Saturday, October 13, 2012

In the Land of Enforced Niceness

"Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires"

John Steinbeck

The grocery store closest to my house is one of those national chains that likes to portray itself as something slightly above the common riff-raft who might shop at a more plebeian place such as Sam’s Club. Prices are somewhat higher at this store and there is a wider choice of upper-end items freely using the word “gourmet” on the label, which I rather like on some occasions. The main reason I stop there is its location being three minutes from my house. This is especially important whenever my wife discovers she is missing some vital ingredient to her latest culinary endeavor and I am forced at near gunpoint to go purchase the item with instructions to get there and back as fast as possible ignoring all traffic laws and safety concerns for my fellow humans along the way.

This grocery store does have one huge drawback in my eyes. Since it caters to the upwardly mobile and arrogant yuppies living in the surrounding pod-like subdivisions, it enforces a strict friendliness policy on its employees. You cannot walk through the huge sliding glass doors of the place without being assaulted with a chorus of greetings by overeager employees. Those unfamiliar with this particular supermarket chain might think I am exaggerating but these greetings are far from casual or genuine displays of sociability.

Every employee seems desperate to make and keep eye contact and be ready to fulfill the customer’s every desire all the while maintaining a huge perpetual smile that frankly would have sent my facial muscles into painful spasms. Some might call this old fashioned “customer service” and I will admit in most other stores there is at best a fifty-fifty chance of getting any help from those working there.

At this specific grocery store I have walked up and surprised some stock clerk several times as he or she were doing their job forcing them into asking for forgiveness for not seeing me and then almost groveling at my feet in a desire to help me to make up for their inattention. Given this, I have to wonder if some corporate suit has a job to do surprise inspections and enforce friendliness among the workers. Even worse than some KGB-like corporate enforcer are the weaselly low-level supervisors that enjoy welding power over those under them.  

Case in point was Friday morning when I decided to hit the grocery store on the way home instead of waiting sometime later when it would be far more crowded. My self-imposed mission was to pick up the needed deli meats and other items we would use for lunch over the weekend. I find shopping a horrendous chore and I utterly despise going to any grocery or department store during the times it is full of self-absorbed yuppies who all believe they are the center of the universe. So I usually hit such places right when they are opening or late at night.

Entering the store yesterday, I only heard one poor soul forced to yell out the ubiquitous “good morning” and proceeded straight to the deli counter. The store was nearly empty except, unfortunately, for the deli counter. There was already a small line being serviced by one lone employee. Figuring I could avoid that line I went around picking up the other items I needed. When I returned to the deli counter, there was only one customer left, a woman dressed in what I would call a high class business suit.

As I approached closer, I could hear the business woman complaining about the thickness of the meat on one of the huge deli platters she was stacking in her shopping cart. Given her attire and the platters, it was easy to assume she had some sort of affair or party in her near future. On the other side of the deli counter was an employee doing her best to explain company policy and standard preparation on preordered items. From what I could hear, the deli worker sounded reasonable and more importantly very professional on how the platters were done.

The business woman, of course, would have nothing of it. Business woman wanted everything her way and would complain all the way to the corporate headquarters to see it happen. To throw more fuel on her irate fire business woman made sure both the counter person and her immediate supervisor, now standing behind his worker, would lose their jobs in the process.

Had the immediate supervisor just metaphorically patted the obnoxious customer on the hand and then worked to some compromise I would say things would have been kosher but weasel dude turned and verbally chewed out his worker. The look of shock on the deli worker was so extreme I thought she would strip off her apron and tell her boss to go do something reproductively impossible to himself.

Instead, she took a deep breath, looked back at the customer, and began to grovel to make her happy. When the deli worker left to go off into the room behind the counter weasel boss stepped forward to apologize and say how he would make sure things were corrected. Weasel supervisor dude kissed the butt of that woman so much he might as well have crawled inside and examined her large intestine.

It was then that I decided to skip the deli meat at that moment. I moseyed over to the checkout and paid for the items in my shopping cart and went home. I would like to think that the deli worker would have some recourse to correct what was to me an obvious injustice but good old South Carolina is a “right to work” state meaning a worker can be fired at any moment by their employer. Unless that lady was just working for extra money while her husband or boyfriend's job paid all the bills she had no choice but suck it up and make do. In the old days a union would have evened the scales out between a low-paid worker like her and her weasel boss but in this new "service based" economy that took the place of American manufacturing that deli worker can easily be replaced by any number of other people willing to work that job for far less. Making matter worse, unionism is looked down upon by the very workers such protection might help in the form of better pay and working conditions.  

It is extremely funny to me to hear some ignorant yahoo complain about how his or her pay and benefits suck while the rich continue to amass more wealth. But the rank and file workers here have largely been trained to recoil in terror at the very mention of unionism associating it with such "anti-American ideas" like “socialism.” What we are left with in many cases is an enforced niceness as income and social mobility for the middle and working classes fall and the hope for a better future for their children evaporate. 

God bless America and unrestrained free market capitalism.


jadedj said...

This sort of thing makes me want to throttle somebody. It's most likely why I have high blood pressure.

Akelamalu said...

In my view there is absolutely no excuse for someone to be 'chewed out' in public, it is bad management. I'm glad you didn't get the deli meat but I think I would have told that manager he could have everything else in my basket and shove it where the sun don't shine for treating an employee that way. :(

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

What Steinbeck is saying is that the trouble with class warfare in this country is that it continues undeclared. As Reagan said, "We have fought LBJ's war against poverty, and we have won."

Beach Bum said...

JadeJ: Of course, I could have misinterpreted what was going on but it seemed pretty cut and dry to me.

Akelamalu: As I have mentioned countless times I am not well liked in my area. Heck I'm even a political black sheep and evil heretic to most of my family. The current situation for workers in this country is seriously screwed up.

Doc: Well, its only class warfare when the poor complain. Any other time its glorious Free Market capitalism.

alternative energy said...

The right thing to have done in this case was to tell Business lady (if she didn't ask specifically for the thickness she wanted) that it's the store policy to do it this way and if she didn't like it, she could buy the goodies somewhere else.

The customer is NOT always right and if anyone was fired over this incident it should have been the supervisor for humiliating the employee in public.

As far as unions are concerned.. They protect their members too much. Like allowing an employee at a pulp mill to walk around with a 2x4 (and did nothing else) for 2 years before being fired. This employee cost the business 2 years of wages at union rates for an employee who clearly needed firing.
If you want to pay more for something - buy it from a union shop. If you'd like value, then you might still get it from a union shop but it is more difficult.

A friend was working at a Honda dealership as a mechanic that happened to be a union shop. He went there from a flat rate (paid by the job) shop. he did his job the way he knew how. Quickly and efficiently offering great turnaround for the customer and more free shop space for the dealership to service more cars. After a couple weeks the other mechanics in the shop approached him and told him in no uncertain terms that he had to slow down on what he was doing because it was making the rest of them look bad. He laughed, told them that anatomically impossible phrase and immediately quit.
Unions tend to foster laziness. I don't disagree that they have done a great job at helping employers realize the worth of their employees, but when stuff like this happens (and it's more often than not - us humans are essentially lazy) it really makes unions a bad idea.

Truth 101 said...

Another tragedy is the poor deli worker probably felt lucky to have the job. Damn shame that so may are conditioned to think they are lucky to have a minimum wage job.

I get the same thing here in Quincy. Half my union's members are anti union. Of course none of them complain about their benefits or pay. But piss on everyone else.
A wise man told me you can't fight poverty or stupidity. You can't fight prickness either. We need to abandon bombs and drop pricks on the taliban.

Windsmoke. said...

You could say the employee was the meat in the sandwich!. I reckon the customer was very rude and petty. The manager was definitely out of line chewing out the employee in front of a customer.

Life As I Know It Now said...

I am not above explaining to myself if no one else that the woman is being a real pain in the butt and rude in the extreme and I would have done my best, although probably impossible in this case, to embarrass her into acting more civilly.

I see these people come into my work and they think if they complain and harass you enough you will give in and do what they want which just makes them worse in future transactions. That kind of behavior has the opposite effect on me I must say and I will defend my employees every single time.

Beach Bum said...

Alternate Energy: You wrote:" really makes unions a bad idea.

Well, that's really special but unions have proved vital to giving the American worker, even those non-union, a five day work week, reasonable pay, and benefits. They also played a large part outlawing child labor.

Listen, I understand any institution can be abused and are there lazy union workers? Hell yeah, but for every story of shiftless union worker you come up with I can come up with two stories about how small companies and large corporation abuse their workers.

I have to add that as union membership has declined in this country the middle class has fallen along with social mobility. Sorry dude, I believe are naive and the best thing that could happen to the United States would be a revival in organized labor.

Truth 101: Dude! Where the hell have you been? Your blog went private and I thought you had fallen off the earth.

As for the deli counter worker, assumptions are a dangerous thing but I have to guess she was not working at that grocery store because she thought it was a great career move. Since deli worker did not tell her boss to go F^ck himself I have to figure she needed the job.

Windsmoke: Yeah, things pretty much suck here in the States for workers. I've said it many times I would leave if it was possible.

Life As We Know It: Business woman struck me as the stereotypical arrogant yuppie, and we have plenty of them in my area. They are the type that pretty much agrees with Mitten's statement about the 47%.

Truth 101 said...

Assholes promoted me. Don't have the union to protect me now so I've been laying low with an election around the corner.

Pixel Peeper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pixel Peeper said...

No matter what happened, and whether it's union or not, it is never correct for a good manager to criticize an employee in front of a customer.

And don't get too critical with that grocery store...they are headquartered here and I may have to work for them. They are one of the biggest employers here. :-p

Mr. Charleston said...

Definitely time for a union resurgence. Whatever bad comes from them is far outweighed by the good. Everyone was at fault in your scenario. Business woman for being an asshole, clerk for not immediately agreeing to remake the platters, boss for being a jerk. The real victim was you. You went to the store, wasted your time and didn't get what you wanted.

lime said...

that kind of stuff makes me so angry. i remember being in the hospital in trinidad after daughter #2 was born. there was just one young aide running around doing the cleaning and serving of meals. she was to bring me a cup of broth and sloshed it slightly so it spilled into the saucer. the head nurse chewed her out in front of me (no doubt becuase she was very much wanting to impress the american patient) and the poor girl just wilted. she came back with a new cup and apologized profusely upon her return. as the head nurse was not there i told her not to worry. sloshing a little broth into a saucer was hardly cause for the epic hissy fit. i reassured her my opinion of her was far higher than my opinion of the head nurse.

Randal Graves said...


Rose L said...

It was very unprofessional to chew out the employee in public. I think I would have spoken up and said something about that.
I think that the supervisor should have said, "Ma'am, this is the usual style of cut we use for these kinds of orders, but if you wish a different kind, we can go ahead and do that. What do you want?"
She probably got some sick sort of satisfaction at the supervisor chewing out the employee and ti makes her a bully as far as I am concerned.

okjimm said...

ha! I used to frequent a pub that had great sandwiches. Would stop for one at least every other week. Knew the owner rather well, not a bad sort.... but he would constantly berate his help in front of customers. Made my meal.... less tasty. finally stopped stopping by.

.... Course... in some places, grouchy service is, well, unique. Place up in Minneapolis... been there for years....

... grouchy service is part of the amience... and the food is fantastic

Ranch Chimp said...

Notable post Bum, I have covered this stuff myself here and there ... I like to simply put America as "A nation full of shit" basically ... well ... on several avenue's that is, not entirely. Locally I been following this WalMart thing as far as union's ... BTW, I never been union, but I increasingly now support them and strongly suggest joining them even, of course because of this corporate communism of today. But the other day I was in WalMart about 5am, picking up a couple thing's (although I usually go to Target, because I get a discount there, but they dont stay open in my neighbourhood 24/ 7 like WalMart) ... but two young ladies were the only one's there as cashier's at that hour, and when I went to check out they guided me to the self- check deal, to check- out my stuff, etc ... I told her "no", she thought that I didnt know how to use it I reckon and said she would show me ... but I told her that I dont use the self- check- out's because they put folk's like her out of work .. she laughed and said something like "Your so right, I never thought of that" ... I had some petty change coming and told her to give it to Mitt Romney ... and they both started laughing (of course it wasnt meant to be a joke, but at least they got a laugh I reckon) But, I just thought about it, because I was on another blog earlier talking about it ... but ... cool posting Bum ... Later Guy ....

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I don't think I have ever run across that Steinbeck quote before. It certainly makes a lot of sense from all too painfully personal experience. By the way, I am really sorry for not getting over here to leave more comments. I usually go by what is in my Google Reader, and I just discovered that I had failed to follow/subscribe to the RSS feed here when I thought I had.

Mike Williams said...

Got to agree with the argument against the right to work states. Virginia is one of them. Again the employees see this as a good thing to be non union in many businesses. Being a socialist kind of guy myself I don't understand the strong anti-unionism when your only choice is to risk your low paying job or go to the Labor Relations board which is a hack for business.
In this case the employee had no where to turn to file a complaint against this poor excuse of a supervisor.