OKAY, so Tom Hilton and D at LG&M have already worked this over sufficiently; I thought it might benefit from the perspective of someone who's been griping about declining service since the Ford administration and who believes the proper response to public cell-phone use is a marihuana-induced psychotic episode, followed shortly afterwards by a grand jury finding of justifiable homicide.
In short, Ms Noonan, the advantage you not-very-crypto-monarchists believe you carry into such conversations bounce off me like rubber guns bounced off George Reeves. Because not only am I a curmudgeon emeritus when it comes to service, I actually know, and, yes, associate with people who do that for a living. Really. Freely, too.
Wait. I'm sorry. You said something about my making an assumption you don't know and/or associate with the Timeclock Classes? Allow me to introduce Exhibit A:
It's funny. In a time of recession, you'd think salespeople would be more aggressive, because so much might hinge on the sale--a commission, a job. In a time of relative wealth, you'd think they might be less aggressive. But the opposite seems true.
Which is the sadder commentary here--that she knows nothing of anyone who actually works for a living, or that she's oblivious of the well-publicized fact that this particular Gilded Age has been balanced on the backs of the bottom 50% of the workforce? For that matter, how do you reach your mid-50s and not seem to understand the rudiments of the economic system?
I walk into a shop on Madison Avenue daydreaming, trying to remember what it was I thought last week I should pick up, what was it . . .
"Hi! Let me help you find what you're looking for!" She is a saleswoman, cracking gum with intensity, about 25 years old, and she has made a beeline to her mark. That would be me.
"We have summer sweaters on sale. What size are you?!" Her style is aggressive friendliness.
In another shop, as soon as I walk in the door, "How are you today? How can I help you?" Those dread words.
"Oh, I'm sort of just looking."
"I like your bag!"
"Um, thanks." What they are forcing you to do is engage. If you engage--"Um, thanks"--you have a relationship. If you have a relationship, it's easier for them to turn you upside down and shake the coins from your pockets.
It is like this in all the shops I go in now, except for the big stores (Macy's, Duane Reade drugstore), where they ignore you.
Maybe they just know you there, Pegs...
That's just a joke. I mean, just because a sizable portion of your own net worth came from lying about the Clintons, just because you've been known to pal around with the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or appear on FAUX News, just because you once said you thought gardeners were "retards with spades", and that attitude obviously carries over to anyone you feel occupies a less exalted station that yours, or doesn't share your personal religious mania, is no excuse for anyone to be rude to you in return, and it's certainly no reason for some two-bit blogger, even if he is an avid gardener, to suggest that large sums of money would probably wind up in the mailbox of any restaurant worker, illegal alien preferred, who could prove he'd spit in your pinot grigio before you drank it. Care to hear about today's specials?
There are strategies. You can do the full Garbo: "Leave me alone." But they'll think you're a shoplifter and watch you. Or the strong lady with boundaries: "Thank you, if I need help I'll ask." But your reverie is broken. Or the acquiescent person: "Take me under your leadership, oh aggressively friendly salesperson." But this is bowing to the pushiness of the Gilded Age.
Look, Peg, let's just start with some simple math. When salespeople fire broadsides at customers the moment they enter the doors the odds are that that's what they've been instructed to do. Following instructions is, generally, something required of employees whether there's a recession on or everyone owns his own railway car.
There's also a small chance that such boorishness is the result of a personality defect in the clerk. Incontinently cheerful people tend--as do Republicans and the supposedly midlife-converted laity--to believe that their aggressiveness is entire justified by some sort of Cosmic Algebra. It is, god knows, a common enough disease in the service industry these past few decades, Peg, but we run into a problem right off the bat. Unless your New Best Friend also happens to be the owner, her boorishness is getting a pass from a supervisor even if it's not expressly ordered. Bad management, in other words. (We would assume that gum crackling pointed in this direction, but frankly, Peg, we're not sure this particular incident actually occurred in what others around you are apt to call "reality".) It's a concept which is as foreign to your ilk, enamored as you are of the megalomaniacal CEO, the dictatorial school principal, or the stark raving Acting President, provided they are sufficiently martinettish. At any rate, there is someone in that store (or "store") who is presumably responsible for customer satisfaction, and who might actually discuss the matter with you. Not that you and I combined can push back this particular tide.
Because, y'see, Peg, there is a Higher Truth involved in the maneuver, and fighting off possessors of Higher Truth is a thankless task, as you would know if you were forced to actually read your stuff. (Ironic, ain't it?) This vexatious familiarity is, in fact, what has been largely passing for service since sometime in the 70s, by my reckoning, and so it's more than likely that the manager in question has grown to adulthood knowing nothing but. It's also likely that he believes that acknowledging every customer at the door is a deterrent to shoplifters--yes, that horrible suspicion you imagine is allayed by "playing their game", except it isn't, and they'll suspect you or not, as they see fit. Plus you're already on camera, so who gives a shit? You might try actually answering people as though they're people, and telling them something approaching the truth--"Thanks, I'm just shopping," say. You'd be amazed at how the common folk respond to English, even if they don't speak it very well due to all that gum.
But there's more to say about this than "You're full of it," Peggy. I strongly suspect a connection between overly-familiar salespeople and the whole Entrepreneur as Hero business, and you know who I blame for that, Peg. Over-familiarity is frequently--let's make it "directly" --correlated with a sort of lazy, cost-cutting, no real training approach to service. Look around you sometime while you're shopping (I'm trying to maintain the illusion that you actually do your own shopping Peg; give me some credit). Gushy salespeople are always off somewhere gushing with someone else when you need one. They generally have poor product knowledge, since they get by on charm, and as a result they'll sell you anything, anything, especially the crap the boss has decided they should push at you because they're overstocked. I'm not sure how you can reach middle-age and not understand this, unless you live in whatever small town it is Wal*Mart hasn't taken over. If I need hardware advice, I don't go to Lowe's, I go to the Mom & Pop operation across the street. And yes, there is a Mom & Pop Hardware two blocks from my Lowe's, and they've stayed in business all these years because there are plenty of other people who realize this. I sure don't go to my local Marsh "Where Quality Is A Slogan" Supermarket for prime cuts of meat. The butcher's five miles away, and worth the trip. I go to the big boxes for convenience and selection, and if they happen to have a squad of cheerful people on duty I smile and tell 'em, "I'm just looking, thanks." And it works every fucking time. With them. Not with the Christians who pound on my door to let me know they know something I don't, or the cell-phone Yuppies chattering away instead of watching where their personal Panzer is heading, or the people who insisted that George W. Bush was the Second Coming of the Lord of the Dolphins. Especially them.