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The Condescending Customer

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.


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  • Feather April 26, 2012, 11:18 am

    I grew up in a dual-university community (two towns, less than ten miles apart, each with a state land-grant university). Since university employees could take classes at a significant discount, it was a good bet that the janitors and groundskeepers were working on (or were already in possession of!) a higher degree than you were. Definitely a good idea to not make assumptions about a person’s intelligence and/or level of education merely based on their employment.

  • erica September 11, 2012, 9:03 am

    Unfortunately I got that a lot when I was finishing my pre req’s and waiting for my NURSING program to begin.

    I worked at a chain drug store.

    I kept hearing.. “what are you doing HERE?..why don’t you have a REAL job?”

    Um…first of all it was right at the height of the recession. Finding ANY job was a good thing. I had children to help feed. I couldn’t take a “REAL” job because of my class schedule and quite honestly the freedom to be able to say “no, I need to be scheduled off XX day thru XX day for finals” or say to my boss “I’m going to switch with Susie so I can attend my kids field day on XX day, that okay with you?” was nice. REALLY nice.
    yes I didn’t make alot of money.
    But what I did make was valued and spent well considering my children are accustomed to electricity, water and food.
    It wasn’t “beneath” me.
    It wasn’t mentally draining for the most part.
    It gave me the opportunity to really focus on what I needed to do so I didn’t end up working at a minimum wage job forever.
    I wish everyone was required to work retail for a full year. It would really change their perspective on what is appropriate to say and not say to the everyday people we come in contact with.
    I love it now when I run into an old customer and they ask what I’m doing….and I can tell them I’m a nurse. Yes, I do hear that “Oh wow. Good for you”. I take it the way it was intended. As a compliment.

    • Avery Pack April 23, 2019, 8:20 pm

      Thank you. I currently work for a convenience store in Portland and I really needed to hear that.

  • Sarah January 9, 2015, 3:28 pm

    That kind of thing drives nutzoid! I’ve never been to college, (For various reasons.) But I love to read and will read anything that looks intriguing. For whatever reason for most of my life, people such as coworkers seem to assume that because I am slow to understand somethings, am not a fast worker and outspoken about having been in Special Ed in school, that I am in fact stupid. Or other extremely rude words such as retarded.