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A Little Understanding For The Folks Behind The Counters

on August 23, 2012

I had to go to the post office today over my lunch break.  When I arrived there was only one person ahead of me – SCORE!  I was excited that I’d caught a day without a line and took my place behind the blue line to wait for my turn. The older gentleman already at the counter in front of me was mailing several packages.  He was demanding, loudly, that the poor frazzled clerk check every rate to ensure that he was getting the cheapest postage possible and scolding her for the fact that it costs so much to mail anything now a days. “I can remember when it only cost 2 cents to mail something….” “The service isn’t any better now than it was in 1952….”  Really sweet little fella.  My heart went out to the poor clerk who was trying to as polite as possible while still being efficient. She was the only one working the counter at the time.  I’m pretty sure she was wishing she’d traded lunch breaks with someone else and missed Mr. Happy all together.  I have to hand it to her that she handled it well. I’d have choked the guy. Clerk: Is there anything flammable or fragile in this package.” Mr. H: “Well I don’t want it broken if that’s what you are asking!” Clerk: “No sir. We wouldn’t break anything on purpose.  I just need to know if it needs to be marked fragile.” Mr. H: “Does that cost more?  It shouldn’t cost more. You should be careful with everything.”  Yeah.  I don’t think today would be a good day to ask her if she loved her job. I was ready to kill him and I wasn’t even dealing with him.   As I stood there in disbelief I was reminded of an incident I witnessed earlier this summer.

A few months ago I had to take a trip to our county courthouse to re-license one of our vehicles. I put this chore somewhere after get a root canal and before severing a limb on my “fun things to do” list but it has to be done.  I walked into the courthouse expecting the usual line but was pleasantly surprised that there were very few people there.  As I cheerfully walked over to the Treasurer’s office window I heard a gentleman across the way at the County Clerk’s counter.  I’m pretty sure everyone in town heard the gentleman standing at the Clerk’s counter because he wasn’t using his quiet inside voice.  He was very loudly explaining to the poor woman behind the window that our county seems to have an inordinate number of incompetent judges and attorney and how the constitution allowed we the people to do something about that in November. I can only assume that his morning in civil court hadn’t ended in a way he had anticipated. The more he talked the louder he got and trust me he had a lot to say.  I looked over at the poor girl working behind the counter.  She kind of resembled a deer caught in headlights. Afraid to move and yet wanting to flee.  As I paid for our registration and license the lady waiting on me from the treasurer’s office muttered, “Boy I’m glad I don’t work over there today!”  I laughed and said, “No, but I suppose you get your share of chewing out .”  She smiled at me and said, “Why do you think we put in the bullet proof glass. It’s to protect the people on THAT side of the counter.”  I laughed and told her to have a good afternoon, my respect level rising for anyone who has to work behind a counter.

Our oldest daughter works at a grocery store in town.  Not long ago she came home and told us about her day at work. Apparently there are only certain types of beans that the W.I.C. program allows you to purchase with their checks.  The store’s computer is programmed to know what the limits are and what is available to purchase. The people checking you out don’t program the computer nor do they make the rules for the program.   That particular day the woman who was trying to purchase the incorrect type of beans with her W.I.C. check wasnt aware that the cute red-headed clerk wasn’t trying to be difficult. She can only do what her register will let her do. (By the way – NO – she isn’t too dumb to make change without her register’s help.  That’s such a pleasant stereotype.)  Many swear words and a manager’s assist later “Mrs. W.I.C.” departed after letting my daughter know exactly what she thought of her, the management and the store in general.  My chipper little daughter shrugged it off but I kind of felt sorry for her.  It isn’t any fun to be the target of frustrated people. That seems to happen a lot to people who work check-out.  It all makes me wonder how often I think a clerk is incompetent or slow and in reality they are just tired of dealing with grumpy people?  How often am I one of the grumpy people?

As I finally walked up to the post office counter today the clerk said to me, “I am SO sorry you had to wait so long!” (How often do you hear THAT at a post office??) I smiled at her and said, “It’s ok. It certainly wasn’t your fault.”  She stopped, cocked her head and looked at me. “You know,” she said, “you might just be the first person who has ever said that to me.” I smiled at her and said, “Well I’m glad someone said it to you .” took my stamps and wished her a better afternoon.  As I walked out I remembered again my new goal to be nice to people working behind counters.  You never know what they’ve dealt with before you got there.  You could just become the bright spot in their day. Or you could become the thing that ruins their day. The person the talk about when they come home from work.  The choice is yours.


6 responses to “A Little Understanding For The Folks Behind The Counters

  1. What a great and thoughtful post…definitely makes you think!!!

    • wedelmom says:

      Thank you. I’d never really thought about it until recently. I’ve always tried to be nice to everyone but I’ve never considered how tough their jobs really are some days. I think we’ve put less value on these kinds of jobs so we put less value in the people working them. Hey – at least they are working, right? Just today’s thought anyway…. (Makes a difference when your kid works in that position too. 😉 )

  2. Thoughtful post! I enjoyed it. It’s no fun to be on the receiving end of a frustrated, mean person. I always stop and think, they’re just doing their job (people at counter) and are probably doing it the best they can. Civility goes a long way and kindness even further. 🙂

  3. Everyone should work retail for at least one day of their life. It will change you! Most people are pleasant enough but some are unbelievable. Thanks for encouraging us to think about those that serve us behind counters.

    • wedelmom says:

      I never worked retail but did work at a hotel reservation center in High School and managed a hotel for a few years. People trying to redeem frequent flyer miles will give you empathy for anyone behind a counter (or phone) in a hurry!

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