Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dignity $2 a Pound

The Mrs. has been working retail too. She slices meats and cheeses behind the Deli counter in a supermarket. She looks cute in the cap they make her wear.

Her experience has been different from mine in that the management where she works has been pretty good. For her, the trouble is the customers.

Wednesday is cheap chicken day. The Deli staff cooks about a thousand rotisserie chickens and sells them for $5 each. They make some barbecue, some honey, some Italian seasoned. One night, during a snowstorm, of course, a portly woman came rushing to the counter.

“Where’s my chicken!” she yelled, ‘I drove all the way out here in the snow and I can’t believe you don’t have the flavor of chicken I wanted!” The tears began to flow as she screamed, “I demand you make more chicken. I demand it right now.”

More recently, a customer freaked out after she ordered her half a pound of cold cuts, and her cell phone rang. The woman started up a full-blown conversation. Instead of making the next customer wait until the woman wrapped up her chat, the Mrs. went on to wait on the only other person in line.

When she had concluded her phone conversation, the woman went ballistic. Demanded to see a manager, claimed the Mrs. had maliciously slighted her. This woman wasn’t done ordering. She needed cheese and my wife should have known!!

Social conservatives are quick to point to television or rock and roll as forces coarsening our culture, they would do well to consider how the dictum “the customer is always right” contributes to cultural rot.

When the manager came over to deal with the cell phone crazy, he said, “I’m sure she didn’t mean it. We apologize. It won’t happen again.”

His milquetoast response infuriated me. What he should have said was, “Listen, lady get out of this store and never come back. If we ever see you here again, we’ll call the law.”

Of course, he didn’t because it is the habit of commercial establishments to protect even the most vile and obnoxious from the natural consequences of their actions in return for the money those customers spend. The belief in consequence free behavior has seeped into all of American life in part because of the attitudes mass-market corporate capitalism encourages.

By refusing to hold people to normal levels of social accountability, corporate retailers teach customers the dollar makes any behavior acceptable and employees that no amount of money is so small their dignity won’t be trampled to grab it.

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