A point of etiquette

Dot writes: this morning my plan was to work in Dalkey library, thus saving the need to buy a DART ticket and lose an additional two hours of family time to commuting. It was a great plan right up to the moment when a teenage girl sat down opposite me who was sniffing, texting, squelchily chewing gum and listening to a very audible iPod all at the same time. I glared at her for a bit and then packed up to go home for lunch.

I had some shopping to do on the way, and it was in the queue at the Eurospar that I encountered the question of etiquette I wish to put before our readers. What is the politest thing to do when the person in front of you in the queue turns out not to have enough money to pay? In this case it was an old lady who presumably didn’t have a debit card, or didn’t have enough money in her account to use it. She asked to put an item back, but the cashier had to wait for a supervisor to provide a code before she could void the transaction; the queue grew longer and longer as the lady stood there in her embarrassment. Then she mislaid the five euro note she’d had in her hand only a moment before, so there was a further spasm of befuddlement (it turned up in the shopping bag). I was seriously tempted to offer to give her the money she needed. It could only have been a couple of euro (the returned item was a bag of muesli). I imagined airily offering to lend the money – knowing we probably wouldn’t meet again, but that it might save her face a little. But I thought even that would just make things worse. Instead, when the lady had eventually paid and apologised to me for keeping me waiting, I said “Don’t worry, it’s happened to me.” Which is true in a sense – I have more than once found there’s less cash in my purse than I thought – but I would have used a debit card. The old lady was slightly incredulous but seemed to be comforted anyway.

What would you have done, if anything?

P.S. Frank has the first tiny point of a tooth! I found out the hard way but am still delighted for him. All that dedicated gnawing had to pay off some time.


8 thoughts on “A point of etiquette

  1. laura

    I would do and have done the same. Offering to pay for the item might be perceived as an insult or forced charity. Having worked 10 years as a grocery market supervisor, I also like to commiserate with cashiers about a system that would so mistrust employees and require management to sign off on a “3 euro” procedure. Ridiculous, especially since they will count the transactions and cash drawer at the end of a shift and then hold the cashier responsible for discrepancies. They also probably have the cashiers watched by cameras, too.
    Then again, my strategy will not get you out of the store any sooner.

  2. Meri

    I think I would have done exactly the same too- right down to being very tempted to buy the item for her, but feeling it might be an insult.

  3. H Conrad O'Briain

    I once saw my father handle a situation like this by pretending to find a couple of dollars on the floor that the lady (very elderly and very confused) had ‘obviously ‘ dropped. You do need to be rather good at slight of hand and ‘social fictions’ to get away with it.
    The real question of etiquette is whether it would have been acceptable to put a curse on the teenager who sat down opposite.

    1. Dot

      I wasn’t worried about that one. Which reminds me I need to find time to delete the pentagon and occult hieroglyphs from our back garden before the landlord comes round later today:-)

      How clever and kind of your father.

  4. Dot

    I’m glad you both think I did the right thing. I agree with Laura about the idiocy of the system (though I suspect that in Ireland they are less draconian about holding cashiers responsible for discrepancies). When I was working in a shop we were not supposed to do our own voids (though we easily could, as it was the sort of till on which all you do is turn the key to a different position), but what we did was to finish the transaction, write ‘void’ on the receipt and put it in the till, and then start again. The shop did have a problem with stealing at one point, but not from the till: at the end of each day the cash from all three shops plus cafe was put in a safe in a hole under the floor, and it was that stash that went missing. Since the number of keyholders was small the culprit was rather easily caught.

  5. I’d have given her the cash, but then (a) one of my ‘Project 40’ goals is to perform at least one random act of kindness every week, so this would’ve been perfect, and (b) I’m a serial recipient of random acts of kindness, so feel almost duty-bound to pass them along when I can: http://nevergoeswithoutsaying.blogspot.com/2010/02/sometimes-its-just-as-well-you-cant.html

    Plus, as someone who, aged 19, took a crowded plane home from a year in Austria dressed in a dirdnl, I’ve long since given up caring what others might think. Which helps in such situations.

    Finally answered your ‘favourite songs’ meme, btw! Well, sorta xx

    1. Dot

      I’m sure you could pull this off, but I’m not sure I could have managed it without making the old lady feel uncomfortable. And I have no doubt you looked delightful in a dirndl.

      Thanks for responding to the meme. I’ll hurry on over to check it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s