Editorial: In Defense of Menial Labor

Jeannie Nielsen, News Editor

   Last week, my significant other and I stood in line at Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee on a busy Saturday, with both sweatpants-clad college students and residents milling in and out of the store with fatigue written on their faces. Over the chatter and the beeping of the deep fryer, I managed to make out what the customer in the front of the line said: “Get me an everything bagel with cream cheese, toasted, and a caramel latte.” No matter where I am or how busy I am, the lack of proper ordering etiquette never fails to irk me.

   My first job was at Price Chopper as a cashier when I was 16. Although it was easy work, the hours were flexible, and I liked my co-workers, it was still the worst job I’ve ever had. The monotony and standing in one spot for an entire shift, coupled with the blatant disrespect from some of the customers gave me an appreciation for anyone who has ever worked with the public. When we start a new job, we are provided with the training and skills that are necessary to be a good employee. However, we are never told how to excel as clientele. Everyone visits the grocery store, the bank, shops for clothes, or eats at a restaurant. We are constantly in situations in which we are the customer. Therefore, it is my humble little belief that before being let out into the world, everyone should be forced to be a server, cashier, or work in retail for two weeks.

   You may say to yourself, “I’m not a rude customer, and I’m not mean to whoever is taking my order.” Well, it’s a start, but you should strive to be the nicest customer of the day. It sounds cheesy, but it really can make someone’s day if you treat them warmly as opposed to walking up to them and grunting “Lemme get a cheeseburger.”

   Subconsciously, everyone knows it’s only right to be polite, but I’ve found that the best way to learn is through experience. Being a good customer is a life skill that should be engraved in your memory. After a shift of bagging groceries or taking a food order from a less-than-gracious customer at $7.50 an hour, I can guarantee that you will never forget to smile and say “May I please have…” and “thank you.” Yes, it is that important.

   You see, when you work in the public sector, you learn things. Like saying “Hi, how are you?” is appreciated before placing your order or swiping your card. You’re face-to-face with a person, not an object. And for Christ’s sake, if they greet you first, respond! You don’t have to give a detailed explanation of your day, but at the very least, acknowledge them. If you really loathe human interaction that much, go to the self-checkout.

   A quick note about cellphones: put them away. I get it, you want to multi-task. For the record, I am also capable of handing over money while chatting with my mom, but I don’t. Even though the service worker doesn’t make the big bucks they are still offering you just that: a service. You would never whip out your phone in the midst of a consultation with a lawyer or while getting a haircut from your stylist. Why? It is the height of disrespect, so don’t do it to a waitress or a cashier. They make minimum wage, if that, probably have been talked down to countless times already that day, and likely don’t receive 40 hours a week, meaning no insurance. They probably don’t feel very valued as an employee, so make sure you value them as a person.

   I’m not saying that service workers are all friendly, mindless victims of the corporations for which they’re employed. I would have bad days and I’d be rude right back to customers. If you feel the person behind the counter isn’t being polite to you, suck it up. Seriously. If you have the time to call over the manager and complain about your fast food or grocery store experience, I don’t know whether I should pity or envy you. Take everything you’ve heard along the lines of “the customer is always right” and forget it.

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