Friday, June 15, 2012


Sharing a little pet peeve here.

I detest artificial friendliness.  This is where Russia really has it all over Americans.  In Russia people do not paste false smiles onto their faces, or tell you to "have a nice day" again and again.  I suppose you might say they err on the opposite end of the scale, taking even everyday exchanges - in stores or at a business, very seriously.  I don't mind that at all, frankly.  When the lady responsible for handling the dry-cleaning at the hotel is hyper-solemn and businesslike, it gives her (and her job) dignity.  When the girl checking out at the grocery store, reprimands me for not bringing my own bags - well, she is right; I had been in Russia enough to know that I ought to carry a bag or two with me at all times.  (And who can't appreciate that thriftiness and environmental benefit?)

You might not get a smile, but you get good bread.

In Russia one of the things that I got used to, which initially surprised me, was what was I think the main job held by men - women seem to generally run the country, but in front of every business, it seems, there is a man.  He just stands there and watches (and.smokes). A sort of guard?  I never saw one accosting anyone, and they certainly did not seem to be there to help you.  I presume the idea is to discourage shoplifters - though there was also one at the hotel, where there was nothing, really, to take.  I did shock Ilya once, by asking one of these gentlemen for directions.  I shocked the man, too.  He truly looked dumbfounded, so perhaps the unspoken rule is that they are not to be addressed! 

Here, though, it is a different story.  In the front entry of far too many places there is someone who is actually placed there to watch for shoplifters, I'm told, but quite disingenuously, these people are called  "greeters".  And greet they do!  They greet you with a bright "hello" as though they know you.  As though they care about you.  As though it delights them to see you.  Since none of these things are true, perhaps there is some psychological ploy going on, intended to immediately put customers (oh, sorry - "guests") at a disadvantage.  Because, no matter if you are deep in thought, or trying desperately to recall the seven things you want to be sure to buy (ticking them off in your mind so as not to forget), or you might even be so sad you are just struggling to keep from crying - despite whatever it is that is going on with you - enter the store and you must suddenly snap to attention yourself, and be artificially friendly back. 

I hate it!

Part of that comes from having lived in a place where the effect that the big box stores are hoping to achieve (I think) was the genuine article.  If you live in a small town, where everyone knows - or is, at least, acquainted with - everyone else, then these greetings are legitimate.  When we were first married, we lived in a little town in Eastern Oregon - Heppner.  Everyone in Heppner at least knew of everyone else....  Even if you didn't really know someone, you were all in the "same boat" so to speak.  Living in that  rural area gave you immediately a lot in common with everyone else.  The town only had 1,500 people and it was an hour drive to anywhere bigger.  When people were born, or when people died, a little notice was put on the counter in all the main businesses.  People did matter.  People were individuals.  We had release time for religion classes, and if ever anyone noticed a little Catholic dilly-dallying by the creek rather than heading straight to the church for classes - I'd get a phone call!  So, when the checker at the grocery store gave you a greeting it was the genuine article. 

Maxim is working at Target now.  I was early to pick him up one day, and figured I'd pleasantly wile away the time by browsing.  I do enjoy browsing in Target.....but not that day!  Every couple of minutes someone would ask me if they could "help" me - or assault me with one of those artificial "Hi! How are you?" non-questions.  You can't really enjoy browsing if you have to keep stopping to speak to strangers.  I just wonder what they think they are accomplishing.  Comparitively, I am friendly and outgoing!  I'm pretty comfortable talking to strangers after years of doing theatre and touring from city to city, sometimes even boarding with different people every night.  Surely this stuff is even more comfortable for me than it is for most people?  But, I detest it!  It really felt as though I was being discouraged from just browing.  I began to feel that I was expected to either buy something or get out.  So, get out, I did.  I went to wait in the car.

I heard yesterday on some public radio program that recent studies have shown that people really do not like this.  So, I'm not the only one!  In  rating customer service, the artificial friendliness gets a business nowhere.  I'm now looking forward to this becoming common knowledge, allowing me to shop in peace. 


thisjourneyofmylife said...

So glad we don't have that here! Sometimes there are shop assistants and I just hate how they hoover all around you. If I want help, I'll ask!

Molly said...

Hmmm, at my target I can never find ANYONE to help!

I'm a pretty perky person, so anything coming from me isn't fake. If I have an issue with someone, I'll still be polite and courteous, but I'm not going to be peppy and make small talk. Then again, I'm a total people person, so I always end up befriending the guy at the bagel store, the man who changes my oil, the bartender, etc

Sarah said...

I agree with you. And what I find particularly annoying is the feeling of being bombarded by friendliness initially, and then when you do need help not being able to find anyone! It's so frustrating. I can't help but think "Where is *Mr. Helpful* now?"

Now that we live in a small town we are getting some of that genuine getting to know you friendliness and it's nice. Having experienced it does make you more aware of the fake stuff!

MyGirlElena said...

I need your Target employees to come to my Target!
Yesterday I was in Gymboree, just looking at their sale items, when I picked up a dress that was way too small for Elena. The sales clerk immediately tells me that she could order it in Elena's size and shipping would be free and etc, etc, etc!! I burst her bubble by letting her know that I was just looking and had no intention of buying it. So, yes, some sales people could be really annoying, but because I've worked in retail I know it's only because they have a sales goal to meet or might get some sort of commission.
However, there is never an excuse for rudeness. Some of the russian store employees you describe just sound bitter and rude. A smile is free. They can, at least, do that!

Hevel Cohen said...

Why would someone smile if they don't feel like smiling? Unless, of course, they are TV anchormen?

A smile is free in money. A fake smile costs a lot when you realize it's lying to yourself.

Today my brother sighed, "Gosh, I hated living in America!" I knew what exatly he meant. He is autistic, and facial expressions are the only clue he can have in social situations, because he learnt those. When everyone is smiling all the time... yeah, it's kinda hell.

Also something that Americans perceive as rude might not be rude in another culture. In Hungary, for example, constantly smiling at your superior is considered to be weird, and by many, rude.

kate said...

Well, you know we disagree on this point.

The best expression I have of it is from a British friend of mine who was talking to other Brits. She explained that she thought it was ridiculous of Americans to say "have a nice day" at the close of a transaction...until she came here. She then realized it was a genuine, friendly wish. I think, most times, it is.

Remember when Laura was teaching school and boarding with the grim, bitter woman? She came home and told Ma, "I never realized how people telling you good morning really does make it good." (basically--didn't go look it up) I agree.

And, what you felt was dignity I felt, more and more over the years, was annoyance to have to work.

Lauri said...

I really don't mind it. Today a sales associate was making small talk as I was trying to decide on a clutch for a evening event and It was kinda nice. She was not pushing any sale. She and I were the only ones in the store.

I can say that I hate over attentive wait staff.. nothing like just trying to eat or have a conversation and someone keeps asking if everything is ok.

Lauri said...

I hated the Russian rudeness, lack of personal space boundaries & manners... but I have to say that we met many very kind people in Russia.

Milena said...

I see your point and I kind of agree. The reason for not fully agreeing is that I haven't been in the USA since I was a child - so I don't want to have firm opinion about it :-) But over attentive staff is annoying, as is over politeness which leaves me wondering if the person I met really liked and really wished to meet me again over a cup of coffee, or if it was just something she said...... For a Swedish person, that American politeness can be so hard :-)
(Sweden is Russia-light when it comes to politeness!)

Annie said...

Molly and Maria - the trick is to shop early in the day (when all the stock people are doing their thing) - then you won't lack for help!

Hevel, what a fascinating point!

Kate - that particular chapter is the most haunting in all the "Laura Books" (each of which I have read at least twenty times). But, I do consider that Laura's situation was a lot more like Heppner....those folks were REALLY in the same boat! As far as Russia goes, you know better....but I will never forget how straight and tall the grocery checker would sit - and look me in the eye. The people at my local Kroger might as well be in some sort of forced labor for all the life and happiness they exude - but they never forget to tell me to have a "nice day". I want to say - I think mine must be better than yours!, but don't as it wouldn't be kind.

steph said...

When I greet someone or tell them that I hope they have a nice day, I mean it. I assume most others do also. When I was in Ukraine not a soul smiled or greeted anyone. I made it a point to greet the few people I interacted with daily (vegetable stand man, convenience store clerk, waitress at Celentanos, the young mother I passed each day on my daily walk, the babushkas on the bench outside my apartment). At the end of one week each of these people would greet me back and by the end of the second week, they would call out to me when they saw me. The convenience store woman always would grab my preferred bottle of water for me as I entered the store. The day I left Zap, I bid them all farewell. The babushkas sent me off with a bag of fruit, the waitress had learned a few simple English phrases and we practiced our limited knowledge of each other's language with each other. I took my translator with me to tell the woman at the convenience store good-bye and to thank her for her kindness. Her reply was to thank me and to tell me that no one had ever been nice to her before. All that to say while sometimes annoying, I think people, most of the time, genuinely wish to be kind and helpful. I would be sad if our country was as quiet and closed as the countries affected by communism are...

schnitzelbank said...

OK, I've got a comment here! I worked my way through school in the '90s at the Target "guest service" counter (the place for all returns and complaints). When I was hired, we were all sent to watch a corporate video of how to be a good cashier. The rules were to smile, engage in conversation, and make compliments about the purchases. Above all, you are not "customers," you are "guests." Ughhhhh.... it was so ridiculous. The actual training manual for the cash register was all in pictograms. Hieroglyphics! Really a weird training system there. I'm not sure if that's the way it's still done. The folks at Target are all quite surly in Los Angeles. You wouldn't be bothered here!

MyGirlElena said...

Steph said it perfectly! We have to remember that Russians lived under communism for many decades. The joy of living has been sucked out of them. Believe me, you do not want that here. I prefer a tired, forced smile to anger and bitterness.
Be very careful for what you wish for. Look what happened in my parents' homeland (Cuba). You're just gonna have to trust me on this one, Annie, be grateful for the smiles :-)

Rachael said...

I have never encountered this at our Target. Usually just the opposite - if I need help there is no one to be found!

However, Pier One...what might be the ultimate place to just browse and look around - I can hardly stand to go into anymore for all the hovering salepeople. I assume they must work on commission there!

A happy medium would be nice.

The Robins' Nest said...

I had to laugh at your post on the Russian men standing and watching and smoking. What is it with that?!

As far as here in the states, when I was a young woman I used to get offended when I'd go into a nice store and no one would be right behind me offering to help, as if I thought they didn'tt take me seriously as a customer. Now I go into some nice stores and you can't pick an item from a rack without someone asking if I need help, or wanting to take my item and start me a dressing room. I don't want to be rude, but I really just want to look and NO you can't start me a dressing room, can't you wait until I at least have a complete outfit?!

But interestingly, big box stores, like Target or Best Buy, here in Houston you really have to track someone down if you need help, not that customer service is lacking, but they don't go out of their way to be overly attentive, unless ypu're at check out, then they usually will comment on something I'm buying, or say something to my boys.