In France, if you go into a shop and don’t greet the storekeeper or clerk, they’ll think you’re being deliberately rude. Carole and I learned the truth of this when we were in Paris a few years ago; we never had any problems because we always gave a cheerful “bonjour, madame” or “bon soir, monsieur” or whatever was appropriate, but other Americans we observed would fail to do this and would get a chilly reception.
I’ve tried to practice basic courtesy and kindness when closer to home, as well. Why treat the airline counter employee or TSA agent like they’re just objects, when it takes so little effort to treat them as humans and give them a smile? Why not smile and ask the barista at Starbucks how their day is going, and actually listen to what they say? If someone’s obviously having a hard time or is visibly tired, I try to show some basic human caring, trying to cheer them up without straying over the line into “creepy customer”.
So, today Carole and I had stopped by the Hannaford supermarket in Williston, VT, ten miles from our house, to do some basic shopping. The cashier on duty was visibly yawning and looked like she’d had a long day. I smiled at her, said “Hi,” and watched as she rang things up. Biding my time. When she got to a container of raw chicken (see below) and ran it across the scanner, I cheerfully said “Leave that out; we’re gonna eat it on the way home.” She dutifully went to set it aside, just as she would a prepared salad or candy bar or any other ready-to-eat item, then did a double-take, looked up at me, and saw my grinning face.
That got her. She laughed out loud and for a moment, we connected. When we paid and left, she was still smiling.
Sometimes, it’s the little kindnesses and laughs that make all the difference.