DanvilleSanRamon.com

Column - October 5, 2007

Diablo Views: Check it out

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

At least once a week I find myself at the Alamo Safeway checkout, a good chance to observe others as well as restock my cupboards. I witnessed something recently that I can't get out of my mind. The woman ahead of me never stopped talking on her cell phone as she unloaded her basket of groceries and had them scanned. After the total came up, she pulled out a credit card, swiped it, signed the charge slip the checker held out for her, and wheeled out her groceries. All without interrupting her conversation. What bothered me was that she conducted the entire transaction without even making eye contact with the clerk.

It was tempting to run after the customer, demand her attention, and inform her that the clerk was not a robot, as she'd treated her, but a person. But instead I turned to the clerk, who was looking rather unhappy.

Does that happen often? I asked her. Are customers frequently so engrossed in their own lives and conversations that they can't even look up from their conversations to smile and acknowledge her, much less mouth "Thank you"? She said she gets a few each day like that, but the ones that really bug her are those who only look up to say they want help out. At least this woman bused her own groceries.

Ah, cell phones. For all their convenience, they've produced new and improved ways to be rude. My husband was at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day and said a man was talking so loudly on his phone that business actually came to a halt. The man was arguing with his lawyer about making payments to his ex-wife, and since he was talking at such high volume, everyone began to chime in. "I think you should pay her," one person advised. Others mimicked his demand for a meeting. Yet others began to talk to one another about the subject - conversations about alimony swept through the floor of the DMV.

Then there's BART where many people want to use the dead time to call someone although phone reception is intermittent. The general manager of BART has appealed to everyone to please be courteous with cell phones while riding the trains, including setting the ringers on manner mode so they don't all begin ringing at once when the train enters a wireless area. Plus he asks people to remember that everyone may not wish to hear their conversation. It's even been suggested that BART have one car per train that is cell phone-free. A friend of mine just returned from Japan and noted that on the Shinkansen, the high speed train, he was impressed to see that passengers went in between the cars with their cell phones so they wouldn't disturb their fellow passengers. Such a concept!

But back to Safeway. As much as I sympathized with the clerk who was treated as less than human, I must also say there are times that I, as a customer, have been ignored while the checkers talk to each other. What time are you getting off? How was your weekend? etc., as any co-workers might do except in this case there is a customer standing right there - me. But at least they turn to me at the end, and say, "Thank you, Mrs. Ciardelli. Did I say it right? Have a nice day." I always respond that, yes, they said it right, whether they did or not. (I think it would be easier, for all of us, if they went back to the generic "Ma'm." You, Mrs. Jones, may not understand.)

But usually the clerks do focus on the customer: Did you find everything all right? No? Jason, please run and find a quart of peanut oil for this customer. And some seem to enjoy their jobs and their customers. Just as some customers act as though the interaction at the checkout stand is the highlight of their day. Put down the cell phone and live in the moment. I find the interaction can be pleasant - and informative. Did you know that some shoppers spend more than $1,000 at one crack buying groceries?

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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