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Jeff Ward: This Grumpy Old Man Just Wants a Little Civility in Stores

Get off the cell phone and don't try to sell me something I don't want!

If you believe some Genevans, last Wednesday’s column stipulated that all public libraries should be burned to the ground and anyone caught patronizing one should be stoned. Just to be clear, I don’t mean the more preferable definition of that term.

I can see the headline now! “Ward calls for smoking pot in public institutions.” Although, that could make for some interesting City Council meetings. They'd be too busy contemplating the meaning of life to spend our money.

But there was one breath of fresh air. Sharing my keen perception of the obvious (or perhaps she’s been talking to my wife) Geneva Patch reader Jill Sutherland wrote the following in response to my prescient library prose, “I love reading the grumpy old man columns.”

Since I am an old man, I enjoy being ornery. I love readers who have a sense of humor (see Colin Campbell’s response to my wasp column), and even though we disagreed, this one’s for you, Jill!

And this time, my rant will involve sales clerks.

In the interest of the Fox News “Fair and Balanced” motto (yeah right!), I’ll be defending those fine folks as well as taking them to task. Never let it be said that my self-promotional tendencies ever get the best of me.

If I witness this scenario one more time I’m gonna start confiscating cell phones again. You’ve seen it too. You’re in line at a busy store and the person ostensibly paying for their stuff is busy gabbing away on their cell phone.

Just because they have to tell aunt Bertha about the hemorrhoid surgery that went horribly awryC—at full volume no less—we have to wait another 10 minutes because they can’t do two things at the same time.

It’s interesting that the same thing happened at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Dick Pond’s last week because if you apply the common word in both names that’s exactly what you are when you insist on blathering away on your cell phone while the clerk is trying to do their job.

Aside from the my-time-is-more-valuable-than-yours mentality, it’s incredibly rude. By bringing your purchase to the checkout counter you’ve entered into an unspoken social contract to, no matter how briefly, interact with the clerk. To utterly ignore them while you yack away about the kidney stone that came out in the shape of Rush Limbaugh’s head is the height of dismissive arrogance.

If you really need to take the call, which I truly doubt, then step out of line. If you’re in a hurry, put the conversation on hold until after you’ve signed for the goods.

Since we’re so low on civility anyway, the next time I see any of you try it, I’m saying something. We already have more than enough folks who think they’re the only person on the planet.

Of course, my least favorite place to have to deal with this kind of ill-mannered impudence is the post office, because those empolyess are required to ask customers a litany of annoying questions.

You see, my business ships three days a week, and I tend to do it at the Geneva Post Office because they’re fast, friendly and generally know what they’re doing. In fact, I’ve been shipping there so long, Jim and Laurie will tell you, if it weren’t for my sometimes surly manner, I could step behind that counter and do a reasonable job.

But given my recent proximity to it, I made the mistake of going to the new western St. Charles facility. As I handed the clerk the first package, I explained that I wanted priority mail and nothing else.

Of course, we all know they have to ask the “fragile, liquid, perishable or hazardous” question, because no self-respecting terrorist would ever lie about mailing a letter bomb. But then she tried to get me to upgrade to Express Mail, add insurance and go for delivery confirmation.

Once again, I replied “just Priority Mail ma’am.” Then she started asking the same questions on the second package. Seeing exactly where this was going, I did get a bit exasperated to which her boss replied “she has to ask those questions” to which I responded “not after I’ve made it clear Priority Mail will do the job.”

To you hard-working sales counter staff everywhere, I’m about to make your job a heck of a lot easier.

Don’t ask me if I want it supersized, undersized, sideways-sized or if I want fries with that. Trust me, I’m reasonably competent most days, but if I weren’t, the last person I’d want to fill in those gaps is someone I don’t’ really know all that well. So far, I’ve managed to avoid starvation for 52 years. I think I have the hang of it.

Don’t ask me if I want to buy your store membership. Being asked to pay for the privilege of shopping at your store only aggravates the crap out of me. Don’t ask me if I want to buy a magazine subscription when all I’m trying to do is pay for a USB cable.

If I’m at your in-store café and I order a decaf coffee (can you imaging me on caffeine?), by all means, inquire as to whether I want cream or sugar, but please don’t ask me if I’d like a bagel with that. I can read the menu. If I wanted something more than coffee, I would have ordered it.

You want to engage in a pleasant conversation? Why not! But despite your bosses' best intentions, I despise being seen as a walking dollar sign. You might want to remind your superior that when I shop online, I don’t have to go through that constant up-selling.

Now I have to get back to burning books!

Jeff Ward August 15, 2011 at 08:19 PM
Colin, Yikes. I have another frequent replier and I confused your names! I'll get Rick to correct it. I apologize! And remember, it was Jill that called me the grumpy old man - I just went with it. Jeff
Rick Nagel August 15, 2011 at 10:51 PM
It's fixed now. Apologies to Colin. I should have caught that in editing!
Colin C. August 15, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Not a problem Rick. I just feel better now that I know who I am. C
Rob Stuart August 31, 2011 at 08:06 PM
The problem is that the upsell has replaced customer service. The quality of the product nor the personality of the employee is as important as the ability of the employee to upsell from the product I asked for. I don't want to give my phone number when I buy lawn and leaf bags at menards, and no, I don't want to use my Menards card today, I'm fortunate enough to be in posession of a $10 bill. However, sometimes the employee is so incapable of doing their job, the employer must circumvent the employee altogether. Case in point, McDonalds. Apparently McDonalds employees can't remember to ask their customers if they want a McCafe Iced Mocha while at the drive through, so as customers we have to listen to a recorded voice (albeit speaking English) asking us if we'd like to try one prior to a live person taking our order. I want to McPunch the McManager everytime I respond to the recording before realizing it's a recording!
Jeff Ward August 31, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Rob, Right on! And if our all was really important to them, they'd actually answer it right away! I think we need to form a grumpy old men club. Jeff

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