We Can Do Better

Supermarket Billa. Queue at the cashier. I’m the next in the line.

“Good evening” I say to the cashier with a smile and a slight nod while the customer in front of me dives into his pocket for his purse to pay for the daily dose of cheap beer and junk food. “Good evening”, the lady mumbles, without even looking up at me.

A few years ago, I would consider that impolite and would retaliate with distant grumpiness.

Now – I can do better than that.

I study the her for a few seconds. Around 50 years of age, looks good-hearted but apparently exhausted close to the end of her daily shift. What circumstances made her go for this job? Not her first career choice after leaving her high school thirty years ago I guess. Did the company where she was an assistant of a director lay her off when they ran out of business? Did she take a second job to help her son repay his debts, so that he can keep his mortgaged house? Was she a housewife of a university professor until her husband left her to live with his 19-year old student?

The previous customer is done and my turn comes. She looks at me now. I know what comes next. The script. But I have a different plan.

I look her into the eyes, raise my left eyebrow and in a voice of a world-famous talk-show host speak: “Good evening once again, it is my pleasure to do business with you and your magnificent company.” I give her a few seconds to absorb it – from the look in her eyes I see she needs to recover. Then again, as she is just about to ask me for the loyalty card, I jump in. “I am a grateful and loyal customer of yours and I have a document to prove it. Here you go, check yourself!”

I get the first smile from her – she’s mine from now on.

She checks in the card and starts processing the items on the cashier belt.

When she reaches out for the sack of croissants, I’m still one step ahead.

“Seven. A lucky number, if you don’t know that. Often thought of as magical. In various fantasy stories. And in music as well. For example – Iron Maiden – a heavy metal band from the United Kingdom – they have an album that is called Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. But I guess you don’t listen to heavy metal that much, do you? “

The first audible laugh. “Not voluntarily.” she says. “Seven croissants it is then.”

With the last item I take the wallet out from my pocket. “Now please let me prove my endless gratitude for all those delicacies: I will repay you by using cutting edge technology – a contactless payment card!” She presses the button to activate the terminal. With a focused expression on my face I swing my plastic debit card like a magic wand. I hear the terminal beep so I swing the card back and with a practiced elegant move I put it into my wallet and my wallet into my jeans. Like a performer at the end of the show, I finish with a modest bow.

At this moment the lady bursts into a loud laughter – and apparently can’t help it, because she goes on for the next 10 seconds.

As she pulls herself together, we tell each other goodbye. For both of us, the evening just got an upward turn.
It’s so tempting to retaliate perceived impoliteness with distant grumpiness.

But trust me – we can do better than that.



Featured image by Laura Thorne, taken from Flickr, under Creative Commons license. Colors adjusted.

4 thoughts on “We Can Do Better

  1. Hi Lukáš, I like your posts because they are from real life. I am afraid this situation can be managed only by a charming young man with irresistible smile like you. I can hardly imagine the elderly lady at the cash desk not to think I am making fun out of her (especially with my to often stumbling Czech). However, I confirm these situations can be managed in a very nice way. It is sufficient not to be ONLY polite. If you simply put heartiness into your greeting, if you really mean it, if you consider this person in front of you to be really special as each human being is, usually you get a very kind answer. Some people will also manage it your way 🙂 Have a nice evening. C.

    • Hi Cecile, I agree with you that different people have different… tools to manage those situations. I’m certain that some other situations you would be way better suited to handle than I am 🙂

      What I enjoy about doing these little things is that in the end it’s way more fun than… Being grumpy for example 😉

  2. This comes across as a little ‘do-gooder’ liberal for my liking, sorry. If someone is rude to me or it’s just really poor service, I don’t come back. Problem solved. As Czechs themselves say: “to je jeji probem.”

    There’s a local cafe I’ve started going to here in Brno where they’re friendly and smiley. If I’d stayed at the ‘grumpy cafe’ from before, I wouldn’t have found this one.

    Previously, the cafe I went to had one waiter who wouldn’t even greet me – I got the impression he didn’t like foreigners or he thought I was gay (or both). So I’d say the opposite – choose places where you feel welcome, and let the others be because it’s their problem or thing to resolve.

    • David, I agree that you should not keep visiting places where they are rude to you or where they provide poor customer service. I’m not giving preference to such places either 🙂 As you suggest, I choose places where I feel welcome. And taking the “to je jeji problem” approach is certainly a valid one.

      The point I wanted to make in this post was: If you’re served by someone in a bad mood, you can either:

      1) Accept that reality (frown at them too and think to yourself: “I’ll never come back to this place again”), or
      2) Create reality of your own (thinking of it as a challenge: “Heyy, maybe this lady just needs someone to cheer her up – let’s see if I can do that!”)

      And you know what? On that evening, I was leaving that Billa store happy that I made someone laugh. No matter whether they deserved it or not.

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