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May 27, 2008

The Rude South

Marty Most people I know are surprised when they come to the South for the first time. Instead of finding the gracious and hospitable hosts we are fabled to be, they are often greeted with rudeness and substandard service.

When I moved from Mississippi to North Carolina, I was amazed at how much more pleasant it was to do simple things like buy gas or grocery shop because the people I encountered were polite and did their jobs well. When my parents moved to northern California, they experienced the same thing.

People could be pleasant when working in the service industry.

Unfortunately, North Carolina seems to be joining the ranks of rudeness along with Mississippi.

There is a grocery store in town that I hate with a passion but is terribly convenient. I'll call it "Kroger" because that's its name. Every time I shop there something goes wrong and I make an unwritten yet passionate pact with myself never to return to that store again.

Yesterday, I find myself at the Post Office attached to the Kroger with a sleeping baby in his sling and a grocery list a mile long. It's just easier, I think, to let the baby sleep and get my groceries here.

Not so much.

After walking through miles of dishes they were giving away, patio furniture, tiki torches, and picnic paraphernalia, I finally get from produce to dry goods. I did stop for an extended stay at the meat counter where I got to listen to Billy Bob and Jesco discuss at length the merits of cutting their meat all at once and then wrapping it or cutting and wrapping as they went. Fascinating, but I just wanted some shrimp.

I finally found the water hiding with Waldo on an aisle full of light bulbs, crayons, and over-sized boxes of things no one should ever eat. Because that is the logical place to put bottled water.

Thrilled that I have found everything on my list and only had to ask 3 different people where things were, I made my way with my sleeping bundle up to checkout.

There was one lane open.

The elderly woman in front of me was chatting politely with the woman in front of her. Her tune changed when the bagger started in on her groceries.

"Don't make the bags heavy, please. I can't manage them if they are heavy," she said.

He kept bagging, never looking up.

She pleaded three more times for him to not put so much in one bag. He finally looked up at her with a blank stare. He didn't seem to understand what she was saying. The checker did nothing to try and help.

After a few days had passed, it was finally my turn to check out. I greeted the checkout girl with a smile and a hello. She did not look up or say anything to me. I asked for paper bags. She still didn't look up, and Armando down at the end starts chucking my meat into plastic bags.

I ask twice more for paper bags before saying, "Did I say paper? I meant to ask if you would please ignore me and act as though I don't exist."

She looked over at Armando who had a miraculous anointment of the English language and told him to use paper bags. He complied.

A cart full of groceries was tossed into 3 paper bags. The corners of boxes were jutting out of the sides of the bags, splitting them wide open before I could carry them into the house. There were refrigerated items in each of the bags instead of grouped all together, which is of course how I placed them on the belt. Bananas were dropped in on top of my bread. Produce was dumped out of the individual bags into the bottom of one paper bag with canned vegetables rolling around on top of it.

I don't know what it is that makes people ignore you when you say hello. I don't know why a grocery bagger would knowingly crush and bruise the groceries you have just paid for. I don't know why it bothers me so much for people not to act politely and decently and do their job well no matter what that job is.

The south is supposed to be the land of hospitality. We are supposed to be genteel and polite to one another. We are supposed to have grace and dignity. Even the rednecks are rumored to take in a stranger and sit him down to dinner with their finest table dressings.

It's not. The South is no nicer than anywhere else. It is in fact, one of the more rude places I have been.

I have my theories as to why grocery clerks are rude, and they take into consideration poor management, lousy wages, no opportunities, and other factors.

Still though, no matter what, it seems to me that your workday would be shorter and more enjoyable if you did a good job and simply learned to look up and smile at the people around you. A little pleasant human interaction goes a long way.

Making good on our reputation as hospitable and gracious Southerners wouldn't hurt anyone, that's for sure.

This is an original post to Deep South Moms Blog. Marty also writes at Don't Take the Repeats.

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