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…When Your Personal Space Disappears

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We Americans value our rights. You know, it’s all those inherited entitlements we so dearly treasure. We can organize rallies in protest of laws or print exposés about the politicians we love to hate, and our government will protect us. We can say almost whatever we want or worship any god we choose, because the “Long Arm Of The Law” keeps us covered. But, (and there’s always a but) our most prized entitlement has no protection.

I’m a Walmart fiend. Doesn’t matter what time of day it is, doesn’t matter how much money I don’t have: I’m always at Walmart. Aside from the fact that they only open 6 of the 87 checkout lanes available, I always end up in line with a Personal Space Violator. And y’all know what I’m talking about… it’s the person who thinks you’re trying to advance the line every time you inch closer to the conveyor belt. The worst part? In your efforts to defend your space, you end up becoming a P.S.V. yourself! Don’t even try to explain your actions, because once you’ve intruded, there’s no excuse to justify the infraction. Now everybody’s pissed off and uncomfortable (a dangerous combination in Walmart), trying to regain a reasonable amount of breathing room. The P.S.V. won’t limit infractions to the grocery store, either. You can find these criminals all in your sangria at the bar, looking in your back pocket in the parking deck, or even picking your boogers on the train. You don’t have to identify yourselves, but I know some of y’all are habitual P.S.V.’s! Fret not; help is on the way!

Pictured below is the Personal Space Diagram, followed by a brief explanation of each category:

1.) Social – reserved for waiting in line (i.e. – grocery store, bathroom, fast food restaurants); 2.) Personal – acceptable in large groups, or in places where personal space is limited (i.e. – public transportation, bars, clubs, sporting events; 3.) Intimate – only appropriate with individuals you would kiss, hug, or tell secrets (no examples necessary)

There’s obviously some flexibility within each category, because we don’t all have the same aversions to strangers (or creepers we’ve come to love). However, this guide works well when you need to figure out if someone’s all in your grill. On the flip side, you can use this to stay out of other people’s space. The most important thing here is everyone’s comfort level. It takes time to learn people, so a few initial violations are ok. But if you continuously ignore someone’s personal space, you’ll turn into the weirdo nobody wants to be around. And I don’t want to see that happen to anyone!

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…When Someone Refuses Your Refusal

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I work in retail, meaning I spend about 25 hours a week folding clothes, smiling at babies, dressing mannequins, and telling lies about how good people look in too little t-shirts. My primary responsibility is running the cash register, and let me tell you, some customers are real assholes. If you’re one of these assholes, you’re going to be mad at me. That’s totally fine, though, because I’m only telling the truth. You can direct all your concerns to management.

I’m sure most of y’all are polite and courteous, so please try to contain your judgment.

I don’t want to be too hard on our rude counterparts, because we all have bad days. However, it seems the worst of the worst always come through my line! They’re usually mad at their spouse, late for a meeting, shopping during lunch break, chasing children around the store, talking on the phone/texting, or generally just too busy to wait in line. So by the time they reach the register, they’re ready for war! I put on my fake smile & attempt to make the experience positive for all those involved, but these people always make things more difficult than they have to be. They argue about signs & prices, telling me how wrong I am for charging them too much. Which, might I add, is not my fault, because I’m only scanning barcodes; it’s the system’s fault. After I change the prices, I’m then wrong because I agreed to meet their needs. But the worst thing I can possibly do is deny them discounts! Wanna see a soccer mom pissed off? Tell her she can’t use a coupon.

Here’s how it goes…

The customer gets to the end of the transaction and says, “Oh, I have a coupon I want to use.” I already know that the coupon is either expired or invalid, but because I’m such a great employee, I pretend to review the thing anyway. Now, I’ve already prepped my statement, and I can pretty much predict how the conversation will proceed. I’ll politely tell my customer, “I’m sorry, we can’t use your coupon because it expired yesterday,” and she will say, “You’re sure? (I nod yes.) Awww! Ok.” But you know what my customers do? They completely catch me off guard and say, “What do you mean I can’t use my coupon?” I repeat myself like a dumbass, thinking that if I say it again or differently, I’ll elicit a different reaction. I have no idea what I’m supposed to say in return, because I wasn’t prepared for this line of questioning, you jerk. So not only do I stand there looking stupid, I also try to bounce back & figure out how to proceed. (This is where you should press pause.)

“What do YOU mean questioning me?! My job isn’t to subjectively decide when I can override policies & honor your damn discounts! I am to pass the information to you directly from upper management. No interpretations, no flexibility. And guess what, ma’am? If I did have the power to make that decision (and sometimes I do), your stank ass attitude just helped me decide to say no!” I’ve always wanted to say that, but I’d definitely lose my job. Here’s how I handle this awkward situation, instead.

I try to troubleshoot on my own, looking for the best way to appease my customer without violating any store policies. I convey a sympathetic and understanding apology, and restate why I can’t honor the coupon. This usually works, restoring the balance of power. When it doesn’t work, I step aside and allow my manager to handle the situation. By the end of the transaction, the customer saves her money & I can scratch 20 more minutes from my shift. Ironically, the 10% they waste their time fighting for only saves them a few dollars… Idiots. (Insert evil villain laugh)

My advice to you, dear friends, is to believe what your cashier tells you. If the person in front of you seems sketchy, politely ask for an explanation or a manager; in this business, pleasantries really do go a long way. Try your best to understand the stress of retail, and be a good customer.

Above all else, don’t come through my line with that kind of bullshit, because you won’t get your way.