We are a funny lot, we former service employees. It's like an identity we can't shake. Once a waitress, always a waitress. Once a shopgirl, always a shopgirl. And so on.
If I'm at a restaurant with friends and the service is sub-par, guess who's going to comment on it? The former waitresses at the table. The rest of us might shrug it off, but the former waitress, she takes it personally. Oh no she didn't just disappear into the kitchen again, the former waitress thinks. I could've served us in my sleep. Crappy tip for her. It can be awkward for the rest of us.
Me? I'm a former retailer. A shopgirl. Someone who was good at selling you things when you wanted to be convinced, great at answering your questions if you had any, respectful of your space when you wanted to browse solo, and efficient as hell at ringing you up and getting you out of the store so you could move on with your day. You see where I'm going with this, right? I'm hell to shop with. My major retail pet peeve is being attacked as soon as I enter a store. "Can I help you? Can I help you? Can I help you?," when I just want to ponder the shelves for a while. Here's my signature move, which makes it awkward for the former waitress shopping with me: direct eye contact after she asks again, an "I said I was just looking," and then a firm and meaningful exit from the store. That'll show her, I think to myself. My other pet peeve is the over-educator, which is really a way of not respecting the intelligence of your customer. Last week someone tried to "educate" me on a face cream I used to sell when I was college, but she had it all wrong. Finally, I couldn't take it. "I've been using this for years; I know what I'm buying." Not said: "I used to have your job." Or: "Leave me alone!" Or: "Screw you, I'm buying this online instead." See, I was being nice! My cousins were horrified, though. Before we move on, let us not forget the nonsensical bitchiness embodied by anyone who works at Neiman's. Need I say more? Those women are awful.
I was thinking of all of this yesterday at the mall when I was approached by the lowest form of retail on the hierarchy of the retail totem pole: the dreaded mall kiosk employee.
I sort of feel sorry for these people. Well, in the abstract, I feel sorry for them. I can't think of much worse than sitting on a stool while thousands of people walk by me all day long, begging them to stop and buy what I'm selling as my only means to make a wage. The abstract sympathy ends, however, upon encountering the actual mall kiosk employee. They are nearly always indefensible. I will stereotype to include lots of hair product, leering eyes if they're male, and judgy eyes if they're female. Also: highly annoying.
Because here's what I just realized about the mall kiosk trade. Regardless of whichever hand cream/hair straightener/bath oil they are selling, they're apparently all using the same how-to manual. I heard this all up and down the mall yesterday, at every single damn kiosk, right after I'd brushed them off or purposefully veered far away from them:
"Can I just ask you one question?"
And that, to me, is the worst. Because I'm a polite person generally, and I will let anyone ask me a single question. I'll listen politely, then I'll politely excuse myself if need be. But please, kiosk worker, do not take advantage of my niceties to force me to say yes to a question such as "Don't you want fantastic hair?" and then subject me to your wares. You can't even imagine how little interest I have in your product, and how much of my time you are wasting.
Yesterday, during an hour or so of shopping, "Can I just ask you one question?" was ringing behind me each time I passed one of those things. It rang behind everyone else, too. The entire mall was a chorus of "Can I just ask you one question?" What is wrong with people?
If forced to choose, I think I'd rather be cruelly ignored by Neiman's counter girls during a tinted moisturizer crisis than forced to answer "just one question" from the eastern European with a mullet at the mall kiosk who doesn't respect personal space. You know?
Former retailers of the world, unite. Seriously.