Newspapers have reported that a customer in a south London Sainsbury’s was “stunned” when a checkout assistant requested she hang up her mobile before she would serve her. The customer complained and received an apology from Sainsbury’s, who confirmed it is not their policy to refuse to serve customers using mobile phones. I think the supermarket is wrong. I think you shouldn’t talk on your phone when someone else is serving you.
I’ve been guilty of yacking into my phone when paying for things in the past, despite spending four of my formative years working in retail. I’d pathetically mouth “sorry” to the checkout assistant as I assured myself I was SO busy I had to multi-task. It was all about me. It took a genuinely urgent call to change my ways.
I was on the way home from the office when a relative called, in great distress, to tell me how her husband had been rushed into hospital. On autopilot I popped into Marks and Spencer to get my ready meal dinner. As usual I grimaced and mimed my way through the transaction with the checkout assistant. It was only afterwards I realised I was concerned enough by the call not to hang up, but not concerned enough to forgo my garlic dough balls. My self-important, self-focussed mantra of “I’m so busy” excused me not stopping for a moment and absorbing the bad news. I didn’t give either my family member or the checkout assistant my full attention. I was disgusted with myself, and resolved never to talk on my mobile while being served in a shop again.
When I worked in retail I witnessed some extreme customer behaviour, like the couple that spent over twenty grand on baby clothes and accessories in one go. Spending more than many people earn in a year, when people are visiting food banks, may be morally ambiguous, but they did said please, thank you, looked me in the eye and didn’t talk on their phones during the (long) transaction.
That was only a decade ago. Have we grown so used to self-service checkouts we’ve forgotten how to interact with fellow human beings? Our society is increasingly polarised by the ‘strivers and skivers’ rhetoric. Are we now creating hierarchies of importance based on whether we earn more, or believe we have a more hectic lifestyle than the person serving us? Your time and concerns are no greater than anyone else’s. A person’s worth is not determined by their job title. It’s not just a question of manners it’s a question of humanity and respect. Hang up your phone, guys.