I’ve noticed that, in the South, cashiers will chat their hearts out to each customer. Regardless of how many people are in line, the person being rung up is the most important human in the world.
On the West Coast this sort of behavior would get you shot.
But when you stop and think of it, isn’t almost worth the wait to be treated like a neighbor?
I was in this situation today. With each item the cashier would say some little joke to my 6 year old, who would giggle shyly. Occasionally I would glance back at the line of four people behind us, watching for things that might be hurled at our heads. All I saw were polite smiles or spacey faces staring off.
Reminds me of our trip to Ireland. I was going through customs in the London airport. I had a nine month old baby and a four year old with me. I had a luggage cart piled with three army-sized duffle bags and a suitcase. I was about the 30th person in a line of about 50 people who had just gotten off the plane and were trying to get through that particular gate. I had stood there only about two minutes when the customs officer at the front waved me up. I smiled sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m okay.” I glanced nervously around me, hoping no one was cocking back to through a punch. After all, I hadn’t accepted his unjust offer!
The people were looking at me like I was crazy. “Go on!” someone said. “You’ve got children!” someone else reminded me. I slowly made my way up front. The guy at the head of the line smiled at me without a shred of hatred as I was let through before him.
It was my first taste of the civilized world.
After five months of that, it was back to life in the Pacific Northwest. Back to people turning their heads away from someone in need. Where fairness is based on the mechanized rule of first come first served. Where the cashiers will hardly ever speak to you, either because it is a culture of “time is money” or because they assume you aren’t cool enough or because the people in line behind you will kill her, or at the very least scream for the manager.
If you’ve never lived on the West Coast, you might think I was exaggerating. Trust me. One time in Santa Cruz, California, home of The Enlightened, I was at the bus station at about midnight, coming home from work, and there was a teenage girl sitting on a bench, looking uncomfortable as she actively ignored this drunk old street guy who was standing in front of her, talking to her at high volume. I watched this for about a minute and then I went over and sat next to her and stared at the guy, repeating, “We’re not interested. You can leave now,” until he wandered off. Then I turned to her and rolled my eyes, as if to say, “Weirdos, huh?” She looked at me and said sternly, “I was fine. You didn’t have to come over.”
You’re freakin’ welcome.
I think I’ll wait a while longer, here in the South.