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.