The grocery store check-out aisle is a shopping bottleneck of bitchiness. This intersection causes even the most tolerant people to snap. I cannot remember a single time when I have gone to the store without witnessing at least one irritated exchange. Of course, I do live in the Washington D.C. area, so dispositions tend to be hurried. Still, there is something about this finish line that grates at the nature of even goodhearted people.
I find my own tensions rising as I near the cash register. The bulk of MY impatience with this corridor, though, is not caused by the need to speed off to my next appointment. My anxiety is caused by the passageway’s concentration of germs. We are trapped in a corral where little hands are almost required to inspect merchandise within reach! I’m sure most parents try to wrestle their kids through the course with minimal damage, but kids are pretty darn flexible. Even I, with my hyper-anxious microorganism-phobia, can’t manage to prevent Max and Brooks from finding something they wish to grasp… (Even if it is just the counter-top.) In addition to that exposure, at least one more person is required to touch EVERY SINGLE ONE of our items as they are scanned for purchase. Each time I am in this position, I carefully inspect the checker looking for signs of a head cold. I am so grateful when I see what appears to be a healthy smile.
Last week Brooks and I were at the grocery store at this dreaded intersection. On this particular day, the bag-packer in our aisle clearly had a head cold. My brain started wailing, “INTRUDER ALERT!” I always dismiss this courtesy clerk in favor of the bagging responsibility myself. This time, I was all too anxious to remove our worker from her duties… I watched as she bagged groceries for the person in front of us. I made note of every surface she touched. When it was our turn, I quickly (not sensitively) dismissed her. I think my exact words were, “I bag my groceries myself!” My tone was one of annoyance. I was indignant. (Because she had a runny nose, and A BAD ONE!) She looked hurt. I became more defensive and snapped, “My son has a compromised immune system.” The gravity of my situation was lost on her and she turned, dejectedly, and walked away.
I spent the rest of the day bothered by our (simple yet unsettling) exchange and equally worried that we might have picked something up from the trip. I felt self-righteous in my decision and about my bitchiness.
I ran into a neighbor the following day who asked how things were going with for our family. I explained that I am quite ill-adjusted and mentioned my grocery-store woes as an example. The neighbor actually knew the checker and said “she always has a runny nose.” The next thing she told me is what puts my behavior over the bitchmark… She said, “I think she has special needs.”
WHAT!? I didn’t notice that! (SUPER THUMBS DOWN TO ME!)
This is when I finally recognize the other reason why I was unresolved from our one-sided conversation. I was rude to a person who is not in a position to defend herself. (Not because she may have special needs, but because she works in an industry where it goes against her job description to enter into debate.)
My “ready, fire, aim” reaction makes me think of the helpful checklist Craig Ferguson shares for public communication:
3 questions to ask yourself before you speak:
1. Does this need to be said.
2. Does this need to be said by ME.
3. Does this need to be said by me NOW!”
My situation above met ALL THREE criteria… Therefore, I must add another standard to the register:
4. Does this need to be said like a bitch-face?
Certainly there are ways I could have been more polite… For example, “I really like to bag my own groceries, thank you anyway.”
I simply could have said the SAME THING but without the over-currents that screamed, “this conversation is really putting me out right now.”
HOW HARD WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN!?!
I really do try to be calm and kind with everyone (except my husband 🙃). I lose a bit of my own peace of mind by being rude. I also know we are all doing our best to get through. This past year has really taxed my patience though and I find myself falling more and more into self-righteous anger.
The interaction I just described makes me think about how we are all struggling with something. It really doesn’t matter the severity. It is all very real to whoever is going through the difficulty.
The clerk didn’t know my situation. She doesn’t know that I have spent the last year avoiding everyday necessities like the grocery store. She doesn’t know that, although we look normal, we have had our share of crosses to bear.
Respectively, I don’t know her situation. Not anything beyond the surface. I can guess that she saw my reaction to her as unkind. In retrospect, I see my own action as mean.
I just wanted to take this incident to reflect on my behavior and hope to remind you of your own encounters with mankind… How many times a year, a week, a day do we treat strangers (especially in the service industries) with disrespect? I know we are all guilty.
When impatience rears it’s head, I will breath deep and empathize. EVERYBODY HAS A STORY. EVERYBODY HAS A STRUGGLE. I will try to remember my new 4-step checklist before speaking.
Just because my precious baby had cancer does not not give me a pass to enter into combat with every anticipated threat.
It gives me license to insist people wash their hands more frequently.
It gives me one hell of a platform for the vaccination debate. (Get your kids inoculated for Pete’s sake!)
It does not give me unconditional bitch license.
When I start to get worked up in the future, I hope I can remember the lessons from my own life.