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Last night my husband and I went to the grocery store. I feel like I should tell you that I was hungry, the store was packed, and the lines were long. I feel like I should tell you that so you don’t think I am a horrible person, but that is the problem with this story. I’m not a horrible person and so frequently online, and in person, people will make you feel like you are horrible for the slightest things – one tiny misstep and you are someone marginalizing other people.

Here is what happened: I was walking through a crowded store with my husband looking for tea. I saw one of the men who works at the store stocking boxes, and I said, “Where is the tea?” He said, “Hi.” I said, “Do you know where the tea is?” He said, “Hi.” I finally figured out what he was trying to do and I laughed a little and said, “Okay, hi. Do you know where the tea is?” My laughter wasn’t because I thought what he did was funny. I thought what he did was try to force me to behave in a way that he preferred. Now, I know greeting someone before you ask them a question is a polite thing to do, but honestly, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was asking a question of someone who worked in the store.

I feel like the man was trying to “teach” me some manners. I felt a little shamed and like a child. I also feel like if he can’t handle being asked where something is without a “proper” greeting, he probably shouldn’t work in a grocery store. I can’t be the only person who asked him the location of a product without saying hello that day. But, that being said, he was right. I should have greeted him first. I should always have the time and make an effort to recognize people’s humanity before asking or expecting something from them.

Honestly, I think you can tell the character of a person by how they treat people who are “serving” them – like in a restaurant. I try to be polite to everyone who serves me. I say please and thank you, and tip well at the end of the meal. I don’t think anyone is beneath me. Of course, the man in the store’s point hit me so hard that the next time I ask someone in a store a question, you can bet that I will greet them first. I think greeting someone first is a good policy, but I feel like we need to have some tolerance for people’s missteps, or mistakes without shaming them (I have written about not shaming people many times).

I guess I should be thankful that I now know that some people working at the grocery store feel mistreated by customers (although I always think of restaurant workers when I think of bad clientele, I never thought of a grocery store as having demanding or demeaning customers on a regular basis).

It is Christmas time, and it is a difficult time to be someone in the service industry, so I hope that my little story here will remind you that people are people and need to be treated with respect even when we are hungry, in a hurry or a bad mood. I just hope you don’t get forced or shamed into treating them that way – hopefully, the joy of the season will infect you, and you will naturally and spontaneously treat everyone with kindness, compassion, patience, and love.