Shopping experience in California

It seems the shop managers in the States are really determined to show the shoppers the caring side of their businesses, probably still unaware that “caring” and “business” form an oxymoron. Uninterested in the mental health of the shop staff and, ultimately, in that of the shoppers, they instruct the hapless shop assistants and cashiers to make small talk with customers, whether either party wishes to engage in small talk or not. In extreme cases, the conversation can go on for quite some time:
   “Hello,” says the cashier.
   “Hello,” replies the customer, busily putting groceries on the conveyor belt and still wondering what on earth for did the shop assistant ask his/her name earlier.
   “How are you?” continues the cashier with a bright smile, its fixed quality almost unnoticeable unless you look for it.
   “I am very well, thank you. How are you?” says the customer, now slightly puzzled that a simple trip for groceries is turning into a social equivalent of a five-o’clock-tea party.
   “I am fine, thanks!” trilles the cashier. Silence ensues, while the cashier and the customer eye each other warily. Clearly the customer is either very well mannered or a foreigner, who has not yet grasped the artificial nature of the conversation.
   “Nice weather, isn’t it?” tries the cashier desperately. Yes, the weather is nice and since this is California, it has been nice for the last eighteen months or so.
   “Indeed,” replies the customer, “And I hope it will hold for the weekend…” And so on, while the people in the growing queue are patiently waiting to be subjected to the same kind of treatment, their brains switching themselves off one by one under the influence of the music booming in the shop.

I remember talking to a fellow non-American, a PhD student of psychology, and mentioning that the polite question about your wellbeing is nothing of the sort. A few days later she told me: “Ever since you told me, every time a shop assistant asks me ‘How are you?’, I realise she does not mean it and I am disappointed.” She sounded very disappointed indeed. Well, a postgraduate student of psychology should know about these things, shouldn’t she?

Do not get me wrong. I am genuinely sorry for the shop assistants. But I also have a faint hope that they occasionally feel sorry for us customers.

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~ by veronikab on 21 June, 2008.

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