Cashiers, Vol. 5, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer:It seems that cashiers and other direct service people, especially at large department stores, have been drilled with the necessity of greeting customers with a "Hello, how are you today?" as he or she begins to process my purchases. While I do appreciate the gesture it seems that often staff have grasped the expression, if not the intent. The surly clerk (I'm sure exhausted by a mundane job on his or her feet for the thirteenth hour) doesn't bother to look up and gives the required, half-hearted expression.A certain friend finds this terribly offensive and, seemingly in an effort to forge genuine human interaction, refuses to respond with the necessary payment until the clerk has given my friend undivided attention and a full gaze to receive his benevolent smile. In an ironic mirroring, he's got the intention right but I think the expression here is all wrong. The line behind him begins to grumble from the ten-second hold-up and the clerk seems to find the loss of rhythm only troublesome. Do you have any thoughts?Dear Customer:Etiquetteer admires your friend’s intent but not his method. Just standing there waiting expectantly for the cashier to perform like a trained seal doesn’t achieve anything but grumbling by other customers, as you pointed out. Etiquetteer has had better success by sympathizing with particularly surly or aggrieved cashiers. An innocent remark like "Must be a long day for you" or "And how are you today?" goes a lot farther. Etiquetteer has found this successful with waiters and waitresses, too. When they ask "How are you tonight?" Etiquetteer invariably responds "Very well. And yourself?" Often they are pleasantly surprised anyone cares to ask. Remember, there are at least two sides to any human interaction. Your friend errs in thinking that his side doesn’t have to do any of the work just because he’s the customer.All that said, the sullen automaton you describe is still far nicer than the cashier who is actively engaged in something else while ringing up your purchases. Etiquetteer has had the sorry experience of being "attended to" by a cashier actively talking heatedly on a cell phone in a foreign language. Others have shared with Etiquetteer the disappointment and frustration of cashiers who ignore them entirely while talking to friends with them behind the counter! (Ask yourself, would your employer let you bring a friend with you to the office or factory for the day?) Etiquetteer’s redoubtable friend said it was all she could do to keep from hollering "Excuse me, you’re being paid to take care of ME!" And while Etiquetteer is mighty glad she didn’t, Etiquetteer understands completely.

Dear Etiquetteer:I’m traveling for work to a conference, and I got an invitation to a conference-related reception. The dress code says "Business dressy." I have never seen that before; what does it mean?Dear Business Dressed:Bother! Etiquetteer supposes the host organization wants this to be an elegant affair and doesn’t want people traipsing in wearing khakis, tweed jackets with suede patches, bulky sweaters, and other, more casual clothes that people get away with at the office now. If you are a man, Etiquetteer suspects "business dressy" means a dark suit, plain shirt, and shiny tie; don’t forget a pocket square! If you are a lady, it probably means a severely tailored two-piece suit or suit-dress with hose, heels, pearls, and one Important Piece of Jewelry. Lacking that, you could probably get away with a bright scarf from Hermes. Your purse should unobtrusively match your shoes and be no larger than a silver case for your business cards, hotel key, wallet, and a handkerchief. This is not the time to show up with a big leather satchel.

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