Monday, December 7, 2015

Scenes from an American Supermarket

Yesterday I was at the Publix (Where Shopping is a Pleasure) checkout line.  The gentleman ahead of me purchased four items.  One of the items was a pouch of prepared seafood salad.  When the cashier announced the gentleman’s total (around $8 or $9), he glanced at the display in front of him, said, “The seafood salad is $2.99.  You charged me $3.99,” and glared at the cashier as if she had kicked him in the groin.

I thought about taking my wallet out and handing the guy a dollar bill to defuse the situation, but reconsidered, thinking it likely I would have enraged him even more.  But this being Publix, where slogans don’t lie, the cashier neither challenged the gentleman’s assertion, nor responded to his glare.  Instead, she kindly asked him to please stand by, left her post at the register, and made her way to the shelf where the pouches of prepared seafood salad live.  The gentleman fumed, and those of us behind him in line looked on in amusement.  

About two minutes later, the cashier returned, holding up two pouches of seafood salad.  “Sir,” she said, “the item you selected is priced at $3.99.  The one to the left of it on the shelf is priced at $2.99.  Is that the one you wanted?”  “Yes,” the man replied.  Just “yes.”  No “I’m sorry, that was my mistake.”  No acknowledgement to those waiting in line behind him that he felt any remorse for causing them a delay.  No, this gentleman (I use the term loosely) could not have cared less about making a mistake, compounding it by acting petty and mule headed, and affecting others in a negative way.  He looked on impassively as the cashier re-scanned and credited him for the originally selected yet now unwanted salad, and scanned and charged him for the lower priced one she had brought.

The gentleman’s appalling behavior was no match for the cashier’s remarkable poise.

Today I found myself again at Publix, at checkout line number 8, behind a couple of women with overflowing shopping carts.  Realizing I had a long wait ahead, I took out my phone to catch up on the news.  

Next thing I know, the woman behind me in line says, “Sir, they just opened register 9.”

Now, I was totally absorbed in the news and oblivious to what was going on around me.  As it turns out, the woman ahead of me was already in the process of loading her purchases onto the conveyor belt, so I was next in line.  Although the woman behind me could have gone over to the newly opened register herself, and I would not have been the wiser, she chose to alert me, for my benefit and to her detriment, because I was next in line.  Because it was the right thing to do.

So one day, poise, elegance, and grace utterly defeat boorishness.  The very next day, preemptive kindness and a sense of fair play appear out of nowhere.

Pleasure indeed.  Somewhere, George Jenkins is smiling.