An Alarming Miscommunication

, , , , | Working | July 21, 2021

I’m a minor. In my state and store, minors are not supposed to work past 9:30 pm. Our store usually closes anywhere from 10:00 pm to midnight during the week, so I’m never around during closing time. It was New Year’s Eve, which meant our store was closing slightly earlier than usual, and I was working until closing time along with the store manager, the shift manager, and several other employees. Once the last customer left the store, the managers told me to clock out, grab my things, and meet them up front to leave.

Every employee is assigned a small locker in the back of the store where the official break room is, so once I clocked out, I headed back to the lockers. I grabbed my things and went to the front to leave with everyone else…

…except there was nobody there. There are two regular exits: one by the florist and one by the bakery/pharmacy. We were supposed to meet by the florist, but I checked the bakery/pharmacy as well and they weren’t there either. I went up to the time clock where all the offices are. Nobody was there. I knocked on all the closed office doors and even tried opening the doors, but no such luck. I made my way back to the lockers and restrooms — perhaps they went back to find me? Nope. I went back to the front of the store and picked up the phone to try and use the pager system to call for anyone in the store, but I had no idea how it worked, so I put the phone back down. I walked around to the bakery, dairy, meat, produce, and deli departments, but I couldn’t find a single soul. I decided to try the exit door anyway; maybe it was locked from the outside, but I could still leave through it? It’s a two-door system where you walk through the first door, walk about twenty feet, and walk through the second door outside. I walked through the first door with no problem, but the second door was locked. Luckily, I was able to turn around and grab the first door before it shut completely, trapping me inside the vestibule. Panicking, I ran around the aisles shouting for anyone to hear me, choking back the inevitable tears that were on their way.

I finally used my cell phone to call my parents, who were wondering where I was. Through tears, I explained.

Me: “I’m trapped in the store alone! And I don’t know what to do.”

Mother: “Look around for an emergency exit.”

I find one.

Me: “I’ve found one, but I’m scared to set off the alarm!”

Mother: “Suck it up and push the door open.”

I pushed it open, the alarm rang REALLY loudly, and I ran and screamed all the way around the building to the parking lot and to my car.

At the time, my father had worked for over a decade for the town, and he knew several of the police officers in town. He called the non-emergency number and told them that his daughter set off the alarm at the grocery store so they had a heads-up as to what was going on. The police then passed on the story to the store manager, who had been called back to the store by the alarm company.

The next time I worked, my mother came in, found the store manager scanning a few things at self-checkout, furiously marched up to her, and ripped her a new one.

Mother: “How dare you leave an employee alone in the store?!”

Store Manager: *Sincerely* “I’m so sorry. Even if your daughter had remained in the store, the overnight stocking crew comes in around midnight, so they would have been able to let her out. But I agree that the situation should never have happened in the first place. The shift manager and I each thought the other had let [My Name] out of the store, so it was okay to leave.”

After a few more complaints from my mom, the store manager finished scanning her items — an “I’m sorry” card, a gift card, and a couple of movie tickets — and came to my register to apologize again and give me the gifts. My mom felt a little bad after that.

Looking back at it a decade later, I think the whole thing is somewhat humorous, but I really wish I’d taken the chance to explore more of the store; I’d always wanted to see what the bakery looked like. My mom still remembers hearing the alarm go off and me screaming through the phone and laughs about it to this day. That was probably my most memorable New Year’s Eve.

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Gweilo-No-No

, , , , , | Right | July 21, 2021

I work at a grocery store that also has fish in their pet department, which I am in charge of maintaining this evening. An Asian man walks up.

Me: “Hello, sir. Do you need help?”

Male Customer: “No.”

Me: “If you need assistance, feel free to let me know.”

I continue to clean tanks and do paperwork nearby, in view. An Asian woman joins him looking at fish and I ask again if they need help. I’m told no and I repeat my message to let me know if they need assistance.

A few minutes pass. I’m keeping busy with tanks and the two are just staring at me making me very uncomfortable. I keep cleaning. After five more minutes of staring, the woman snaps.

Female Customer: “Aren’t you going to get us fish?”

Me: “I apologize! Absolutely!”

Female Customer: “We have been waiting ten minutes! This is ridiculous!”

Me: “I’m sorry. I did say to let me know if you needed help. I apologize for that wait.”

She tells me the fish she wants — a specific goldfish out of tanks of hundreds of goldfish that look near identical and two male bettas that she tries to get me to bag together — and demands a giant bag that holds a gallon for a single twenty-five-cent goldfish.

The entire time, she and the man are talking smack about me in Mandarin, which I studied for five years in school. I know enough to keep up a conversation and know they are talking in racial slurs and talking about how I must be in an abusive sexual relationship with a woman because of my shaved hair; I’m female with heavy scarring on my scalp from a car crash.

I hand them their fish.

Me: *In Mandarin* “Here you go, have a good day. I had an accident and am happily engaged. Don’t talk about what you don’t know.”

Watching their faces pale was delightful and their complaint to my boss was ignored.

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You Don’t Have An Inside Voice But You Still Have To Come Inside

, , , | Right | July 19, 2021

My store offers online grocery shopping. We do not accept orders over the phone, we never have, and we never will. The company also recently changed the payment system, so when the customer places an order they have two options: 1) pay online; or 2) select the EBT option and come inside the store to pay. Maybe three or four customers out of four hundred pay inside since it’s easier on everyone to just pay online.

I am not a manager, but I am the shift lead, so I do deal with difficult customers. A coworker flags me down. This coworker is still relatively new and doesn’t quite know how to not let customers bully her into getting their way. She is on the phone with someone.

Coworker: “I’m going to pass you off to someone more senior who can answer your question.”

She gives me the phone and flashes me an “I’m sorry” look.

Me: “This is [My Name].”

Customer: “[My Name], listen. I’m going to be there in five minutes. I have some stuff I need you to grab and hold for me until I get there.”

We are super busy and short-staffed. We are just barely keeping up with orders as they come in. We do not have time to do anything else.

Me: “Did you place an online order?”

Customer: “No, but I’ve seen you do this for other people. So, I need a chicken, a lemon meringue pie—”

Me: “Ma’am, if you did not place an online order, then we cannot grab items for you and hold them.”

Customer: “Sure you can. Anyway—”

Me: “No. The only way we will grab items for you is if you place an online order.”

Customer: “I don’t want to do that.”

Me: “That’s the only way for us to get what you want.”

Customer: “I’ve seen you hold stuff for other people. You place their stuff in those cabinets.”

Me: “They place their orders online. If you place an order online, we will grab what you want.”

Customer: “I just want a chicken and—”

Me: “Ma’am, even if we did grab that stuff, you would still have to come inside the store to pay.”

Customer: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I HAVE TO COME INSIDE? OTHER PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TO GO INSIDE!”

Me: “We did away with curbside payments months ago. Everyone who places an order pays online.”

Customer: “I can’t just give you my card over the phone?”

Me: “No, and we will not shop for you unless you place an online order.”

Customer: “I don’t know how to do that.”

Me: “Just go online to [Store Website] and select ‘Order groceries.’”

Customer: *Grumbles something*

Me: “Have a good day.” *Hangs up*

Coworker: “Thank you. I didn’t know what to do.”

Me: “It’s 2:55. No way she’s getting an order in today.”

The cut-off for same-day pickup is 3:00 pm. My next move was to tell her that the next available time slot wasn’t until 7:30 that evening — after the twenty people in line ahead of her — but that we were running behind so it would be even later.

Coworker: “She was so insistent, and she told me she works in the deli so she knows the system.”

Me: “She works here?!”

Coworker: “That’s what she said, but I didn’t catch her name.”

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When It’s Slow They’re Even Slower To Understand

, , , , , | Right | July 15, 2021

I work in a grocery store at the customer service desk. We have a checkout at the service desk, but it is usually reserved for customers who need something from the service desk — i.e. lotto tickets and cigarettes — to keep lines short and available to those who need our other services.

I am standing across the way talking to a coworker about our shoplifter policy when I notice a customer at the service desk.

Regular Customer: “Can I buy these two newspapers here?”

Me: “I suppose so, but just so you know, we usually reserve this desk for those who need something from customer service.”

Regular Customer: “Well, I’m just buying my two papers like I do every day.”

Me: “I know that, and that’s why I’ll do it for you this time.”

Regular Customer: “There’s nobody here, anyway. You’re just standing around gossiping and doing nothing! I’m not going to stand in line for fifteen minutes while you talk!”

Me: “I just can’t have a long line at the desk, because those who actually need my services won’t be able to get them if I have lots of people checking out.”

Regular Customer: “Well, when it’s slow, you could be doing it.”

Me: “Sir, I can’t change policy based on how slow the store is.”

Regular Customer: “Whatever! I’ll talk to [Store Director] about it!” *Storms out*

I was angry but it was quite funny to see him threaten me when I knew the director would do nothing as he hadn’t and wouldn’t be back to work anytime soon! He had been out for two months for surgery at this point.

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Mom Takes All The Debit Credit

, , , , , | Right | July 15, 2021

In the shop near my home, there are a few debit-only registers where you can’t pay with cash, generally used when it’s busy, since it’s easier to open an extra one. These are clearly marked. They have signs everywhere, stickers on the floor, and the dividers and even the belt are all bright blue and white with signs saying, “DEBIT ONLY.” Even then, the cashier always asks, “Are you paying by debit?”

But we all know that for some people this isn’t enough.

My mom and I happen to shop together, getting some cake and drinks. We enter the “Debit Only” line and wait our turn. We notice that the woman in front of us is having a debate with the cashier and it’s heating up. It’s obvious the woman wanted to pay cash but went to the wrong register.

My grandmother on my mother’s side had a great way to deal with this sort of thing, and we silently decide to honour her memory. We start talking to each other in a tone that’s a little louder than usual.

Mom: “Well, she does know the language, so that rules out that she didn’t understand.”

Me: “But illiteracy is higher than one might expect and on the rise, so perhaps she couldn’t read all the signs or the belt.”

Mom: “That is a possibility.”

The cashier notices us and smiles a little. This alerts the woman and makes her throw an even bigger fit. 

Me: “But why wouldn’t she hear the cashier ask? Is she perhaps deaf, as well?”

Mom: “No, because she clearly understood the cashier explaining just now.”

Me: “Well, that leaves another possibility, but we haven’t ruled out illiteracy yet.”

Now the woman knows we are talking about her and turns her attention towards us. 

Woman: “I’m not deaf.”

Mom: “Then perhaps you can’t read.”

Woman: *Fuming now* “I can read!”

Me: “Then perhaps hard of sight, since you didn’t see?” *Points to all the signs in general* 

We can actually see her starting to feel embarrassed so my mom takes it easy.

Mom: “If you don’t have any excuse not to be able to see, read, or understand all the signs, then perhaps you shouldn’t take it out on the cashier who is just doing her job. Just pay your stuff with debit, or let the cashier do what she offered and take your receipt to another register to pay there.”

The woman nodded meekly and paid by card.

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