June 15, 2012 at 5:22 pm #30276
Personally, it meant a lot to me when strangers expressed a little bit of sympathy regarding my divorce. More than once a simple kind word almost moved me to tears (in a good way)–it made me think that people are actually wonderful, and also reminded me that I wasn’t the first person in the world to go through it. I remember marveling to my sister, after making dozens of arrangements to get things changed or refunded (apartment lease, cooking class, gym membership, electric bill cable bill phone bill, CSA share, co-op ownership), “wow, people will do anything for you if they know you’re getting divorced”. It was really different from moving for other reasons. Not that I went around telling these strangers even part of my story, but whenever I needed something out of the ordinary done, they wanted to know why. “I’m getting divorced”. That was it. Floodgates opened.
Elle, people are always telling me I have an accent, too. I actually kind of enjoy it–but it’s probably different because I’m not from another country. (Most people think I’M from eastern Europe!) I like to hear where they think I’m from, and it’s amusing to listen to them try to justify their claim that I have an accent (it must be from my parents… my grandparents… my college… my high school Spanish classes). I’m sure I’d feel differently if it weren’t just a joke to me. But I think Americans are just very inquisitive in general, compared to people from most other cultures. I know I am. And I assume that most people like to talk about where they’re from, but maybe that’s a faulty assumption. My workplace is heavily multicultural, and people who are obviously from other countries are asked about it all the time. 90% of the time I think it’s out of friendliness. The people who are bigots and really do not like it that so many of the employees are from other countries don’t seem to mention it to their faces. (Sometimes they mention it to me, somehow thinking that I will be sympathetic. Please! I never let them get away with it; I talk about what a great co-worker the person is and how much I enjoy having a multicultural team.)June 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm #30283
Elle, my problem is slightly different- I’m a 5’11″ redhead and all random ppl (and not so random ones as well) want to comment on either/both traits. SO ANNOYING. Especially the height thing. I cant understand why (esp men) ppl dont get that tall WOMEN dont like to talk about our height. Being a tall man is seen as being more…manly or something. But being a “tall” (I always call myself ‘normal-sized’) woman, that is the LAST thing I want a person to comment on. End rant, sorry. No real advice for you Elle with the accent thing, but I know when I am in a bitchy mood and someone makes a comment about my height, I just kinda look at them 9maybe raise an eyebrow), which often gets the point across.June 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm #30289
Two things: First, I used to work in retail at a bookstore, and I remember this one day when my best friend’s dad came in with his new girlfriend (he had just recently divorced his wife, who was not my friend’s mom, but they were close) and he checked out at my cash register just because I happened to be open. Anyways, he had a membership, and I looked it up for him. It was still under the ex-wife’s name, so I asked him “Hey, do you want to change the name on this?” And he was like “Oh yeah, that’d be good!” I felt really awkward….
And @Elle, I have an accent too, and people ask me where I am from a lot, and I HATE it. My accent comes from me being deaf, and I prefer not to talk about it with people I don’t know in person. Especially while working in a coffee shop/bookstore – which is where I usually got the question. I remember one customer was persistent about it. He asked me where I was from and I told him I was from the city we’re in, and he looked confused and was like “what about your parents?” and I told him they were both from the US, and he was like “But you have an accent!” I’m pretty sure I responded with “I’m deaf.” And then he looked embarrassed. And left. I hate that question. I hate it so much. I know they don’t mean anything by that but it just reminds me of our differences. Plus, I’m working, and I don’t want to make small chit-chat with customers. I’d rather take your damn drink order and have you move on. So maybe you could be blunt about it, or make up some crazy stories. My situation is different though, because when I tell them the truth they usually shut up about it.June 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm #30315
Hhahaha when I was in high school I worked at this grocery store and I would always say “hello how are you?” to every customer I rang through the till. I remember this one bitter man who would come in often and I asked him how he was and he said quite sharply “do you really want to know” and I said meekly “no thank you” haha thinking back now I was such a fool lol! He proceeded to tell me about his divorce and how he hates his ex wife and how his son is an idiot yada yada yada anyways…June 16, 2012 at 1:54 am #30365
Maybe I am overthinking it a bit. My job is where I get the majority of my interaction with the general public, so I often worry if I’m being inappropriate or awkward (I don’t have much experience interacting with strangers, period). I’m going to try to do the Professional Ignore the next time one of my known guests comes in and see how that goes… and when randoms bring it up, too. I didn’t realize that that was even an option, honestly. Hearing about divorce, bad stuff, etc is very awkward for me. Well, except for when people tell me they’re sick. I met a man with terminal cancer and we ended up having a really good talk… I said, “Well, I hope you find happiness and peace in spite of whatever happens” and he said it was one of the few times he hadn’t heard some trite response from the people he would tell. But that’s quite the tangent, sorry.
As for accents and stuff… I’ve been guilty of asking about a person’s accent. I’ll try to curb that next time, thank you for letting me on to the fact that it’s probably SUPER annoying for someone to constantly be asked about it!June 16, 2012 at 11:14 am #30382
@sweets (love your avatar!), yes, I do think you are a bit too involved with this one. I think your heart is in the right place, and I admire the fact that you want to be sensitive and sympathetic to your clients, but given the place of the interaction, I don’t think it’s your job to provide emotional support to customers (and if they expect emotional support from you, there’s something wrong with them!). If some people volunteer the information, acknowledge it, and try to steer the conversation back to a professional tone. And if they keep saying stuff, you could say: ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this. It must be a difficult time for you. I hope you’re getting support from your friends and family’.
I had a student once who found his roommate seizing after a suicide attempt. What do you tell an 18-year old kid who witnessed that? I froze. I’m an adult, and I think I would have been pretty badly shaken by it. I really wanted to give him a hug (big no-no!), so I just asked him if he was getting counseling, and he said he was. It’s not my job to provide advice, and obviously I am not qualified in any way. I gave him extensions for submitting his work, didn’t penalize him for not showing up for class, but that was all I can do.
@wendy_not_wendy – yes, a little bit of sympathy when you hear about someone’s divorce sounds like the right amount. And yes, maybe I feel this way because I’m from a different culture. I notice people here are pretty inquisitive – what do you do for a living, where did you go for undergrad, and all other types of (what I think are personal) questions. I never had a bad experience (actually, people try to figure out where my country is on the map, what’s the capital, trivia stuff), but it gets old after a while. I caught myself a couple of weeks ago not going out because I didn’t want to meet new people! I have to work on that.
@rilooyah – I hate it when people make comments about things you cannot change about yourself. Like height. I’m 5’3″, so I get called shorty quite often. Comment about my clothes, please! I’ll wear different ones tomorrow! I can totally change that! And if you HAVE to make a comment, would it be really that hard to make it a positive one? (I realize asking for a compliment might be pushing it!)
@quixoticbeatnik – I feel for you. Maybe take some comfort in the fact that they feel bad for prodding? You said the conversation usually stops there. And that was exactly my point – I’d like to take your order/get my coffee and be on my way. As I left the house this morning I didn’t expect to share my life story with strangers I happen to interact during the day.
Oh, I have another story. I called to make an appointment with a doctor. Secretary asked me where I’m from. I was floored. What does this have to do with anything? I get it, you need my name, ID number, address, phone number, employer, why I need to see the doctor. But where I’m from? Gahd! And then I called another doctor, and they asked if I’d prefer to get medical assistance in a language other than English. Without asking me where I’m from, she mentioned I have the right to receive medical treatment in my native language. I declined, since English works fine, but I found her to be sooooo much more professional than the other secretary.June 18, 2012 at 7:08 am #30488
I hate the Where are you from question? Nothing but a MN accent, but I’m half black and half white. Get it all the time from people. Sometimes I answer directly with my race so people go away and sometimes I let them feel awkward when I just answer the direct question with MN. I don’t know if I’ve ever just said MYOB.June 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm #30593
On the whole accents thing… when I’m out of state, a lot of people play the “which Midwest state are you from” game and it really gets aggravating. And the flip side of the tall comments and redhead comments – I’m a short blonde. I’m not even *THAT* short – I’m about 5’1″ (maybe a smidge under) and have really really blonde hair in the summer (its not as bright in the winter) and people always make comments about both. A lot of people ask me if I dye my hair and I usually respond with “do you?”
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