Since recent posts seem to have involved supermarkets and customer service, I thought that this would be as good a time as any to tell you my tale about the time I was attacked with a lettuce by an angry Chinese woman. Doesn’t everyone have a story like this to tell?
When I was a student in Glasgow, I had a part time job at the Sainsbury’s Local on Sauchiehall Street. I didn’t mind it – the shop was always busy and so the time generally flew past. However, the one thing I hated was the appearance of the Girl With The Gun at the end of the day. It sent shivers down my spine to watch her walking around the shop zapping perishable goods with bright orange “reduced” stickers.
It was at this point, you see, that two distinct groups of people invariably emerged from wherever they’d been lurking. They were the old women (the kind with very hairy chins and trembling hands, who pay for everything in copper coins) and the middle-aged Chinese women. They all made straight for the sea of orange stickers, and began filling their baskets. Before you knew it, you had a queue the length of the shop, just before the end of your shift, full of women with overflowing baskets of reduced items. It made my heart sink every time one of those baskets appeared at my till, because it took a painfully long time to peel the sticker off each item, enter the reduction code, scan the item, type in the new price and then repeat the process at least a dozen times, while the next customer – generally a suit ‘n’ tie type of businessman only just getting home from work – waited impatiently with his solitary pint of milk or microwave meal for one, glaring at you in annoyance. In fact, I frequently tried to either rush through or draw out a particular transaction in order to avoid being the unfortunate cashier who got the next basket of orange stickers.
With the old ladies, it was an assortment of bread, milk, cheese, ham and those sorts of basic groceries. With the Chinese women, quite inexplicably, it was always vegetables; and usually an entire basket of identical vegetables. I never quite understood it – and it was the most annoying one of all, because you couldn’t scan in multiples of reduced items. They had to be done individually, one sodding carrot at a time, even if there were twenty all at the same price.
Anyway, late one Friday night, a basket of orange-stickered Romaine lettuces presented itself at my till. Wearily, I went through the peeling, typing and scanning process, packed the customer’s bag, smiled politely, took payment, gave change, and went on to the next customer. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I watched the lettuce woman inspecting her receipt. The orange sticker people were always the worst. They went through the receipt with frightening intensity, and were almost gleeful if they found a mistake. Not this woman, however. She was utterly furious. Slightly alarmed, I paused in my dealing with the milk-and-microwave-meal man to observe her approaching my till with all the gentleness of a raging bull.
She barely spoke a word of English, but from her raised voice and hand waving and brandishing of the receipt I managed to deduce that I had missed one of the orange stickers and charged her 20p more than I should have. It was an easy (and common) enough mistake, and I apologised and asked her to wait as I finished with my customer. This was not the right thing to do. Incensed, she removed the aforementioned lettuce from her bag and slammed it down in front of me, pounding the counter with her fist and shouting in a language that I had no hope of understanding. I tried to explain that I could not open the till to give her the 20p until I’d finished the current transaction; she, in return, screamed “Racist! Thief!” and tried to hit me over the head with the lettuce.
“Steady on, hen!” said my customer, looking nervously at her, as I panickily tried to open the till without properly completing the transaction. I was too flustered to think straight – everyone was staring, the sound of undesirable accusations filled the air, and an irate customer was trying to knock me out with a reduced vegetable. She flat-out refused to let me press any buttons on the till, and when she actually reached for me across the counter I hurriedly fumbled in my pocket, produced 20p of my own, and flung it down in front of her. She did not appear to want it, and continued to yell “Racist! Thief! Bad girl!” for all to hear. The duty manager, fetched by a customer who clearly feared for my life, appeared on the scene like a knight in shining armour, and I shakily explained the situation to the best of my ability (given that I didn’t really understand it myself). His attempts to calm the woman down failed completely, and in his polite but firm manner he asked the lettuce woman to step outside. By way of response, she attempted to slap me.
I want to assure you, dear reader, that I am not making any of this up. There exist people in the world who will wish to kill you for accidentally charging them an extra 20p for a lettuce. The manager hastily stepped between us and put his hand on lettuce woman’s arm to guide her towards the exit. “Racist!! Bad man!” screamed lettuce woman, pummelling him with her fists. I mean, honestly.
By the time he got rid of her, apologised to the customers, and gently escorted me outside to put a cigarette in my mouth, I was bright red and not sure whether to laugh or cry. The manager wore a similar expression when, at the end of my shift, he summoned me to his office and informed me that lettuce woman’s friend’s daughter had been on the phone to discuss a reported incident of racial discrimination. She was – of course – a lawyer specialising in that particular field. Thankfully she was also sane, and accepted the manager’s account of the incident with a laugh and an apology, but still. What an Utter Raving Lunatic.
As you can imagine, the sight of orange sticker baskets caused me a great deal more anxiety from then on…