What I Can Change

Katherine Patenaude - Carol Stream, Illinois
Entered on June 20, 2006

Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in putting the greeting card back where I found it. It’s nothing more than a simple act of courtesy, but having been in the card retail business for three years, doing such a simple thing becomes an act I know is appreciated.

Too often, members of the working elite –- those getting paid much more than minimum wage –- forget about their humble, low-wage roots. They rush into a store in a whirlwind of work, kids, shopping lists and last-minute gifts, demolishing any hope of courtesy towards the salespeople there. They complain, loudly, over a poor selection. They leave clothes in the dressing room. And in extreme cases, they come into a store five minutes before closing time and do nothing but browse.

Certainly, this is what storeowners want the customers to do. It’s the desperate wish of businesses large and small to suck in as many customers as possible, right up to that last minute browser. They want you to shop; they want you to browse; they want you to ask for assistance; just so you can buy as much as you possibly can and still come back tomorrow. Customers know this, consciously or not, so it’s perfectly fine to be upset if your food’s over-cooked; if your clothing size is nonexistent; if that little figurine you wanted isn’t in stock and the salesperson doesn’t know when the next shipment will be in.

But it seems more and more that those working low-wagers are being treated less like human beings and more like drudges with magical instant reordering powers. Those people stuck on their feet for eight hours are humans too; people with feelings that, contrary to popular belief, do have lives outside of their jobs. More often than not, they don’t want to be working there, or are forced to work by that ever-omnipresent parent who insists they need a job. But that doesn’t stop them from suggesting party decorations for your five-year-old; making a coffee to match every last word of your order; or racing around at breakneck speed to make certain you have your brimming bag of fast food in less than two minutes. They do all this and more for very little pay, locked in a cramped, hierarchical job until they find their higher purpose.

I can’t change the amount paid for these kinds of jobs and I can’t change how long the workers have to be on their feet. But I can change the kind of customer they deal with. I can respond with courtesy and a smile, even if my food is over-cooked. And even though the high paying jobs are far from being a piece of cake, I try to remember what it was like working those hours in those conditions. I remember what it was I looked for when a customer entered through the door. So I show them I can be courteous, show them I’m responsible for my actions. I put the greeting card back where I found it.