tank top on the counter for the sales clerk to ring through. He glances up from his magazine and comes over. Completely nonplussed, he looks at me. Then he looks down at the shirt. Then he looks back at me. He sighs morosely, and then he says, "I'll get you a gift box." Not a question; a statement of fact since I could not possibly be the sort of person to frequent this sort of establishment (even though I had bought clothes there frequently).

Now I know that it was a gift, but still, just the way he said, "I'll get you a gift box" got me completely. I actually opened my mouth because I was shocked. I should have left. Stupid me, I bought the shirt (my sister loved it) and haven't been back since. 0822-03

Sadly this etiquette story features as myself as the main offender, but will to share it anyway. I sell imaging systems to hospitals, and this occurred at a customer site. I sold two systems to a hospital, a 12-month+ sales cycle heavily based on trust, professional and corporate credibility. We were asked by one of the cardiologists for some additional training a few months after they had been using the systems. In those cases, we usually go back to the site between 4 and 6pm after the work of the day is finished and there is little distraction. On the day in question, our clinical specialist and I arrived, and our specialist, the doctor and the hospital technologist (one of a staff of four females) quickly retreated to a computer room across the hall to work on the remote workstation. I went to the empty main imaging rooms to use the phone. I called in to our corporate office and reached a manger to discuss upcoming deliveries and installations.

A few minutes into the call, the call waiting beeped and I indicated to the manager that I would click over and take a message for the department. When I clicked over, it was still the manager from our company who laughed at me for not knowing how to answer their call waiting. We resumed our discussion, and the call waiting beeped in again. The same situation repeated, with me clicking over only to find the same manager on the other side. He got a kick out of this again, and we resumed our call. The third time call waiting beeped, I again tried to answer, and a male voice on the other end asked to speak to one of the technologists. I thought the voice sounded like the manager I was speaking to and knew he was trying to have some fun with me, so I calmly stated that the only technologist in the department could not come to the phone as she was under the desk in front of me giving me h%*#.

Expecting hear the manager laugh as I caught him trying to play me, I was horrified at the stony silence which was followed with a very icy "Just exactly who am I speaking to?" I froze for a few seconds then quickly hung up. As I paced around the department nervously, the phone rang again. I ran across the hall and grabbed the technologist from the room (she and I had a great relationship) and asked her to answer the phone, quickly indicating that I had done something very stupid. She finished the call, and turned to me and said, "What in the world did you just say to him?" It was one of the hospital’s cardiologists. The doctor told her what happened but would not repeat the details of my indiscretion. I explained the whole story to her, and she was very surprised to say the least. She then indicated that it was the partner of the other physician who wanted to know if we had arrived so he could come down for some training. He was coming to our location! It was a very nervous few minutes, but when I heard him come in, I asked him into the hallway, sheepishly explained what I had done and asked for his understanding and forgiveness. He accepted my apology with a great deal of reserve and walked away to join the others. The day finished without incident, and some time later he actually attended a dinner I hosted for them where it appeared all was forgiven. They remained a good customer, ultimately buying from our company again. I have since installed a filter between my brain and my mouth, though at times it still malfunctions.


This isn't too bad a story... no harm was meant, and not much harm was done. But it was funny at the time, and I'd like to share it.

Dad and my sisters were going together to buy mom something really nice for her birthday... a brand new set of outdoor furniture for the deck. Mom spends a lot of time out there, and the old things we had were going, so it seemed like a great gift. I wasn't in on it- I'd already bought her a rather expensive painting before Dad mentioned it to me, so I had to decline. They bought the stuff, and hid it in the garage to await the grand moment.

Then, one night when I was out- I usually answer the phone- there was a phone call. Dad decided to be lazy and let mom answer, since they were both in the living room. Then he suddenly hears... "Lawn furniture? What lawn furniture? Kent, do you know something about lawn furniture?" What had happened was, the store records had gotten jumbled, and the store was phoning us to make sure we hadn't been charged twice for it! Mom took one look at Dad's panicked face, and said, "I don't think I was supposed to know about that... my birthday's in two days." The lady who had phoned apologized profusely for ruining the surprise, and we all decided to get out the furniture a little early. ^^ Thank goodness my picture was still a surprise!


Several years ago my Mom and I took a late evening trip to a well-known local crafts store. We arrived less than an hour before the store closed but that was okay, as Mom just wanted to pick up a few quick items. As Mom was doing her shopping I browsed the store. I had been thinking about buying a particular print and noticed the store had the perfect frame but I didn't see the size I needed.

I approached the framing counter to ask if the store carried the frame in a larger size. When I got to the counter the sales lady was engaged in a conversation (not store business - a personal conversation) with a man. I waited patiently at the other end of the counter. Her conversation probably lasted a good ten minutes during which she never once acknowledged my presence. I was a bit irked by this but let it slide.

Eventually, my mother finished her shopping and joined me at the counter where I was still waiting for the sales lady to help me. The sales lady was to my left and my mother was standing to my right. My mother is also several inches shorter than me. I mention this because when the man the sales lady was speaking too finally ended the conversation (it was becoming increasingly clear she had no intention of ending it) and finally approached, it was my mother she addressed. Now, I was hardly a child when this happened. I was a young adult (early twenties) and despite her inattention, I know she had seen me waiting at her counter. I can only guess it was my young age that made her feel she could be so rude to a customer.

Anyway, again I let her bad behavior slide and said that I was the person needing help. To which she quickly responded that she was sorry, but the store was closing. Incredulous, I said, "Excuse me?" She again said in her most patronizing voice that she was very sorry, but that the store was closing and she couldn't help me. I stared at her for a moment, so taken aback that I was having a difficult time grasping the situation. I finally said, "You let me stand here for 10 minutes while you carried on a personal conversation and now you won't help me?" She again repeated her regret that the store was closing. Now finally grasping the situation I smiled sweetly and thanked her and my mother and I began to walk away. Then I turned and gently inquired if a manager were working this evening? She looked a bit startled and said yes. I thanked her and began walking away from her counter once again. She called after me and asked said that well; maybe she could help me? I turned, smiled and said no thank you that she had made it quite clear she did not want to help.

When I reached the front of the store I asked for a Manager and told him my story. He offered to take me back to the framing counter and speak to the sales lady. I refused his offer but did tell him that I would be getting my print framed elsewhere due to her behavior and to please let her know that the only help I needed was for her to answer one question that would have taken far less of her time than it had for her to have been so rude. Merchants1022-03

While I enjoy shopping at a particular chain home improvement store, one particular branch in my area seems somewhat lacking in the training of their employees when it comes to customer service. I've had several problems with this particular store, but the most blatant happened recently.

I was shopping with my elderly mother, and happened to notice an area rug which interested me, but had no price tag and was in a bin of remnants. The only employee in the department was busy with a customer, completing what seemed to be a carpeting purchase, so I stood off to the side and waited patiently. This store seems chronically understaffed, and after a while, my Mother tired and said she'd wait in the car. The phone on the desk rang, and the salesman answered it, while eyeing me, and asked the caller to wait a moment. At this point, I'd been waiting about 15 minutes. I really wanted that rug. He finished with the carpet-purchaser, and walked to the phone. As he picked it up, he said to me "I'll be with you in a few minutes, I need to take care of this call -- it's a customer". As I gaped at him, he began his call. What was I -- chopped liver? I set the rug down and left the store. I didn't want the rug that bad. I'm still waiting to calm down before writing a letter to the store manager; I figure they'll want to know why they've lost so much business when the other-brand store opens up down the street next month.


I do have an etiquette hell story that takes place in a nationwide chain store up here in Canada. It's one I shop at all the time, have since I was 15, and I'm 30 now. Perfect style for me, reasonable pricing and with one exception, my experiences with the sales staff have been good.

At any rate, one Saturday a few months ago, I'm shopping in the mall near my house, and go into the store to purchase some dress pants and a shirt for work. For the record, and important to this story, I stand about 5 feet tall and weigh in at around 100lb, give or take a couple. I have worn the same size since I was 14 years old. And I'm a 30-year-old woman. I'm not physically perfect, who is? But I look pretty dang good when all is considered.

So I find a great pair of trendy black dress pants, size 1, and a nice black button up blouse in a great crisp fabric. I'm happy. And I don’t try things on in this store for 2 reasons. 1) I hate store lighting. I hate looking at myself in store lighting. 2) I’ve shopped at this store for so long and have become so familiar with their cuts and tailoring that I can more or less pull something off the rack, look at it and say yes or no to the fit. Never had a problem. At any rate, there I am, holding the shirt and pants and looking around, with the vague idea of purchasing some inexpensive ultra trendy item. The sales girl comes up to me, a young girl, about 17 or so. Standard question is asked..."can I get you a change room?" I most politely say no, and explain that I'm familiar with what size in that store fits me. So the girl asks what size I'm holding. This has never been asked of me before. Generally, when I refuse the dressing room, sales people at other locations for this store then ask if they can take the items to the counter to free up my hands for more shopping if I desire. Stunned a bit, I responded. Size 1 for the pants, small for the shirt. This girl, so rail thin she clearly buys into the bizarre and unobtainable standard for beauty, glances at me up and down and SNORTS.

I did buy the clothes, I wanted them. But at the counter, she again SNORTS as she's ringing up the sale. Never said a word, but the snorting and the look on her face says it all. I can still be seen when I turn to the side, therefore, I am fat.

When I got home, I was so furious, I looked up the chain's website and fired off a furious email, not just to customer service, but to every executive who's name I could find. And I went back to that store the next day wearing the items, which fit perfectly, carrying the receipt, which showed the girl's employee number, and tore into the manager. That girl does not work there anymore. Thankfully. But I never shop at that particular location. Merchants1228-03

I was 21, living with my parents and working full time. My car was near death, and it was time to purchase a new one (new to me, I mean...a used car was all I could afford). With my limited income, I had to figure out exactly what I could afford and what features I wanted. I came up with a list---had to have a working radio (remember, I was only 21 and my priorities were different then!!), had to have a working A/C, had to be automatic transmission, preferred a red car if possible...and the payment had to be under $XX.XX dollars a month.

So, the search began. Since this would be the first thing I'd ever financed, my Dad said he'd cosign for me, but the responsibility for everything concerning the car was solely mine (as it should be). I went to a few lots and answered a couple of ads, but didn't find anything I wanted for the small amount of money I could spend.

My older brother mentioned that he had a friend that was a used car salesman, and offered to put us in touch with each other. This was a really good friend of his, from his high school days, and he felt confident that he'd take care of me properly.

I visited the lot and found just the car I was looking had every feature I had wanted, was in good condition, had low miles, and the price was right. I took it for a test drive, and told him that I'd just discuss it with my Dad and we'd be back the next day to sign the paperwork and make it all happen.

So far so good. The guy even said he'd take the car over to my Dad's office the next morning (we worked for the same company, but on different floors), if I wanted Dad to check out the car for me, as well. Not being an expert, I certainly welcomed Dad's guidance. He brought the car over; Dad checked it out; he agreed that it was a good car for me; I told the salesguy to draw up the paperwork and we'd come by that afternoon and sign everything. Great so far, huh?'s where the shoe drops...I get a call from the salesguy late in the afternoon, right before I leave work to go to the dealership. At that point he advises that the payment is going to be MUCH higher than what we'd previously agreed upon. He then tells me about all of these add ons that were driving the price up. I was a little naive, admittedly--but I wasn't stupid. I told him absolutely not, and that if I couldn't get the payment I wanted, then the deal was off.

He chose to argue with me, thinking that he could talk down to me and make me feel stupid---he tried every tactic he could to make me feel like I was just a stupid girl for not understanding the way things work when you buy a car. But--I'm the one who had to pay for it, and I knew what I could and could not afford---there was no way in the world he was going to talk me into paying more. I finally just told him to forget the whole thing; I no longer wanted that car at any price, and that I'd go somewhere else.

The next words out of his mouth just floored me....he had the nerve to tell me to transfer him to my father's office so that he could discuss it with him! I explained that Dad was just the co-signer, that I was the decision-maker and that my decision was made. He again insisted on talking to Dad. Fine. I transferred him. Dad's great--he told the guy the same thing; it was my decision alone and that was that.

My brother never talked to that guy again.

As a postscript---it turns out that it was a good thing that it happened. I went to a dealership just a mile away from that one, found a better car, with lower mileage on it, with all of the features I'd hoped for---for an even lower monthly payment than the one I'd been negotiated for! I drove that car for five happy years...!


I happened upon your site tonight and I can honestly say that I have a story that would almost fit every category. However, my most memorable, would be a "foot in the mouth" episode. In the mid 90's I was a senior executive with an upscale, well-known department store. I oversaw several departments, and had recently hired a new associate for the women's shoe department, we'll call her Helen. Helen was a very spirited lady, new to the area and very talkative. She had been employed for only three weeks when I had to give her first reprimand on taking too much of the clients time with idle chit chat and discussing personal issues with complete strangers. It was actually the first time I had to reprimand someone for building too much customer rapport.

One particular day I was conducting an audit of the shoe manager’s files, which was in an office directly behind the cash register in the shoe department. I left the door cracked so I could hear what was happening on the sales floor and mainly to hear if Helen was conducting herself in a more professional manner. My in store pager went off and I contacted the executive office upstairs. The Store Manager wanted to give all department heads, and Group Exec's, the "heads up" that actress Kim Bassinger was shopping in the store, and to make sure that in no way she would be bothered with employee's asking for autographs, etc.

Now, this wasn't an uncommon site. Ms. Bassinger grew up in the area and her family were regular clients of the store. And Ms. Bassinger herself was a regular client when she was in town. It really wasn't a big deal to all of us who had been with the company for several years, simply because our self made policy was to make Ms. Bassinger's shopping experience as normal and uneventful as possible by allowing her to shop and browse in peace without the usual stares, or grouping closely around her. She was to be treated the same as any other customer that shopped at our store. I immediately thought of Helen, and stuck my head out of the office door and informed the shoe staff that Ms. Bassinger was shopping today and was on the second level of the store, and I reminded them of the usual "do not bother her" policy. I asked one of the Senior Associates to explain this policy to Helen, as I noticed her standing there with her jaw almost hitting the floor. The Associate was explaining the policy in-between the, "Oh My Goodness!!", "I can't believe a movie star is in the store", comments that Helen was making. I continued with my audit, and noticed an unusual quietness finally settling on the sales floor. I thought to myself that Helen had finally understood and was on her best behavior.

Thirty minutes, or more, had passed and I was deep into trying to resolve an inventory problem that I discovered, and my pager went off again. Again I called and was informed that security had seen Ms. Bassinger exit into the mall on the second level. Since I was deep into trying to resolve the inventory problem, I went straight back to working on it, and since all clients and customers are to be treated equally the same, I didn't bother informing the sales floor of Ms. Bassinger's departure from the store. However, the news traveled quickly and as I kept my eyes on my work, I kept my ears open to what was happening outside the door. Helen's chatter started to pick up again. I could hear moans and gripes of how she had missed her chance to actually see a celebrity in person and possibly assist her. About ten minutes elapsed and I could hear Helen assisting a customer at the check out register, she was explaining with excitement of how Ms. Bassinger was in the store, and went on to state that she really wasn't a fan or watched any of Ms. Bassinger's films, but how it would have been great to meet her and went on and on about how Ms. Bassinger was from the area and a frequent shopper. etc etc etc.

Normally I would have already stopped her by now, however I found the answer to the inventory problem, and was making the necessary adjustments. Finally, hearing enough of the chat, I decided I would go out and politely interrupt, and give the customer a chance to flee. I could hear giggles from the other associates, figuring the laughter was due to Helen's little rant. As I exited the office and approached Helen from behind, I noticed the customer that she had spent more than ten minutes giving the "Movie Star" rant to, was none other than Kim Bassinger herself. Apparently Ms. Bassinger had reentered the store on the first level only a few minutes after she had exited on the second. For whatever reason security failed to notice. Helen failed to recognize her as well as failing to notice Ms. Bassinger's name on the credit card receipt. And the other associates didn't inform me due to them being fed up with Helen's constant chatter, and now she was getting her just deserves. Since I had been with the company many years and had assisted Ms. Bassinger in the past, she recognized me as management and smiled brightly and said softly "It's ok". She gathered her shopping bags, thanked Helen for the assistance, and quickly exited the store.

As I was about to give Helen the "big speech" on what had just happened. It came to me that it could really devastate her. As she was putting away some shoes to the stock room, I told the other associates not to mention to her as to what happened, and I was very upset with all of them for allowing Helen to embarrass herself like that, and I would have the Shoe Manager speak to her concerning the chit chat problem. The following day, the Shoe Manager contacted me in my office and stated Helen had called and stated she was never coming back, and didn't give a reason and then simply hung up. I guess she found out after all. To this day I still sometimes wonder what became of Helen. However there are two things that I'm pretty sure of, One, I'm sure Helen isn't as talkative to strangers as she use to be, and Two, Ms. Kim Bassinger has A LOT of class.


I received a phone call one day from a person I had never spoken with before. It turns out she had received my name from a friend of mine as a sales referral. She said that she was selling products and she gets paid whether she sells or not, just so that she does a complete demonstration. She was really nervous on the telephone, stuttering and asking me to repeat myself several times. I explained that I did not have a lot of money right now, but she could do her demonstration if it would help her make some money with the company. Because I have a similar business where I meet people in their homes, I wanted to help her out.

She arrived a half-hour later than she said she would. I had the living room completely cleaned for this demonstration and was leading her in that direction when she said, "I need to use the kitchen table." Flustered, because I was in the middle of taking care of dishes, I cleared off the table and offered her something to drink. She immediately took notice of my countertop dishwasher and started talking about it. I just explained that the apartment didn't have dishwasher hookups. My one-year old daughter was a bit fussy, and she said "Maybe your husband can take your baby so I can do this without interruption." I was feeling pretty amazed that someone who wanted to sell something could be so rude... but it gets a lot worse.

She was incredibly nervous, saying the phrase "type thing" about a million times. She was selling knives, and told me she needed a penny, a piece of paper, and two of my knives. You would think she could bring her own paper and penny? She cut the penny in half with her amazing scissors from the set. She asked me to try out the knife to cut a tomato she had brought. So I cut the tomato and she says "Oh, that's an awfully big slice." and I was wondering if I was wasting too much of her precious tomato. She produced a rope and asked me to cut through it with my knife. Well I have really old knives, and it wouldn't cut the rope at all. She said, "Just forget it!"

Suddenly, in mid-demonstration, she says "I'm sorry, but I just have to comment on that dishwasher again! Couldn't you hire a plumber to make a dishwasher hook-up for you?" I said, "I just don't have lot of money, especially to spend on an apartment." More talk about knives, going slowly through each and every knife. She slices up an onion, then goes to rinse off her cutting board. She points at the dishes in my sink and says, "Don't worry about that mess!" I hadn't worried about it until she pointed it out!

When it finally seemed as though she was wrapping up, she showed me the packages of knives, and they were all at astronomical costs for us, at about 80 dollars per knife. She asked me if I wanted to purchase any of them. I told her "I will talk to my husband about it." My husband was in the other room playing with my daughter, so she says, "He's right in there, how long can it take to talk about it?" AAAAAAAA! She told me that on the piece of paper, could I write down the names of five people and their phone numbers, and if I did it she would give me a snazzy potato peeler. I explained that I would want to ask permission before adding peoples names to a list, and that I would get back to her.

She's getting ready to leave after TWO HOURS, and says, "I didn't think it would take this long but you wasted some time talking about other things." I couldn't believe it. First off it was her who wasted MY TIME, not the other way around, and it was her who went on about non-knife related things!

To put the cherry on the cake, she called me two weeks later and asked me about the list of references. I explained to her that I was very busy and didn't have time for this. She said "Well, this is how I make money you know!" And I'm thinking that for all the work I'm expected to do to make her money I should be on the pay roll! I took the experience as a What Not To Do When Trying To Make A Sale learning experience.


Page Last Updated May 18, 2007