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More Scary Tales from the Grocery Store

December 24, 2017 | by Emuna Braverman

The cashier didn’t acknowledge my existence and here’s why it matters.

Unlike my last experience at the grocery store, this time there were no irate customers or angry cashiers. There was something worse – complete and utter indifference.

The woman checking me out didn’t bother to acknowledge my existence. It wasn’t because she was on the phone with a friend or chatting with a fellow cashier across the aisles.

It seemed she just really didn’t care. She didn’t say hello. She didn’t offer the token, “Did you find everything you need?” She just silently rang me up, not even bothering to glance up and actually look at me.

I bagged my own groceries and she made no effort to help. And I walked away a little sad.

A world of indifference is a very alienating one. It is the opposite of the Torah vision of a world of kindness, a world built on giving.

I’m not looking for friendship. I’m not looking for personal questions (the opposite problem!). Just decency. Just what we used to call “common courtesy”.

Because without it the world is a cold and lonely place.

You may think I’m exaggerating. It was just grocery shopping for heaven’s sake! But when our days are made up of small interaction after small interaction and there actually is no “inter”, it takes a toll.

I think we all contribute to the depersonalization of our world. When I go to the nail salon, I am one of the few customers not on my phone. Because there’s a person sitting right in front of me and even if I’m not treating her as my therapist, I don’t want to treat her like a piece of furniture either.

Not everyone is insensitive. Not everyone is self-centered. At another supermarket (I spend far too much time at grocery stores!) I heard a customer apologize for being on the phone and explain the necessity. Sometimes it can’t be helped. But at least she treated the store’s employee as a real human being. Another cashier at this same location was overheard wishing customers a “blessed day”. Kindness leads to more kindness.

Those were heartwarming response. Those were the symbols of hope. We’re not ready to give up yet. We haven’t quite sunk as low as the generation of the flood.

But when I experience that apathy, when I am treated like an object instead of a person, when the human being sitting or standing in front of me can’t be bothered to get off her phone, I am reminded of Randy Newman’s song that was popular in the seventies, “I think it’s going to rain today.”

I could just order my groceries online and save myself from a lot of aggravation. But that would signal total retreat and defeat.

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