Wednesday, August 22, 2007

'white bitch' and other insults thrown my way

I’ve been a little stressed about my career lately and I feel kinda stuck. I need to keep reminding myself that I am now much better off than I was two years ago, back when I was working retail.

I started working for The Crap during my senior year of college. I just wanted to work there for the discount, which was incredibly generous compared to other retailers. After I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to take a break before grad school so I focused on acquiring some internships. Unfortunately, though the internships I worked were amazing opportunities in public health policy work, they were unpaid. So, I kept my job at The Crap. And then one day, I was asked if I had ever considered being a supervisor.

Honestly, no, I hadn’t ever considered moving up in my Crap career. After all, the goal was grad school and a career in public health—not to become a retail lifer. But the lure of more money was too strong. Knowing that I needed to start saving money for a move across the country, I accepted the promotion. Unfortunately, my work ethic forces me to do as well as possible in everything that I do…including that which I am not so passionate about (The Crap management career). So my supervisor promotion was soon a promotion to manager which eventually was a promotion to Associate Store Manager, a position I held the longest because of my unwillingness to move on to the next step—Store Manager. The whole while, I never lost sight of the ultimate goal. I attended grad school while working at the Crap, which was convenient because of the pay and flexible scheduling. But The Crap was emotionally draining.

I took an emotional beating every day. I sustained verbal abuse from people I would otherwise consider my peers EVERY single day. After 6 years of dealing with it, I was very happy to get a public health job and never look back. Unfortunately, some instances stick out in my mind.

  • Like that time I was arguing with a woman who wanted to return a pair of jeans she had so obviously worn. The sales associate refused to return them and sought my opinion at the request of the customer. I backed up my sales associate. This is just one of many liars I encountered as a Crap employee. At my refusal to accept the pair, the woman continued to cause a scene, insisting that she had never worn the jeans (“You sayin’ I’ma liar? Cuz I ain’t no liar! You betta know what you sayin’!). I stated my case by showing her the creases at the thighs and behind the knees that show up when one wears a pair of pants. I was one step away from smelling them (always my last resort), when I picked them up. As I shook them gently, a USED thong came out of the pant leg. I used the pant leg to pick them up and said, “I’m assuming this is YOUR thong that has obviously been worn.” She took the jeans and thong and walked away, clearly ashamed.
  • Another time (same store as above), I was working a typical crazy Saturday evening. A woman had come in, done her shopping, and placed some items on hold. Later, another (Crazy)woman came in, snuck into the holds area, saw the woman’s items on hold and wanted them for herself. I refused to sell them to her. The woman was likely to come the following day to purchase them and she had the right to place them on hold. The Crazy Woman insisted they were hers. However, I had placed the items on hold for the first woman so I remembered what she looked like. I continued to refuse to sell them to her. In turn, she decided to make a scene. She stayed until after the store was closed, yelling at me in front of my staff. “You are a White bitch, you know that? You are the White devil! I curse you and your family! Do you hear that? I curse you! And I wish nothing but misfortune on your offspring and all future generations! You White devil!” I stood there stunned. I thought to myself, I’m not White. And I don’t think I’m the devil. Sure she made me uncomfortable, but it’s still not the worst I’ve heard.
  • While ringing up customers on a busy day, I assisted a Latina woman and her companion at the register. Normally, I would make pleasant conversation with my customers. However, since the two women were engaged in a conversation, I didn’t say too much to them because I didn't want to interrupt. Still, I wasn’t rude. For whatever reason, the Latina woman called me a “gringa estupida.” I’m not sure why she said this, but they were obviously under the impression that I am not Mexican (who can speak and understand Spanish). So I replied with “Le gustaria aplicar para una tarjeta del Crap?” (“Would you like to apply for a Crap card?”). The Latina woman said no and was stunned into silence after that.
  • The worst one was when I was at my second to last store. I refused to give cash to a Russian man who had paid for his purchase with a credit card. Our policy was to get back what you give (meaning your refund comes in the same form as your type of payment) so I couldn’t give him cash. This set him off. Both he and his fellow Russian companion berated me (yes, in front of my staff) for not giving him cash. He called me ‘stupid,’ ‘just a shop girl,’ and assured me that I ‘would never amount to anything.’ After a call to corporate, who surprisingly backed me up, the man left. But the impression he left on me remains. It was the first and only time a customer had made me cry. You can call me White. You can call me a bitch. But don’t you dare call me stupid.

I should mention that all of this abuse started when I moved here. No customer had ever insulted me when I had worked for The Crap in California. I can’t explain it, but for some reason, people here feel the need to treat retail employees like shit. In turn, the customers don’t get the best customer service. After getting put down day after day, it’s really hard for a retail employee to just forget it and put on a smiling face for the next customer to potentially put them down. Some retail employees just end up being glorified register operators—sure they can sell, but if someone is going to be rude to them, why be nice?

The common retort to that argument is that customer service is supposed to be the job. My rebuttal—yeah, but retail employees are human too.

Don’t use them as your punching bag just because they can’t fight back.


Shell said...

Oh girl, I can feel your pain. I am still working retail (part-time) to subsidize my real job's meager income. People come into my store all the time and treat me like I am some undeducated little peon who is there solely to be at their beck and call. However, as annoying as they may be, my favorite customer experience as of late, is the hippy chick who came into our high fashion leather and accessory Flagship store. She yelled in the middle of the store "Have you ever thought of making vegan products!!" (again, we are a LEATHER product store). My response- "we are always welcoming of suggestions, and will pass yours along to Corporate" and smiled :)

Golden Silence said...

Oh, man. I tell you, people are idiots. They always want to be right and will find someone to take it out on.

Glad you've moved on to greener pastures.

The first chick should've taken her crusty drawers out of the jeans before trying to pull a scam like that. Ugh.

sunchaser said...

Wow! After reading these, I'm amazed you lasted that long! Good for you for at least not giving up/sticking it out!

Item #1) Omigod. Gr-oss! (and like Golden Silence says, not the sharpest tool in the shed either!)

Item #2) It's hard to say exactly what I'd have done, but I would haves started laughing in her face. Or maybe I'd have called her something in return?(you can see why I'd never have lasted as long did. Plus, when I did work in customer service type jobs, I had a tendency to be overly generous with customers (the nice ones, that is ;)

Item #3) That's actually pretty funny (and a great example too of why it's so good to know more than just English!)

Item #4) What a dumbass asshat. I can only think of one time when something similar happened to me, and it was on the phone. An idiot who thought that I had the power to change things for him (I didn't) decided he'd vent his anger on me (this was at my very last job before going to self-employment). Maybe because he couldn't get in my face, I actually thought it was funny, and I basically put him on speaker phone so the entire office could enjoy his idiocy. After he'd finished, I told him that he'd have to call back to talk with the higher-ups (which I'd also told him at the beginning of his rant). Idiot.

"No customer had ever insulted me when I had worked for The Crap in California."

That really is pretty darn interesting. Was it in OC that you worked?

"After getting put down day after day, it’s really hard for a retail employee to just forget it and put on a smiling face for the next customer to potentially put them down."

That does makes a lot of sense. And here's what else some not-so-bright people don't get: when you're nice to the people, they'll throw in little perks your way. Like the American gate agent who upgraded me this week without making my "no status self" use miles/points/ or cash - and yeah, that's rare for American! Why'd she do it - because I asked her nicely! (duh!) You just gotta wonder about some folks (hello! they're the ones who are not too sharp)!

lizzie said...

shell--ha! loved your story. thanks for sharing. and your response was so professional. :)

GS--thank you. i'm glad to have moved on too. and yes, the crusty undies chick was obviously a moron. seriously, if you're going to lie at least cover your tracks.

sunchaser--i'm amazed i lasted that long too. sadly, i sold out for the pay, but i'm proud to say that i'm not a lifer.

on #2, i couldn't say anything back. as a manager and representing the company, i just wasn't allowed. and that was the worst part about all of i wasn't able to stoop to their level and give them a piece of my mind in return.

yes, i worked for the Crap in the OC and, of all places, one would expect to be treated badly there. but no, i wasn't. so dealing with the sh*t i was getting from customers in dc was hard to deal with at first.

that last thing you said was totally true. i would break policy for the people who were truly nice about it. it was just so refreshing to be treated with respect, i just couldn't say no to them.

that definitely says something.