This year, I have three kids working in retail. One is at a giant arts and crafts store chain, one is at a deli counter in a supermarket, and one is at a popular coffee shop.
One has had potato salad thrown at her. One has had her teeth insulted. And one just started his new job yesterday, so nothing bad happened yet, but his last job was at an old-fashioned candy shop, and you’d be amazed to see how spectacularly nasty people can be when they’re surrounded by jars of brightly coloured sugar.
If Christmas shopping is a beast, they all work right in the heart of that beast.
When my kids get home from work, they often dejected and bitter about the interactions they had with customers. These are decent, competent kids who really make an effort to do what is expected of them; but just because they’re behind a cash register or have an apron on, so many customers allow themselves to vent their spleen and call them names, insult their intelligence, blame them for things they can’t possibly control, or just treat them with disgust, rolling their eyes, sighing noisily, flapping their hands with disdain. I know it’s only going to get worse as it gets closer to Christmas.
Customers are stressed out and overwhelmed by all the shopping and planning that needs to get done (or at least, that they’ve convinced themselves needs to get done). I’ve been there! When lots of people are depending on you to fulfill their expectations, it’s hard to keep perspective.
But really. Everyone. When is it ever more important to keep your perspective? If you’re not going to treat strangers well when you’re preparing for the birth of Christ, then when are you going to treat strangers well? The day after Christmas? The day after that? Maybe on your death bed?
Let’s all make a resolve to get this right, this year. Lots of people working retail and service jobs just got hired, and are just learning the ropes right when it’s busiest and everyone is at their most demanding.
Lots of people working retail and service jobs have stressors of their own, and are just as worried as the customers about how they’re going to get all the shopping and cooking and cleaning and entertaining done. And all the people working retail and service jobs are human. All of them deserve to be treated with basic respect.
Yes, even if they make a mistake, even if the coupon doesn’t work, even if you have to wait while they check out back for your favorite cheese, even if the Advent calendar you wanted for your dog is temporarily out of stock.
The person helping you is not Christmas Shopping personified. The person helping you is not Holiday Stress embodied. The person helping you is a person, and it really hurts them when you treat them badly.
It’s great if you can take the extra time to smile sincerely and chat sympathetically, letting them know you see them trying their best. It’s wonderful if you can spare a little extra cash to give them an especially good tip to help out with all the extra Christmas expenses. But at the very least, don’t mark the birth of our saviour by making someone miserable.
My kids also come home talking about the rare customer who goes out of their way to be understanding and humane, or if one customer speaks up to correct another customer who’s been unjust or nasty. It does make a difference. Let’s get this right this year.