Tonight I was standing in line at the seafood counter of a bustling grocery store. When the employee behind the counter asked, “who’s next?” a young couple practically jumped up and down and said, “us!” To my dismay, a snappily dressed middle aged woman told the employee, who was standing closer to her, “mine’s really quick.”
There was a collective jaw drop among us customers as we turned to stare at the woman, who seemed unfazed at the attention. The female half of the young couple, who was obviously very pregnant, exclaimed “I don’t believe this!” as her face turned red.
I could not help but stare at the woman and told the young couple I was so sorry. When it was my turn, the clerk explained that he thought they got there at the same time, and obviously he had to make a split second decision as to who to help. So it’s possible that the woman the crowd had fixed with a frigid gaze colder than the ice mounded atop the crab legs had simply jumped at the opportunity because she was in a hurry.
Here’s why it bothered me though:
1. The woman assumed that her order would take less time than the young couple’s.
2. The lovely younger woman was so pregnant she looked like she could have been picking up a pre-delivery snack on her way to the hospital.
3. The couple’s reaction, as well as that of the people ahead of me in line, told me that perhaps the young couple had gotten there first after all.
As I voiced my opinion, commiserating with a kind older couple surveying the delicacies in the glass cases alongside me, I fumed because I find such behavior so typical. People in grocery stores rarely say excuse me, they reach in front of you as if you’re not there, and they act as if their time is more valuable than yours.
As I started trying to balance my frustration with reasons the woman might have jumped in, I thought that maybe she had a legitimate cause to get in and out of the grocery store in a prompt fashion. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she needed to get home to a pet or family member. She might not have seen that the other woman was very pregnant or there first. There could be any number of reasons she was so assertive.
Two aisles down, however, I found her calmly browsing the baking aisle as if nothing had happened. I ran into her again later on. I took my time shopping, and then saw that she came to the checkout line the same time as me. I was loafing, so she couldn’t have been in that big of a hurry either.
When I mentioned this to the cashier, the bagger said, “nothing surprises me anymore.” “That’s the problem,” I replied. “We’ve become desensitized to bad behavior to the point that we just look the other way.” The cashier piped in and said that the other day, a man walked up to him– twice– and said, “you have an ugly beard.” The cashier was a clean-cut, cute guy, and perhaps the customer was mad at life or mentally ill. But– really?!!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our society and culture tolerates bad behavior to the point that it’s become normal. Not calling it out when it happens contributes to the acceptance of rudeness, oblivion, and narcissism. Sometimes we are all guilty of looking the other way when we know a friend is cheating on their wife, we see a crime being committed, or we witness a case of blatant selfishness.
I don’t think it would have been right to flat out attack seafood counter woman verbally. But I wanted to ask her, “out of curiosity, did you see the other woman who was standing there?” and hear what she had to say. I’d already made my feelings known when it happened, so didn’t want to go overboard. It was just… like the bagger said, so typical though. So normal.
That is disheartening, like the motorists in Redmond yesterday when traffic signals were out due to a power substation fire. Basic driver’s ed dictates that when a signal is dark, you treat the intersection as a four way stop. On the news I saw as many as five cars heading the same direction weaving through the intersection at once rather than taking their turns. The net effect of that self-absorbed rudeness is gridlock, and it’s also dangerous.
Maybe it’s time to bring back Billy Quan. Those in western Washington may remember Billy from his “Mind Your Manners” skits on the boldly irreverent comedy show Almost Live. Billy took care of business when he encountered bad behavior, employing fast and furious martial arts skills to defeat the thoughtless and oblivious among us. The skits were a parody of old Kung Fu movies; a good example is “Fumes of Fury”:
Famed criminal profiler John Douglas, after decades analyzing some
of the most brazen criminals in our society, said:
More police and more courts and more prisons and better investigative techniques are fine, but the only way crime is going to go down is if all of us simply stop accepting and tolerating it in our families, our friends, and our associates. This is the lesson from other countries with far lower numbers than ours. Only this type of grassroots solution, in my opinion, will be effective. Crime is a moral problem. It can only be resolved on a moral level.
This quote is also applicable to a situation I found myself in last night at a small store. When I walked in, there were three women arguing with the cashiers as two small children fussed. As they went out the door, one clerk picked up the phone and the other told me the women had just filled their bags and the baby’s stroller with a number of products they hadn’t paid for.
As I watched the thieves lumber off down the block at a leisurely pace, my instinct was to reach for my cell phone and call the police. I asked the women, “are you calling 911?” One said, “no, management doesn’t allow us to.” She was calling someone else.
My reaction: “huh?” They explained that not only had the women stolen merchandise, but had returned goods that were obviously stolen from another location for cash. They had used the children’s tiredness and acting up as a diversion. Yet their management didn’t want them to involve the police.
I was dumbfounded, yet it’s not the first time I’ve heard of such store policies. This is another example of tolerating and accommodating the crude and criminal among us. It’s not my nature to walk into a crime and do nothing, but I didn’t actually witness it, so wasn’t sure how I could prove the crime to the police without the clerks’ support. It was frustrating, and I didn’t want to get the clerks in trouble either.
Sometimes these things happen so fast that we’re not sure how to handle them. I try to ask myself what the Christian response is, what the ethical response is, and so on. Some people believe that a Christian response is a tolerant response that gives offenders the benefit of the doubt and an excuse. A basic tenet of Christianity is taking a stand against evil though. So a swift, shrewd, yet diplomatic response that allows for honest human error is probably the best bet.
Fed up with rudeness in general, however, I told the older couple waiting in line with me that what I should have done when the assertive woman told the employee she needed a half a pound of shrimp. I should have jumped in and said, “Oh, well, I only need a quarter pound of squid, so mine’s quicker,” and then deferred to the other people.
It’s tempting… so tempting… and it would have been less spastic than pulling a Billy Quan and flinging oysters at her in rapid succession while whipping around a couple of crab claws like nunchucks. Sometimes it’s difficult to respond rather than react and to allow for honest mistakes or legitimate unknowns when the offense seems so blatant.
But clamming up– nah, not in this case. I think it was okay that this woman was cod on it, and that the crowd flexed its collective annoyance mussel. Sometimes I really wonder what eel lurks in people’s soles. It’s shad, I hake rudeness, and I’m glad my chums gasped with me.
Soup and fish explain half the emotions in life. –Sydney Smith
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