Dear Society: A Retailer’s Plea for Social Etiquette

Dear People

I might be a stranger to you and my name may not be important, but I am a cog in the social machine just as much as you are and what I do matters. Because of this fact I am writing a letter to anyone who’ll read it asking for something. It’s not an epic favour, it’s not something that will leave you out of pocket – it’s simply a small favour that would make my life (and everyone else’s) just that little bit brighter.

Social etiquette.

“Whatever happened to fair dealing, and pure ethics, and nice manners? Why is it everyone now is a pain the ass? Whatever happened to class?” – Catherine Zeta-Jones, ‘Class’ from Chicago

Bernard Black, Black Books. Image credit: Postard

I work in retail –on the floor and behind the counter- serving people face to face every day and over the course of three years I have seen social manners shrink practically to the point of complete evaporation. Aside from making me angry during my shifts this makes me really sad during my free time as I can’t help but sit and contemplate about the social dystopia that we’re heading towards.

Simple manners are what has kept society going for centuries. Zombie apocalypse movies and dystopia flicks scare us because the characters in them are manner-less and thus pose very real threats: Mad Max anyone? It seems to me now that these socially dispossessed people are soon to be the norm if people don’t pull their finger out and make that little bit of effort to be polite and sociable.

During the course of my workday I have been made to feel frustrated, ignored, inferior, and sometimes even worthless –none of which are nice things to feel. I have had people ask for my advice and then ignore me as I’ve given it, I’ve wasted many smiles and kind words on people who walk right past me, and I have mourned the loss of more please and thankyous than can be counted.

“ Whatever happened to ‘please may I’, ‘yes thank you’, and ‘how charming’? Now every son of a bitch is a snake in the grass. Whatever happened to class?” –Queen Latifah, ‘Class’ from Chicago

Clerks. Image credit: Leterboxd

There’s a multitude of ways in which you can brighten someone’s day.

  • Acknowledge someone when they talk to you. Even if you’re not in the mood to talk just give them a smile, let them know that you see them and you appreciate that they’re there.
  • Return greetings. “Hi, how are you going today?” “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”. These interactions take five seconds from your life, but compensate for it immensely. You might spark a conversation and find that you like talking to this person. Some of the longest-lasting friendships start from something this simple.
  • (This is directed at interactions with counter staff, but can be applied anywhere) Listen when a person speaks to you. I don’t mean sift through the sentence to find words you like, actually listen from start to finish. I realise that being asked about warranty or being offered a receipt is something you get sick of, but it’s still worth your full attention. After all it might be the salesperson’s job to mention it, but it actually affects you in the long run.
  • Following on from that, if you don’t quite understand what someone’s saying to you simple say “I’m sorry I didn’t quite understand that”. I myself am a fast talker and hard to understand sometimes, but it never puts me out to repeat something when the person I’m speaking to is polite about it.
  • When you dial the wrong number simply say “Sorry I’ve dialed the wrong number”, please don’t just hang up on the person. I know it’s easy to panic when someone you’re not expecting answers the phone, but being hung up on has a little hostility to it and it really does hurt.
Rachel, Friends. Image credit: Bustle

A lot of this simply boils down to treating others how you’d like to be treated: with equality and civility. People in customer service –not all I’ll admit, but most- do try and make their customers’ experience pleasant, mostly by following these simple rules. In my job I listen to what the customer is after, I always greet them with a smile and a happy manner, and if I don’t understand they’re request I apologise and ask them kindly to repeat it. I rejoice when a customer returns my greeting, says ‘thank you’ at the end of the transaction, and gets my attention by politely saying ‘excuse me’. Of course, I am more than happy to help you!

So please keep these little behaviours in mind when you’re next out shopping or in any social situation. Nine times out of ten when you’re nice to someone they’ll be nice to you and that peaceful connection between the two of you will carry through your entire day.

I realise shit happens to put people in bad tempers, I understand that sometimes we’re just not having a good day, but these little efforts can help to sooth some of the nastiness that surrounds us so isn’t it worth it?

Yours truly,

Hannah Belle

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