So, I was getting ready to purchase an altogether too scrumptious sandwich at the local Supermarket, when I was faced with waiting in the self-checkout line or the one where actual humans got paid to do a job and work the machine for you. Since the lines were long at the self-checkouts, and because I’m another post-industrial, contact-starved person, I went for the standard check-out line.
The woman in front of me was paying by check. I don’t remember her total, but it was something and seventeen cents. The checker stated the price, and half a dozen little screens lit up with the number. The woman wrote her check, and handed it to the checker.
“I’ll have to give you change,” the checker said, opening the register and fishing out some coins. “You wrote the check for (whatever) seventy, when your total was (whatever) seventeen.”
This is when the woman in front of me exploded. Boom. Puff of angry smoke. Seething rage from a place straight out of a Lovecraft yarn.
“You said seventy!” she said, her voice quivering with anger.
Perhaps at this time it would be appropriate to give some more details. The checker was a dark-haired, medium complected woman in her mid forties. She had a slight accent. If you were to ask me, I’d guess that she was a native Spanish speaker, although the name on her nametag would suggest Eastern Europe. If you had to pin me down, I would guess that she was of South American descent. The woman in front of me was perhaps ten years older, lighter complected, with graying hair. She flashed a lot of her teeth when she spoke. She was probably once very attractive. She spoke as close to accent-less English as I’m capable of discerning.
The checker handed the woman two quarters and three pennies. “I want to speak to a manager!” demanded the woman, accepting the change. The checker picked up her station phone, and said something quietly.
Over dashed the manager. “How can I help?” he asked.
“If you intend to do business here,” declaimed the woman, “it would be to your advantage to have employees who can speak English.”
“What is the problem?” the manager asked. “What’s wrong?”
“My total,” said the woman. “She clearly said seventy when she meant seventeen. It’s not the money. It’s the principle. If your employees cannot speak the language, they cannot communicate with your customers.”
“Were you overcharged?” asked the manager.
“I have made my point,” the woman said, and with an exaggerated flourish dumped the two quarters and two of the pennies into the Leukemia Foundation Donation bin. The other penny missed the slot, skidded off the checkstand, bounced to the floor, and rolled off into oblivion. The woman turned, and walked forcefully out of the store.
The manager was short, and dark complected, with thick, curly black hair. His accent was clearly that of a Spanish speaker, and his nametag bore a typically Mexican last name.
I looked at the checker and the manager, and shrugged my shoulders. He shook his head, and walked away.
“How are you?” the checker asked me, smiling, as she slid my sandwich over the scanner. “That will be three ninety-five.”
I understood her perfectly.