Wednesday, November 28, 2007

you want to know what about my bread?

I was in the grocery store last week with Charles and we were buying a few things. Cheese, tortilla chips, olives, salsa, sour cream....clearly we were gonna make us some nachos. So we get up to the 8 items or less check-out (because we only had 6, I swear) and the clerk says to us: "Wellllll someone's making nachos for supper, huh? Isn't that a nice treat!" So Charles says "yeah, it's great!" but I'm thinking "Excuse me? What did you just say to me??"

Okay, let me explain, lest you think I just go around looking for trouble.

When I was doing my library diploma (or libdip for short) one of the courses involved circulation - not as in the system in your body, of course - but as in library materials. Circulation, in the library world is sacred. Patron privacy is the ultimate priority, and under no circumstances are you to comment on what people are signing out. This is the dog's honest truth, people - this is what was drilled into fledgling library heads lo these many years ago. On no account can you call someone out about what they're signing out from your library. Ever. This golden rule pretty much applies at all libraries, but the librarian teaching my particular course was a public librarian, so she was using public libraries as the model. Basically, if you take anything up to the circ desk and show your card, the items are signed out no questions asked.

One of the examples that was used in my class - and probably many, many library school classes worldwide, was the instance of (and I'm probably going to get some of the details wrong, but the gist of it you will understand) the teenager who signed out the book Final Exit. The staff member who checked the book out knew the kid and the kid's family. Later, the kid committed suicide. The very distraught parents were outraged that the staff member didn't tell the parents what their kid had signed out, holding this person responsible, that if they'd said something, maybe it could have been prevented... A very sad story indeed. However, the staff member was under no obligation to say anything, of course. And so it goes.

Anyway, this has always stuck with me througout my library career, and I think it's important. You don't make comments to someone checking out diet books like "Hey, great! You've finally decided to do something about that spare tire!" just like you wouldn't say "Wow, that's a lot of electronics and pyrotechnics books you've got there - gonna make a bomb?"

So I'm always shocked and taken aback when grocery or other clerks make comments on my purchases. The nachos thing was only one in a long series of instances where I just didn't know how to respond. Some times it's more disturbing than others. Like the time the grocery clerk commented "Jeez, you sure do have a lot of vegetables! Are you like a vegetarian or something?" or when two women handled the bread I was buying saying "Yeah, I've always wanted to try this but it's sooooo expensive - so, is it worth it??" I wanted to run. On the other hand, when I bought my winter coat last weekend and the girl said "Man, I love that coat on you, it's awesome! And you know, they're super warm too" I was pleased. Maybe because I'd asked for some help, talked a little about what I was looking for - stuff like that. So her comments were justified and welcomed. But, when I walk up to the check-out lane at the grocer and plunk my items on the belt, I've done it all myself and I guess I just don't need justification for what I'm purchasing. Nor do I need comments.

So I guess what I'm wondering is does this bother anyone else? Are you annoyed or flattered when check-out people comment on your purchases? Does it feel like an invasion of your privacy, or are you willing to share your preferences for expensive breads? Am I alone in the deer in the headlights feeling when this happens because of my "the customer's items are sacred and are known to them and them alone" mantra, or do others share this view? Am I the only crazy in the room?

Know what? Don't answer that last one, k? Thanks.

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