[this is what happens when i write an entry over the course of two days. i will give you a hug if you can figure out where day two began.]
Does it make me a horrible and out-of-touch white person simply because I expect certain types of employee behavior befitting certain retail establishments? I know one cannot expect happiness from an employee earning slightly above the minimum wage, and I absolutely wouldn't encourage cruel and humiliating personality modification training from a corporate level. (A friend of mine briefly toiled as a waitress at a Friendly's® restaurant and, during her interview, the manager demonstrated how to speak while smiling. Additionally, a few days into her tenure, she found a sign posted on the door of the employee break room that indicated something like, "WE'VE BEEN SEEING A LOT OF FROUNS [sic] LATELY. [sad face] WE NEED TO SEE MORE SMILES ON THE FLOOR, OR ELSE SWIFT AND APPROPRIATE ACTION WILL BE TAKEN.") I'm just saying that, as different hubs of consumer activity make tremendous and costly efforts in their design and branding to elicit specific responses from customers, those customers grow to expect interactions that are consistent with their own manufactured emotional connections to the products they seek. For example:
Ice Cream Shop
I know this request is sometimes difficult, particularly when your manager keeps cutting your hours to avoid full-time benefits, but it would really be great if you could pretend you're really happy to be working around all of that delicious ice cream. Here's the thing: no one walks into an ice cream shop because it is an item on their to-do list. People walk into ice cream shops because, for whatever reason – job stress, negative HIV test results, low impulse control – they have decided they've "earned" an ice cream. Earning things makes you feel happy, even if the happiness is sort of flimsy and will be sometimes become converted into embarrassment or self-loathing, just as sugars are converted into fats, the moment you're face-to-face with the dried fudge streaks in the bottom of a Haagen-Dazs "Dazzler" cup. And, for this reason alone, it is sort of necessary that the teenagers delivering you that milky joy appear (appear!) happy to do so. When you cluck your tongue at us for ordering something that requires machine-blending, or refuse to make eye contact, or blankly respond to our orders with, "what else?", or punch a co-worker between the shoulder blades while you're making a Fribble, it sort of punctures that delicate happiness that directed us into your establishment in the first place.
(When I was a teenager, the Ben & Jerry's employees always did a great job of exhibiting this kind of ice cream-related job satisfaction. Maybe it was because their employers had the least restrictive rules and the most desirable uniforms. [the cherry garcia tie-dyes were so coveted that B&J customers paid good money to dress like B&J employees. to my knowledge, there is only one other retail chain that has achieved that level of customer-empathy, without being driven purely by irony: Hooters.] And maybe it was because their employees were WASPy, with creamy, unflawed skin that was totally resistant to the pore-raids of New York Super Fudge Chunk streaks across the cheeks and chin. Either way, they were the very model of ice cream shop-appropriate behavior.)
Fancy Coffee Café
I do not require that you act French or Italian; just try not to act like you're serving me an Egg McMuffin. I still can't place my finger on exactly what depresses me in certain coffee shops. I only know that when Starbucks first began proliferating, their employees were empowered with a sense of novelty that could only be the product of serving very expensive cups of coffee with crazy names, like Mocha Bravissimocchina. And, at some smaller, independently run coffee shops, this good-time feeling of perfection still exists. (Hi, Gorilla.) The employees are a fun, multi-cultural hodge-podge of tattoos, rumpled thrift-store clothing, crazy hats, and multiple sexual preferences. That feels about right for a latte. Again, not sure why. Maybe it's because they make it feel like I'm not just purchasing a stomach-burning cup of caffeine. It's more like I'm making a donation to an artist. Keep up the good work!
Please make me feel self-conscious every time I pick up a CD or LP. At larger chain record stores, the employees are often happy at the mere fact that you've bought something. That is a failure, as far as I'm concerned. Records are not mere commodities; they are a fair representation of who you are as a human being. Your record purchases cut to the very quick of your psychological and emotional make-up, and should be judged as such. That's why I can't buy records at places like Best Buy. There, the employees are so detached and non-judgmental that your music purchases might as well be a stack of blank, recordable CDs.
Having been on both sides of this transaction – I used to work at a Rhino Records store – I know the value of being told by an employee, "Nice one!" when you buy the "correct" album. Likewise, it is an employee mandate to call you out for purchasing Music Inspired by the Television Show, One Tree Hill. Call it petty and superficial, but how else do you explain the success of The Killers. (P.S. If I worked at a record store and you walked up to the counter with The Killers album, I'd smack it out of your hands and send you back to try again. And you'd thank me in three years.)
Scented Candle/Christmas Tree Decoration Shop
I would really appreciate it if your employees were women in crocheted sweaters who faintly smelled of cat pee. And yes, I'd like very much to see your plastic Jack-O-Lantern brooch light up and play spooky music when you squeeze it. Thank you, ma'am.
This is by no means a mandate, but it would be cool if your employees were giant black bears, in aprons. Just saying. As it is, not that many people crowd their way into stores that specialize in the sale of different varieties of honey, and honey-related products. The bears would be a great touch. Much better than if you staffed your store with angry swarms of bees, or black teenagers.
Time Machine Repair Shops
For the purpose of authenticity, in addition to the roster of underpaid kids, I would appreciate the presence of one Cro-Magnon Man and one confused Sherlock Holmes.
Family Home-Cooking Style Restaurant
Ease up. Time and time again, I'll eat at one of these "mom's cookin'" restaurants and leave with the same complaint: the food is too good. It would be nice if one of them would trade in fantasy for reality. When I order "green beans," I expect them to be served in a hot, microwave-safe dish covered in plastic wrap. When I remove the wrap, a scalding blast of steam should rise off the beans, searing the tips of my nose hairs. And the beans, now suddenly cold since their protective plastic wrap has been removed, should be floating in a small pond of their own canning fluid. Steak should be served well-done, and curling up around the edges. And, when I ask the waitress what dessert choices are available, I expect her to reply, "shit on a shingle," and then run upstairs to her bedroom to cry. Just like mom!