rudeness and cashier pragmatics

Also just in case anyone would like to see the structure of a proper example of how to cite a conversation for a discussion of pragmatics or to set up a proper example, see below (and I’ll be using Alice-Bob-Carol for programmer convenience; example is taken from transcriptions of interactions in spring 2011 in Southern California, on a weeknight between 5pm and 12am)
[Alice (20) and Bob (25) are coworkers behind the counter of a Starbucks, Carol (50) is a customer at the front of the line; Alice is working at the register, Bob is working at the bar]
Alice: Hi there, how are you today?
Carol: Can I get a grande iced latte with three splendas?
Alice: Sure! Your total is [total].
Carol: (while placing money on counter) Here you go.
Alice: Okay (Alice makes change and places change in Carol’s hand) Thank you! Have a good night!
(Carol waits 2-5 minutes for her drink, which Bob places on the bar.)
Bob: Grande Iced Latte, three splenda.
Carol: Thank you. Excuse me.
Bob: Yes?
Carol: I’m sorry, is there a bathroom?
Bob: Oh, sure, just on the other side of that wall.
Carol: Thank you.
I’m putting this out there because it’s important to understand that in Pragmatics it’s important to note what you *see,* not what you believe the other person feels. Carol was somewhat rude to Alice but more polite to Bob, this could be because she has more respect for men, because she is tired at the end of a long day, because she is attracted to Bob, or because Alice has messed up her drink order in the past. Interpreting a single person’s behavior through the study of pragmatics is a losing proposition, interpreting group behavior through pragmatics is only reasonable if you have the research to back it up.
And hey: “Questions of ethics and privacy mean that direct evidence of the language actually used (and thus of the pragmatics involved) in dating and courtship is in understandably short supply.” (435) Carol Marley “Interpersonal issues in the discourse of dating ads”Interpersonal Pragmatics, 2010.
The vast majority of published studies on pragmatics take place in either public settings or office environments in which the subjects gave permission to be studied. JSYK.
Where is Carol being rude to Alice? I don’t see it.
Money on the counter instead of handing it to her. Which again is rudeness only in situation, if the cashier has her hands full or is typing I too put the money down on the counter and then when they’re done they have hands free to take the money.
But that is literally the only ‘rudeness’ I could see.
I’ve never heard of that being rude. TIL.
It’s cultural. In Germany it’s really rude to take money from people’s hands, so they have little indentations in the counters for you and the cashiers to put money in. Some American cashiers get offended by people just putting money down, because it’s hard to pry up the coins; but I just assume they are from a different culture and give their change back the same way they gave it to me
i thought it was ‘relatively rude’ because she said thank you and excuse me to bob but was neutral to alice, but yeah if it was putting the money on the counter then that’s…really not rude.
I thought the most conspicuously rude part was:
Alice: Hi there, how are you today?
Carol: Can I get a grande iced latte with three splendas?
A neutral/polite response there would start with “Good, thanks!” By ignoring Alice’s question and going straight into her order, Carol’s signalling “I refuse to engage with you as a human being rather than a drink-dispensing machine.”
By itself, that could just be a slip – sometimes you walk up to the counter and you’ve been thinking about what you’re going to get and you just blurt it out before you process the barista’s greeting, sure – but together with the things other people have noted (placing the coins on the counter, skipping minor social niceties), I’d agree that adds up to “somewhat rude.”
Gosh this thread is making me worry that I’m being rude to cashiers and such all the time without noticing. I do generally say thank you but I had zero idea about the coins on the counter thing (is that a thing everywhere in the US?? how do you even learn that??) and I’m sometimes very distracted (or if it’s an unusual type of interaction for me, mentally rehearsing what I’m going to say) when I’m waiting in line so a “how are you” sometimes throws me off and I might not respond properly, and generally cashiers are the people I most often interact with when I’m not in a very social frame of mind so I’m somewhat likely to make mistakes. I thought buying things from a cashier was an interaction type I’d learned to do pretty well but now I’m worried that maybe I’m being rude and not knowing?
(Side note: I used to be very nervous about this kind of interaction and try to avoid it, and I only got over this after spending a year in a foreign country after college, where I had to mentally script out *every* interaction in advance and deal with a much greater amount of awkwardness. When I got back to the US, going to Starbucks was downright easy by comparison. My first reaction to this post was to start feeling nervous again. But it’s manageable.)
By ignoring Alice’s question and going straight into her order, Carol’s signalling “I refuse to engage with you as a human being rather than a drink-dispensing machine.”
Odds are – overwhelmingly – that the only reason Alice is asking is because emotional labor is literally a part of her job. She may not exactly have a script, but she must pretend that she cares even when she doesn’t. One can make a point that the only way to not be rude to workers is to play along with the “friendliness” script that our capitalist overlords have given us, but this point needs to be made, it’s not self-evident.
When I was a cashier at Walmart, I was relived when people ignored my greeting and cut to the point. Idk if everybody feels that way, but skipping the emotional labor shit is not necessarily distasteful to customer service personnel.
Placing the change on the counter rather than in my hand WAS irritating though: it’s a decent amount of physical and mental effort to pick up coins from a flat surface, and there is a risk of dropping them or losing them in a crack and it takes precious seconds to scramble around and pick up the coins.
Add to that the perception that the choice to place the coins on the counter is driven by a distaste for the possible brushing of hands and general distaste for the cashier as a person, and it’s very easy to read a customer placing their money on the counter rather than in ones outstretched hand as both a practical and a personal rudeness.
In the OP, Carol treats her interaction with Alice as a rote, machine-like transaction, and her interaction with Bob as an actual human interaction. Unless there was additional information though, I would not assume that it was because of anything but the difference between the interaction: a cashier processing an order vs an out of the routine query for information to a less customer centered employee.
Honestly, don’t stress over cashiers. If you aren’t actively yelling at the cashiers or insulting them, you probably aren’t even the rudest person they have seen this week. If you aren’t being malicious, you aren’t responsible for the cashier’s feelings. It’s very easy for people who work customer service to get jaded or burnt out, but if you don’t ABUSE them, that isn’t your fault. Just be decent to us, that’s all I ask.
Like, I will forget your face in a minute anyway. Who cares if you ignore my greeting?
I would guess that ignoring a “how are you” is ruder in Starbucks than Wal-Mart, typically? At Starbucks you ignore it and then progress the transaction by ordering; at Wal-Mart you ignore it and then wait for the cashier to ring you up.
But yeah, I think nbd in either case.
The weird thing for me reading this transcript is that Alice asks Carol how she is. My experience in Britain is that cashiers and bartenders never do this! (Maybe they do in Starbucks—there are Starbucks outlets here, but I’ve never been to one.) They often say “hi”, but not always; often all you need to say is “thanks” when they hand you your stuff.
If somebody at a till did ask me how I was, I’d probably feel obligated to make a response, so that was what I assumed was the rude part. I had no idea about the potential significance of putting money on the counter rather than in somebody’s hand.
Just saw @isaacsapphire’s note about the putting change on the counter being driven by wanting to not touch the cashier. For me it’s… kind of that, but kind of the opposite? Like, I usually avoid touching people because I worry that *the other person* will be unhappy about it. If the cashier is actually stretching out their hand, then ideally I’d notice that and give them the money, but if I’m distracted/tired/on autopilot I very well might not. Then again these days I mostly pay by credit card, and that’s a lot easier to transfer to someone else without awkward touching.
For me, I place money on counters because holding out my hands too long hurts and I’m not good at judging the precise moment they’re ready to grab it from me.

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