Conversations with a dumb ass about the ACLU.

I did something at work yesterday that you’re not supposed to do. I told a customer they were wrong. Worse than that it had nothing to do with anything work related such as an advertised special. It was a misconception about the ACLU and that makes it a political topic which is a definite no-no according to The Rules.

The trouble started, as it often does, with a little old lady who was browsing through the stepping stones that are on sale. Several of them have various Christian quotes on them because, well, the store isn’t above trying to profit off of the overly religious. Stuff like the ever popular “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.  You know the sort of stuff. Anyway, I walked up to the sweet old lady and asked her if she needed any help finding stuff to spend her money on, because that’s what you do when you work for a retail store, and she proceeded to engage me in some small talk for a few minutes.

Then she pointed at one of the religious stepping stones and said to me, “I’m surprised you’re allowed to sell those.” This prompted me to ask the obvious question of why she’d be surprised by this and she replied with, “Because that damned ACLU is trying to stamp out God.”

I tried, with only partial success, to suppress the urge to laugh.

I spent a moment or two debating what my reply should be because I immediately recognized this as one of the Topics That Shall Never Be Discussed Under Pain of Possible Termination that was drilled into us during the orientation training. I ended up going with the “fuck it” option and replied with, “Ma’am, as a card carrying member I can honestly tell you that the ACLU doesn’t care if we’re selling stepping stones with religious passages on them or if you buy them and put them on your lawn. They’re only concerned with improper promotion by the government. They actually have taken on suits in defense of believer’s rights to religious expression.”

She blinked at me a couple of times as she processed the sudden realization that she was face-to-face with an ACLU member who was contradicting something she clearly believed to be true and her face dropped into a rather dour expression. She mumbled something under her breath and wandered off back into the store. I called after her in my cheeriest voice as she meandered off, “If you have any other questions I’d be more than happy to answer them and thanks for shopping with us!” That was fairly early in the morning and the store director didn’t show up to chew me out or fire me so she must not have complained to anyone of any importance.

26 comments

  1. You’re a braver (or stupider) man than I am, Gunga Din.

    But you are, of course, perfectly correct.

    If faced with that, I *might* have said something more like, “Ma’am, I don’t think the ACLU is against private ownership of religious stepping stones, just government spending money in favor of one religion over another.”  Or something like that.

    Of course, I’m not yet a card-carrying member of the ACLU, so I don’t know what sort of godless indoctrination they’ve performed on you to answer these questions.  {ducks}

  2. And the correct response, especially if there is any commission on sales from that department, is:  You are right!  Many of those who have bought Product X did so to show they will not run from their beliefs.  How many Product Xs would you like for your grandchildren, because they do make great presents?

  3. There’s a reason why I don’t work in sales or retail, because I’d be passive-aggressive and ask the customer if she tried to get me trouble for discussing a topic that’s off-limit to employees.

  4. My major retail experience was at Sam Goody, from age 17-18. Had I been in your situation at that time, I probably would have inwardly rolled my eyes, worked my mouth into a half-smile, forced some insipid “Is that right?” dialogue, then excused myself to the restroom to vomit (well, maybe not that last part). Now my response would be one of simple pity and amusement.

    It’s good that you at least incited a sweet old lady to think, if not revamp her conceptions about the ACLU.

  5. I love the last part:

    “If you have any other questions I’d be more than happy to answer them and thanks for shopping with us!”

    Shit I am definitely a huge pussy!  I would have said, “Those ACLU bastards haven’t got us yet!  Now how many can I help carry out to your car…”

  6. At $7 an hour with no commission

    I guess you could say you’ve already done enough of

    that kind of pride swallowing.

    Having put my foot in my mouth on too many occasions all I can say is that honour and integrity can sometimes be costly.
    Anyway, she didn’t complain so it’s obvious she wasn’t too offended by your non-compliant-ness.
    Maybe her god told her you were a good man, deep-down.

  7. Having put my foot in my mouth on too many occasions all I can say is that honour and integrity can sometimes be costly.
    Anyway, she didn’t complain so it’s obvious she wasn’t too offended by your non-compliant-ness.
    Maybe her god told her you were a good man, deep-down.

    Which of course will lead to her and her church group coming by every week to try and convert you, Les.

    Otherweise, good on you. I would have either held my voice and fumed, or said something similar, but less friendly (read: more antagonistic) than you did, in such a situation.

    Ingolfson

  8. There’s the phrase:
        -the customer always thinks they’re right

    Sometimes I need to lie a little to keep the peace, or as a compromise pleading ignorance to terminate the topic (erm.. yeah, I don’t really know about this (lie), anyway would you like…)

    Also it’s known that customer complaints are worded much stronger than actually happened – so much so that they partially invalidate their claim by looking like asshats. Also there isn’t always evidence that what they’re complaining about actually happened – some things you can make look like they’re trying to use you as an excuse for an insurance claim, or to add ammo for a refund, but this takes a little planning of your own version of events, the ‘what?’ frown is useful with managers.

  9. Funny how the “worst thing” you could do is insult her beliefs in any way (which you didn’t do).  But she can spew invective at your beliefs and you’re just supposed to take it?  (In this case, your belief being that the gub-mint should just stay the frakk out of religion)  Someone’s got to remember that employees in stores are people too.

  10. Market forces – customers won’t come to stores where staff have that kind of privelige. I suppose it’s just a case of making the best of the situation

  11. DOF: Someone’s got to remember that employees in stores are people too.

    I always had a difficult time stomaching all that claptrap about the sacred status of the customer. Seems to me that the one being paid paltry peanuts to put up with stupidity on a regular basis should be afforded more respect than being assigned to the position of Scratchboard of the Consumer. And having suffered multiple instances of yuppie abuse all those years ago, I can say with relative confidence that the customer is rarely right.

  12. Seems to me that the one being paid paltry peanuts to put up with stupidity on a regular basis should be afforded more respect…

    More respect from whom?  The lady involved above was not being knowingly disrespectful to Les and was probably just ignorant.

    Sadie, if you want people to put money in your pocket by buying your kitschy goods, you will instruct staff to cater to them.

  13. Sadie, if you want people to put money in your pocket by buying your kitschy goods, you will instruct staff to cater to them.

    Yeah, but you try telling that to a restless seventeen-year-old with a long night of Led Zeppelin, Rush, and a few illicit substances on her mind. tongue wink

  14. Consi: More respect from whom?  The lady involved above was not being knowingly disrespectful to Les and was probably just ignorant.
    Sadie, if you want people to put money in your pocket by buying your kitschy goods, you will instruct staff to cater to them.

    If the respect doesn’t on average come from the customer, then ideally it should be shown by the employer via pay, etc, but the supply of workers is high enough that they don’t need to pay a fair amount, workers will put up with more if they have doubts about finding something better or if they particularly need the income.

    In the frequent case that respect doesn’t come in that form, it can only really be made up for by society in general’s perception of the work. A change in public perception might lead to a change in pay

  15. I read somewhere; “If your date is nice to you, but is not nice to the waitress, (s)he is not a nice person.”  Yes, there is an economic imperative to put up with almost anything from a customer but I sometimes wonder if businesses might benefit from vastly increased employee loyalty (which translates into far better service for the majority of their customers) by standing behind their employees as human beings when assaulted by the bad temper of the worst .05%. 

    Once when MrsDoF was waitressing, a customer made a particularly lewd suggestion to her.  The owner of the restaurant overheard.  He plunked a bottle of dishwasher liquid in front of him.  “You go wash your mouth out”)  It meant a lot to her.

    But true: this lady was probably just ignorant.  I think Les handled it well.  She made a statement that was far outside of the context of commercial transaction and it isn’t wrong to answer it in a respectful fashion.

  16. I always had a difficult time stomaching all that claptrap about the sacred status of the customer

    The companies don’t actually believe this either.  That’s why they pay $7 an hour rather than $17 an hour, and why a ‘smart business move’ is pushing up stock prices by laying off the most experienced sales staff and then offering to rehire them at lower wages.

    Not that -I- care.  I’m a Walmart slut, actively undermining the American worker with every purchase I make on my unemployment dollar.

    Could be worse, though.  I -could- be teaching still {shudders in horror}.

  17. DoF: but I sometimes wonder if businesses might benefit from vastly increased employee loyalty

    Good point – I guess it’s a balance, especially when training / trust on security issues is involved

    Nowiser: The companies don’t actually believe this either.  That’s why they pay $7 an hour rather than $17 an hour, and why a ‘smart business move’ is pushing up stock prices by laying off the most experienced sales staff and then offering to rehire them at lower wages

    If a salesperson is on comission and needs that money just to get by, then as my company did, they decrease the rate of comission so the staff have to work harder to keep up their mortgage, etc. It sounds reverse-logic that people would work harder for less reward but it works by relying on need, so wouldn’t work above the point of what they need.

    As a warehouseperson my pay (near as damn it) isn’t performance related, so there’s no point in doing more than the minimum to stay employed. In the UK there is a law that after 2 years they need a reason to fire you, so the months up to then are tense because you could be sacked simply to avoid gaining those rights.

  18. I always had a difficult time stomaching all that claptrap about the sacred status of the customer

    The companies don’t actually believe this either

    Course they don’t- customer service costs money. What they want is for you to spend as much as possible with as little cost as possible.  If they believed in customer service many of them wouldn’t do the things they do.  Unfortunately the only thing UK/US consumers seem to care about is the price, and we will put up with any old crap if the price is right. Of course $7 an hour forces that on some people.

  19. we will put up with any old crap if the price is right. Of course $7 an hour forces that on some people.

    Yeah.  I can’t imagine there’s a lot of Walmart employees shopping at Nordstrom’s.  Gotta love a machine that manages to fuck you from both sides.

    There’s a great XXX movie premise in here somewhere.  Or at least a sleazy porno-title. . .

    hmmm.  it escapes me.  For -now- that is.

  20. Well done, Les.  You probably didn’t win a new convert to the ACLU, but at least you gave the lol something to talk about with her neighbors.

    $7 an hour and no commission? That’s about what I earned (correcting for inflation) at the Berkeley Barb years ago.  Part of my job was selling ad space to the “massage therapists” who were the primary source of income for the paper.  We were given no guidelines by management about conversational topics to avoid.

    Here’s hoping that you soon find another job more suited to your skills and value, Les.

    Nowiser- not teaching?  Tough luck for your ex-students.

  21. Three words:

    Balls of Brass!

    My response would’ve probably been the old: Erm, herm….

    Les doesn’t need rock-climbing or skydiving. No, he’s found a new X-TREEM sport: X-TREEM Retail Sales. (Reverb not included.)

  22. Part of my job was selling ad space to the “massage therapists” who were the primary source of income for the paper.

    What, no…erm…“commissions” from them?  Cryin’ shame, zilch, the way fringe benefits disappear… [evil grin]

  23. Cryin’ shame, zilch, the way fringe benefits disappear…

    Nope, no commissions or emissions.  And while it was fun working for hippies, their bookkeeping habits left a lot to be desired, and the paper folded less than a year after I joined it.  Not my fault, as far as I know.

    By the way- since I handled the mail, I know that both the CIA and the FBI had subscriptions to the Berkeley Barb.  They may have just been looking for info on the SLA, but I bet they read the sex ads too…

  24. Man it seems so strange that employees in america have to be so defferential to customers. I mean I worked in many shops and have told god only knows how many retarded customers to fuck off. hell I work in a bookies and through a customers winnings right in his face (after a snide comment from said customer)

    I always treat a customer as they treat me. end of. Say I so good on you. if only I had your restraint.

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