Back in college I worked as a cashier at a grocery store. This was an extremely stressful job for me. While I could deal with the people who were pleasant, the fact of the matter is that there is a percentage of people who go to the grocery store and vent their frustrations on the cashiers. And as someone who was bullied growing up, this was triggering and mentally draining for me and made my life a living hell.
The place I hated working at the most was the express lane. The first time I noticed someone was coming through with more than 15 items I politely pointed out that it was the express lane. Let me make clear, this was a busy night, I had several customers in front of her and more ready to pile up behind her. I stupidly thought she had made an honest mistake and would go to a different lane. Instead she started screaming at me that if I wanted her to move I would have to call the police.
Faced with the decision of having to call a manager and slowing down the express lane even more or letting her through, I let her through. For my kindness, she spent the whole time I was checking out her groceries hurling insults at me. She then asked to speak to a manager about the fact that I had dared to call her out on coming through the express lane with more than 15 items.
Folks, no one deserves to be stuck in a position where someone bullies them for doing their job, especially when they do not have the power to fight back.
Express lane was the ultimate lose-lose situation. I quickly became aware of which managers would back me up if I said something versus which managers would dress me down. However, if I let someone through the express lane with more than 15 items during those times when I had a manager who would not back me, other customers would accuse me of being too stupid to count. Like I said, lose-lose.
Bullying wasn’t just confined to the express lane, though. One time a customer was mad because the store no longer carried an item he wanted. Now as a cashier I was in no way responsible for the inventory. I also knew he had been talking to a manager so I figured there was nothing I could do as the manager would have had more sway than me. However, that customer held me personally responsible, chewed me out, and when I gave him his change, he threw it back in my face. The customer behind him nearly called him out on his behavior, but instead asked me if I was okay. I was in complete shock over what had just happened. Let me emphasize, someone threw metal objects at my face because the store no longer carried an item he wanted, something I had no control over whatsoever.
There were also the customers who would try to be sneaky to save a penny. I remember one woman who would put large and small avocados together in a bag and hope that the cashier would enter them all as small avocados. If the cashier noticed the large ones she would throw a stink. I would shudder when I would see her get into my line.
And the sad truth is, this is not just my experience. It’s the experience of way too many people who go into customer service. I had a friend who worked at McDonald’s who had a customer throw a drink in her face. Cashier have been assaulted for pointing out that a customer with too many items is in the express lane. I’ve heard that Whole Foods even has training for their cashiers on how to handle the harassment they receive from customers.
And with the holidays approaching, people working retail are working longer, more stressful hours and dealing with large, draining crowds. So please, when you do your holiday shopping this year, remember to be kind and understanding. A lot of other people aren’t.