Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Ouch, that hurt!

There's been a somewhat amusing discussion going on in the Ottawa paper lately. Seems that Reader's Digest did an article in which they set up phoney incidents in some of Canada's major cities to judge how courteous the city was. They ranked the cities, and Ottawa came in dead last. The Ottawa Citizen replicated the phoney incidents, and several articles and editorials on the subject have appeared, the latest in this morning's paper saying that Reader's Digest is unimportant. I found this funny because early this month I found the perfect candidate for the Rudest Retail Store. Serendipitiously (ew, is that a word?) Julie at Using My Words did a post on courtesy.

You want a perfect example of rudeness (and ageism, too!)? I've got it. I went into a leather goods retail outlet -- it's a chain with four stores in Ottawa -- to buy my husband a wallet as a birthday gift. I have shopped in this chain before; in fact, I've spent considerable money there. On this particular day I was dressed as I mostly always dress, in decent but not expensive clothes, but I am a very obviously a senior citizen and, er, a substantial one. I entered this particular outlet and found four clerks behind the counter, one serving a customer, two working at something and the fourth acting as greeter. Her eyes slid by me. I asked for the location of the wallets and one of the workers raised her head and pointed. I went and chose a wallet and returned to the counter to pay for it. There were two cash registers, one in use. I stood there and no one looked at me. I walked up to the counter. No one seemed to notice.

The door of the store opened and a woman came in, a slim, well dressed thirty something. The greeter said hello, the woman paused and the greeter asked her if this was her first time in this store. When she said yes, the greeter walked past me and my wallet and offered to show her around the store. The clerk at the cash register was taking a long time, arranging a deferred payment of some sort. The other two clerks did not raise their eyes from their binders. I waited. And waited. I started off interested in how long it would take for someone to notice me. After, maybe, five minutes, no one had. At that point I was so angry that I was afraid to say anything lest I lose it completely and become the gaga senior everyone dreads. I put the wallet down on the counter, slowly, stepped back, slowly, and walked out of the store. No one noticed.

My debacle took place over three weeks ago, but I was telling the story at dinner on Saturday and I realized that I am still angry. Very angry. I should write to the store manager, except I am pretty sure she was one of the people behind the counter. I should write to the company headquarters, I suppose. I haven't because, written down, it looks so petty and I don't want a 'Getoverit' response. I think what was so awful was that I felt invisible. Not worthy to be a customer in this expensive store. I would expect that all of the clerks work on commission, and the wallets are probably the least expensive items in the store. But someone should have told the staff that a customer buying a wallet might just return and buy something more expensive and, therefore, should be worth a minimum of notice and that senior citizens often have money to spend.

It's tempting to name the store here and tag the chain name. But that's petty, too, if I do it without having tried to inform the chain management first. I've always had empathy for the visibly different people who are discriminated against. The little kid who can't get served. The wheelchair bound person whom other people's eyes slide past. The people of colour who are judged by skin tone. The fragile old lady whose companion is asked questions when she, herself, can answer them. People whose accents cause rude requests for repeats. All those. I've frequently admired the calm and good humour with which such people respond to rudeness.

Now I am one of them. I am sure I could have used calm and good humour to salvage the situation. Instead I was so angry I cried. And I have stayed angry. And sad. And more tolerant of the focused fury with which some minority leaders demand attention to their perceived incidents of bigotry and bias.

And, in response to the Citizen's 'Fuggetaboutit' editorial, yes, it is all a matter of perspective.

The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to that toad.

Joining the Raging Grannies is starting to look like an option.


  1. I think I know the chain. I had a similar experience in their factory outlet in Edmonton except that I had a grouchy two-yr-old on my arm. I ended up buying the wallet anyway before rushed/hushed out the door.

  2. you should write a letter, sent simulatenously to that store and the headquarters

  3. That's appalling. I'm so sorry that happened to you. Gah.

    Absolutely complain to the higher-ups (not) running that company.

  4. Oh, Mary, that would make me SO angry too!! I also might have yelled something at the salesclerks.

    I feel for you as far as the ageism aspect goes, because I see that here all the time (actually, salespeople are rude to EVERYONE here, except those who at least LOOK wealthy, but whatever).

    Don't beat yourself up for your honest reaction. And like others have suggested, write a letter. Send it to the paper, too (they obviously need a new topic to discuss!). I'm a big believer in writing letters. It might not lead to anything, but I believe you'll find some of your dignity restored.

  5. Thanks guys. Letter is being printed as I write. See post above.

  6. I have learned a few things as an angry consumer. I am neither old, nor am I young, nor am I small or too particularly large. I do sometimes have small children with me, and sometimes I look a little mom-of-young-child-ish and sometimes I look a little somewhere near to stylish.

    The worst worst worst experiences I have take place on the phone though. I don't think people can usually be such jerks eyeball to eyeball so I'm appalled (but not surprised) by your experience.

    Here's what I've learned:

    1. Customer service is useless. As I said in my post, they have No Motivation to care or fix anything. They have EVERY motivation to make me go away quickly.

    2. Higher ups do care. So I've learned to send letters to every member of the board of directors and executives. These are usually listed with contact info on the Internet.

    3. Blogs matters. You should not only name the chain and store (not petty, not these days) but inform them with a link to the post. I have done this for both positive and negative reviews. In all cases, I heard back from interested parties. I learned this by coincidence. I wrote a nasty post about how Home Depot wasn't honoring my rebate. Guess what? That day? Home Depot exec called me. Money was in my bank within five business days. I learned companies have people who patrol the Internet for service stories.

    You matter, Mary, a lot. Doesn't matter anything else. Customer = customer.

    So...you go girl!

    Using My Words