We are not slackers. I’m sure you’ve seen me. I work at your local Generic Food Provider. Last week, when you came by to buy broccoli, it was 96 degrees outside. I was wearing long black pants, a white polo, and a black vinyl apron. Why was I not wearing a bathing suit and lounging on my front lawn? Or a snappy business casual ensemble in a conference room? Not for lack of trying on my part, believe me. What you don’t know about me is that for most of the year, I’m a double major at a well-ranked private university. You also probably didn’t know that my friend slicing your bread is enrolling in a program to get her Masters, or that the girl at customer service is on a full ride to the state university. The guy who threw out your shopping list (that you left on a display of pound cakes) works forty-five hour weeks doing manual labor to support his family. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to know all that, but the next time you comment loudly to your daughter that she’s going to college so she doesn’t have to work here, perhaps you should consider that many of use are in college, graduates, or working hard at the best jobs we can get.
We are not responsible for every aspect of your “experience.” Now that you know the people who are trimming your pork chops and washing your produce, you should probably understand the things we can, and cannot, do for you. Anyone working in a supermarket or a restaurant will do the absolute very best they can to try and help you. However, there are some things we simply do not know. Someone working in the dairy department probably doesn’t know where that gluten-free rye bread is. When we refer you to customer service or our manager, it’s not because we get sadistic pleasure out of making you talk to interchangeable people in black aprons while your froyo melts, or because we are only able to communicate in grunts. I would love to be able to handle your banana-nut bread problem on my own without dragging other people into it, but sometimes that’s just not possible. It’s also pretty useless to try to complain to me about the cart boy who snubbed you or the cashier you think has a bad attitude. It really wouldn’t even matter if that cart boy released a raging moose to maul you—sorry lady, I just bake the baguettes, and there’s a giant booth over there full of people who would love to hear you complain. Yes, there, right under the sign that says “Customer Service.”
We stick together. Oh, you didn’t like that one about the moose? And you want to speak to my manager? You go right ahead. You’ll probably have a little more respect for her because she’s “made something of herself,” but here’s a fun fact! Most supermarkets promote from within, same as restaurants, and while they may not be working in the original stores they started in, the Human Resources Manager used to be the cart boy, my manager has been working the bakery for twelve years, and everyone in customer service has worked the floor. They have years of pent-up aggression and, finally, a position that allows them to unleash it. Not to mention that they see tiny, younger versions of themselves in all the people you whine about. So when you hear that conciliatory, ever-so-condescending “I’m so sorry you feel that way, ma’am,” now you know where it’s coming from. So don’t fuck with us.
We have lives outside of our jobs. While the lasting glute-pain of wearing ShapeUps for eight hours might follow me home, those little barbs and eyerolls you sent my way when I told you we were out of Morning Glory Muffins didn’t. I have an adorable dog and a stack of good books to read at home, and frankly, I leave your bullshit in the store parking lot. Don’t bother trying to make me feel bad about myself when I’m at work, because honestly, you’re spending more time on me than I’ll ever spend on you.
We are nice people. Okay, I know I seem confrontational. But guess what? If you’re nice and respectful to me, like I try to be to you, you’ll never have to worry about me pelting stale dinner rolls at you.
…But seriously, we are not your friends. Don’t call me sweetie; don’t ask me for favors, and no, I can’t give you that turnover at a lower price. I play by the rules my store sets up, and you should probably play by the rules society sets up for you: Be nice to people, don’t make a scene, and don’t try to start relationships with the girl who is writing on your cookie cake. While I try really hard to be helpful and make you feel welcome, at the end of the day, I’m only here for my paycheck, and you should only be here for your groceries.