Thursday, 10 December 2009

Thank You For Cashiers

Despite my highly persistent spate of good-moods recently, I find myself frequently let down by a few instances of humankind doing what they do best: behaving like a pack of semi-intelligent mammals with little more basic sentience than a desire for some form of sustenance. I'm probably being a little harsh in out-and-out lambasting in this manner: maybe it's because I'm tired and should be sleeping instead of typing away here.

In fairness then, what I've really noticed recently is a few minor niggles, and a few oddities which society seems to carry proudly, like a garish pink tie.

One particularly fantastic example of civilisation going utterly strange, is the traits observed in a shop. In my case, the Union shop on campus. Like most shops, it consists of things to buy, and people to buy them from, many of whom can even spell their name unaided. This fascinating crucible of abnormality is so typical in its unusuallness, as to make it almost imperceptible to patrons frequenting the premises- except for those who occasionally feel the slight pang of realisation that something about a shop, changes people.

Take for example, walking [v. Moving at a regular and slow pace, by lifting and setting down each foot in turn]. This specifically applies to our campus shop because it's not the largest of establishments. Think convienience store with more hangovers.

Most of us have long mastered the art of alternating lower limb placement in order to translate yourself spatially to your desired destination. It's about the first thing your parents actually try to get you to achieve once you've stopped dribbling your food all over yourself. But step into a shop and for some reason all prior knowledge of bipedal motion is briskly tossed aside. Confine people in a crowded store and not only will Joe McNormalguy start walking uncomfortably close to the man in front (who's curious, but just not into him), he'll start taking tiny, tiny little baby steps that in any other situation would not only look totally stupid, but probably offend anyone with rheumatism. Don't know what I mean? Wait until you're next in a queue or a crowded shop, trying to force your way to the sandwiches, and take a look at your feet. I guarantee you'll be shuffling along like a geriatric cripple on his way to his own funeral. This probably stems from the same mentality that causes people to drive in short bursts during heavy traffic, rather than cruise at a decent speed: we need to KEEP MOVING. "If I wait, until I can take a proper step, that polite old lady will LEAP into my allocated floorspace like the thieving bint that she is and steal my spot. I'd best shuffle slowly into it, to keep it mine."

Language takes an interesting turn as well. Scientists have proven (without any shadow of a doubt, or emails of a doubt [hooray for current affairs humour, and for double paranthesis!]), in over 104% of cases, people say 90% of their sorrys and thank yous inside a shop, on any given day.

Let's briefly consider the situations where you'd apologise in say, the act of sitting in... the cinema. For example. It'd probably include, apologising for making noise (eg. coughing), for getting up, or for.... well that probably depends on what else you do in a cinema.

Now think of all the reasons you might sounds apologetic in a store. Got a few? I think typically, you'd expect some sort of remorseful acknowledgment in any or all of the following situations:
  • Someone blocking your view of the shelves
  • Someone bumping into you
  • Someone bumping into something attached to you, eg. Bag, basket, spouse
  • Someone taking the last snickers bar from under your nose.... the git...
  • Someone almost bumping into you
  • Someone at the checkout fumbling your change
  • YOU fumbling your change
  • The person in front of you fumbling their change, thus holding you up.
  • Someone stepping on/running over your shoe/bag/son
This list is long, tedious, and incomplete (like our government). Take the world's most hardened, angry BNP supporting racist and throw them in a shop with three dozen asians and he'll be grovelling away as soon as he looks them in the face and maybe nearly slightly nudged their shopping.
I don't understand this. For a country proud of it's identity as a whiny, stuck-up population of blue-blooded patriots we don't half crumble when we're at the grocers.

"Thank you"s come in droves too. Most of these occur at the checkout. In the process of paying, people say thank you an obscene amount of times. Get given a bag? Thank you. That's fine. Small talk? Always finish it with thank you. It's polite. Cashier gives you your stuff? Thank you for my stuff. You hand your money over: thank you. They hand you your change, thank you for my change, and thank YOU for thanking me for your change, and as you leave, they thank you again (for leaving, presumably, so that they can continue thanking the next person in line).

I always find it hard to honestly thank people in shops more than twice. It begins to lose meaning after that. Besides, why would I thank someone who thinks the best way of dealing out change is to make a neat little bloody tower of it, with the note at the bottom, and dump it into my palm? Thanks. That's awesome. I'll use my third hand to awkwardly try and pick the coins off the fiver and stuff them into my wallet, which is in my second hand underneath my shopping, then grabbing the fiver from my third hand with my second hand with the wallet in it before putting the wallet back into my first hand which is now mysteriously empty of any shopping and sliding the note into the middle, cunningly tipping my change all over the floor, dropping my milk, and annoying the cashier: who says "Thank you" angrily. All this takes place in under one second- because if you take longer than this, you'll find that the next shopee has parked themselves on top of you, with all their shopping, because the cashier has noisily barked the beautifully obscure question of "can I help you?" to the next in line. "Yes. Yes you can help me. You can quietly, without question, scan my items, tell me how much I owe, thank me ONCE, give me my change COINS FIRST, then give me some tiny amount of time to sort my life out so I can get out of your way for the next person, instead of feeling like I'm in some currency-fuelled time trial to piss off out of the doors in the least possible time, but without ACTUALLY committing theft."

In summary, shops are like black holes for social norms. Give it a few years and they'll be thin veneers for fetish clubs, underground political movements, and people who like The Cheeky Girls.

What do you mean, cynical?

I think maybe I shouldn't read so deeply into things.


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