Responsibility vs. Manners

“The card didn’t work. Try again.” The young woman slowly started sweating. There were at least 20 items sitting on the conveyor belt. She tried the card again — and again — but both the cashier and I knew where this was going. “You have any cash?” “No, no cash, sorry!”

And then, with another faint, “Oh, I’m sorry about this,” she ran off like a deer that heard a loud noise, leaving the mess for someone else to clean up — but not the cashier, who also felt this did not belong in her wheelhouse. Instead, she called another store worker, waited for him to put all the abandoned groceries into a basket, then finally processed my two-item grocery haul.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed a good five minutes of twiddling my thumbs in this store that seems to be afflicted with some “checkouts always take forever” curse. The delay didn’t bother me, but it did make me think: Your manners begin where your responsibility ends.

If I made a cashier process 20 items I ultimately couldn’t pay for, I would return them to where they belong — or at the very least offer to do so. Similarly, with more customers waiting, as the cashier, I would just grab a basket and put the stuff in there rather than call for some colleague and have everyone wait some more. The easiest way to satisfy your customers is to always be doing something they can clearly identify as an attempt to help.

Nowadays, there’s always a way to make your hands look clean. “The data set was wrong? Oh, I got that from somewhere else. Not my mistake.” “The kid hit another kid? Oh, not my fault, I’m only here to pick him up from school.” “My card doesn’t work? Oh, then I’ll just leave these here, since I don’t own them.”

But just because you fulfilled your responsibility on paper does not mean you’ll get a pat on the back. Where are your manners? Where’s your willingness to go beyond what you’re supposed to do? If all you do in life is clock in and clock out, you’ll always get off the hook, but everyone will also know that’s what you’re doing — and no one ever gets a prize for coloring exactly inside the lines.

Don’t forget your cash and cards when you go to the store, and don’t expect us to applaud you for doing the minimum. Show us your manners and earn our respect.