Some people love shopping. Some don’t.
My mother loves shopping. She likes to take her time to browse and compare before making a decision, and she likes to just look at what’s on offer, with no intention to buy.
My father is the opposite. He likes to know what he wants and where to get it before he leaves home. Then he likes to go into the shop, find the item and get out of there as quickly as possible.
I take after my father when it comes to shopping.
Like my mother, my husband John loves shopping. So when my parents visit us or we visit them in North Queensland, John and Mum do the shopping while Dad and I stay home and everyone is happy.
But shopping is not just about finding the items you want. It’s also about the chats at the checkout.
John and my mother seem to enjoy chatting with the checkout staff. Sometimes I do too. It depends.
I’ve had some great chats in shoe shops. Perhaps because, unless we buy our shoes in self-serve shops like Big W, it’s hard to buy shoes without having some kind of discussion with the attendant, so by the time we get to the checkout, we’ve sorted out a way to communicate.
But checkout chats in supermarkets? Give me a break!
When I was young, grocery stores didn’t sell the wide range of things they do now, so we went to a number of other stores as well: the butcher, baker, greengrocer, chemist.
One Saturday morning in 1980 in one of the various flat-shares I lived in for many years in Sydney, it was my turn to do the shopping. Over breakfast with my flatmate I had a whinge about having to go to the butcher. Our butcher was always crowded so they had a system where you gave your order to a butcher who packaged it and took it to the cashier who then called you. It was very stressful for me. There was usually a queue at the cashier so even if I watched my butcher carefully the cashier didn’t always call me as soon as he gave her my package.
Secretly I hoped my hearing flatmate would offer to go to the butcher for me. But she was, and still is, a wonderful friend who never patronised me. She looked at me and calmly said, “Go to the supermarket.”
Ah! Why hadn’t I thought of that? Supermarkets had only recently started selling meat and that was the day I abandoned the butcher for the easier self-serve supermarket.
Shopping in supermarkets was a boon for deaf people for years. Until they introduced the deli counters that use those ghastly number systems that require you to wait until your number is called; even the electronic number displays don’t always work. And until their checkout staff started getting all friendly and chatty.
Nowadays John and I usually buy our groceries at our local Woolworths and Aldi. The thing I like about Aldi, apart from the cheaper prices, is their checkout attendants are quite unfriendly and uninterested in chatting with anyone.
But Woolworths! They apparently train their staff to be friendly. Their friendliness is mostly inane and insincere, but still, they’re friendly.
“How are you today?” “Do you have a big weekend planned?” “What are you doing for Christmas?” “Have you seen any good movies lately?”
John now avoids the checkout attendant who always asks the movies question. It makes him feel interrogated and tempts him to give the guy a long lecture about how inaccessible movies are for me and the impact this has on our movie-going.
I think he should just give him the long lecture. In a very loud voice! And preferably when I’m not there.
And they don’t seriously care what I’m doing for Christmas or this weekend, do they? They’re just being friendly. Presumably the idea is that if the staff are friendly the customers will feel welcome and come back.
I guess lots of customers do feel that way. Sometimes I do too, when some cool checkout attendant is unfazed when I tell them I’m deaf. They seem to know what to do and go on chatting with me. We have a laugh or two.
But these delightful occasions are rare.
Usually, when I feel forced to tell them I’m deaf because I haven’t understood what they’ve said, they give me the blank or scared look or the “oh sorry” and clam up as if I’m some weirdo who might contaminate them if they keep talking.
I’m often tempted to say, “That’s ok, I didn’t want to talk to you either.”
This stuff is stressful for deaf people. Knowing they’re going to say something to me, I make a habit of trying to watch them as I unload my groceries onto the conveyor belt. But often I miss the moment and find them looking at me as if I’m rude.
I hate being rude so sometimes I’ll say ‘hello’ first. But this doesn’t seem to work very well, they often don’t respond, I guess because they haven’t heard me – I have no idea how noisy a supermarket might be.
None of the attendants at my local supermarket ever seem to remember that I’m deaf, except one. She loves chatting so waiting in her queue is infuriating. But when I appear in front of her she clams up and ignores me until she gives me my receipt and then she smiles half-heartedly at me. I’ve learned to bypass her checkout, not only because it’s so slow-moving. She makes me feel unloved!
When John and I do the shopping together, it’s a relief to leave all this to him. I don’t even bother to watch the attendant to see if they’re talking to me. Sometimes they do and John either answers them or tells them I’m deaf. I know this is not ‘politically correct’, I should tell them myself, but I don’t care. Even if I do tell them they still go on to ignore me and chat only to John. I can’t be bothered with this nonsense.
The world is full of people who have no idea how to communicate with deaf people. We meet them every day as we go about our lives, it is part of the deal when you’re a deaf person. Most of the time I make an effort to educate them in a friendly way.
But I’m over Woolworths checkout attendants!
If stores like Woolworths are going to, as they apparently do, instruct their staff to be friendly and chatty with customers, the least they can do is train them properly.
Train them how to communicate with everyone!
What a fabulous thing that would be! I’d love to then be able to enjoy a checkout chat.