A lesson from the checkout line: mind your manners

Alyssa Stencavage, L&A&E Editor

What ever happened to manners and being polite? It’s a question I’ve really begun to ask myself because I am continuously amazed by the lack of manners that I see just about everywhere I go.

Maybe it’s the way I was raised. Being kind and courteous towards people is not a difficult thing to do, so I’ll never understand why it proves to be such a problem for so many people.

A perfect example of this comes with my job as a cashier, where a central part of it is dealing with the public. Almost every time I get behind the register at the grocery store where I work, I seem to encounter too many people who either forget or never knew how to use manners, and I have to say it boggles my mind. What’s worse is that people are so rude over the most trivial of things.

Let me give you some examples, of which I could probably easily think of a million, but I’ll stick with the most noteworthy here.

The shopper’s club card at most grocery stores is a great way to save a lot of money, and is something most everyone uses. Like many other stores, when customers come in and happen to forget their cards, they don’t have to look too far because cashiers can easily type in customer telephone numbers with just a few touches to the screen. The phone numbers are directly connected to the shopper’s club card, so as soon as the number is entered into the system, the discounts start rolling off, and it often does save time and effort for both parties. Many customers take advantage of this opportunity, and I don’t mind doing the favor for them. I can’t blame them – it’s convenient. However, it’s all in the way they go about it. Instead of politely asking to type in the number, people will blurt it out before anything else, not to mention before I even get the chance to get to the register.

Or there are the customers who already have their cards out and ready, but rather than hand it to the cashier to have it scanned, they will reach over the register and scan it themselves, all without saying a word. Or, they’ll simply throw it on the belt.

Next, comes the greeting, something people forget about before jumping to the next thing on their agenda. It really doesn’t have to be a complicated conversation that goes on for hours, it’s as simple as going through the motion of “hello, how are you?” If nothing else, it shows the customer that you’re friendly by making the effort and makes the situation a bit more comfortable.

From the day I began my job, almost four years ago now, I’ve been told to follow the “eyes, hi’s and smiles” policy, part of the whole customer service and satisfaction idea. I always try to wear a smile just to try to be polite. Despite my efforts, there are a number of customers who do not even acknowledge the favor, let alone return it. Even if the customer doesn’t realize it, courtesy to acknowledge the effort is very much appreciated, and that’s really all it is: a matter of being courteous.

So, by the nature of that same policy, it is part of my job to greet the customer and start off right. Even if it wasn’t a rule of the store, I’d do it anyway because you can never go wrong with being friendly, even if it’s not reciprocated, and a lot of times it’s not.

The public will be the public, but there are people who will slam things down on the register, or hand me the card they are using to pay and say “you’ll have to type this in, it doesn’t swipe,” or something to that effect. Like I said, I don’t mind helping customers out, but I have to wonder how hard it would have been for them to say those few extra words of please and thank you.

One of my biggest pet peeves, and perhaps a great way to show what manners are not, is that lovely technological device we call the cell phone. There are a number of people who come to check out, phone in hand, with no regard for the cashier or again, the meaning of being polite. As attached as all of us as humans are, it won’t kill us to put the phone down for a couple minutes and pay attention to what’s in front of us. I am guilty of the same thing, but I do think my experience as a cashier has taught me a lot about the importance of being courteous.

Some people say please and thank you for everything and start off with a greeting on a regular basis, while to others, it’s a completely foreign concept. Some people’s complete lack of courtesy and simple kindness makes them completely unpleasant to deal with, but I’ve learned to brush it off and move on because at the end of the day, it’s not worth letting it manifest or ruin your mood. Naturally under these circumstances, a part of me feels compelled to be rude as well, but then I quickly realize that stooping down to that level doesn’t make me any better.

Now, I’m primarily talking about what I see while on the job, but the truth is, this lack of manners is everywhere. It is prominent in all aspects of life, and sometimes we don’t realize how bad it is until we are on the receiving end of it. And whether we realize it or not, manners take all different forms. Even something as simple as having earphones in while talking to other people constitutes a lack of manners.

But beyond the magic words of please and thank you, the way others view your sense of politeness may often be affected by the way you speak. Sometimes it’s not even what someone says that throws people off, rather the tone in which it is said. Believe it or not, that can and does make all the difference. Call it what you want, it’s still manners.

This could very well be a direct result of the fact that we live in a society where, in general, we are always wanting and expecting and not really appreciating or thinking about how we speak to others.

I am personally turned off by a lack of manners, and a lot of times it’s the first thing I look for in people, because they are such an essential quality to possess. Surprisingly enough, adults often don’t display a proper sense of courtesy. At this point in their lives, you would think they would be mature enough to realize why manners matter. But I guess the saying rings true – you learn something new every day.

There is also another generation we have to keep in mind: the children. I even see this lack of such an important quality in kids as young as my eight-year-old brother, whether it be the development where I live or children that come along to the store with their parents, which is a problem all on its own. Children do as children see, and manners often make a first impression.

With that said, we have to remember to teach children to be well-behaved and display manners when needed, especially because their value grows as we do. Otherwise, we’re not doing our job correctly. If we don’t, children are likely to get the impression that having no manners is OK; that’s not the message we want to be sending them.

I was always raised to have manners, and be kind to others simply because it’s the right way to be. The way I see it, that doesn’t merit any further explanation, and it certainly shouldn’t. However, even with those values instilled in me from the time I was little, there’s always room for improvement. The older I get and the more I see, I also try to teach my brothers, regardless of age, why manners are so incredibly important. Being a cashier has taught me so much about being polite and even being a good person to others, especially because I so often see the flip side of what I’ve been taught all of these years. It seems so silly to be writing about a lack of courtesy in society, and it’s sad that this is the case, but unfortunately, it’s true.

Maybe some people have never been taught manners, but the down side is, they aren’t necessarily something that can be learned, at least not in my opinion. They must be instilled from a young age, or they most likely will never come.

So remember, if you show manners towards others, that’s incentive for them to return the favor, or at least think about it. It’s something to think about, even if that’s all you’re getting is a thought. The more we put this politeness into practice, we might find that it’s not so hard after all. In fact, it’s very much appreciated.

Start small. Do the world and everyone else around you a favor and say please and thank you, even if just for the sake of being polite. Never underestimate the power of a few simple words — or a friendly greeting for that matter.