The other day, I had a negative experience. A negative customer, actually.
Not a moody, grumpy, rude, or distant customer. Not the type who was on their phone the whole time or who didn’t say thank you or who shouted at me because we’d run out of their favourite item.
No, I think you’re starting to guess the sort of customer I had.
The sort of person who deliberately, maliciously goes out of their way to hurt others. The sort of customer who is so spiteful and hateful, they take joy from making others miserable.
You may, of course, think I am overreacting. I am sure that it might sound that way to some, because I can’t convey properly tone of voice or facial expression through a recap on a blog post, but I assure you there is no ‘benefit of the doubt’ to be given here.
This (male) customer was incredibly sexist, misogynistic and, frankly, unnecessarily shitty. As a woman, a single comment he made left me feeling degraded, demeaned, insulted and just about every other word you can think of that fits in this theme.
But! This post is not to dwell on the negative event. I do not wish for people to share my impotent rage, my disappointment or loss of faith in humanity. (Which I was certainly feeling, at the time.)
I wanted to share with you what happened after my interaction with this person. How I turned a negative experience into a positive day.
It was hard, believe me. I had to take a few minutes to sit in the office and post a small rant on Facebook, otherwise, I knew I’d never be able to let it go.
My male colleague witnessed it all, his response left much to be desired. After, I called him into the office and explained how the customer had made me feel, how what he (the customer) had said was inappropriate and awful, how it was sexist etc.
The lad looked like a deer in headlights. I didn’t come down hard on him, giving him the benefit of the doubt for being put on the spot. But, I did let him know that if it happened again there were certain ways I expected him to respond, not just as an employee but also as a man who works in a female dominated workplace.
Ignorance is no excuse for sexism. Just as it is no excuse for racism, bigotry or religious persecution. After all, if we don’t educate people when they display ignorance, we have only ourselves to blame for allowing it to continue.
Quiet Sunday, late morning, no other customers, Me, at a till and Male Colleague at other till.
Customer approaches MC and bids him good morning. MC jokes that it’s almost afternoon. The transaction is brief, C takes his receipt, MC bids him farewell.
Me, in a good mood, decides to be friendly, maybe make someone smile if I can, as is my way: ‘You know’ I then joke to C and MC, ‘most people think it’s still morning until mid-afternoon on a Sunday!’ *cheesygigglefriendlysmile*
C pauses. Looks at me almost blankly, calculating for a second. He then turns back to MC, without acknowledging me, and says, almost angrily ‘What is it with Women thinking they can interrupt conversations?’
W T F…
Emphasis entirely his, by the way. MC clearly didn’t sense the tone, as I later discussed with him. He laughed and bid the customer farewell in a friendly manner. I, on the other hand, had frozen a fake smile on my face and walked to the back of the shop as quickly as I could.
Once out of sight of customers I felt the humiliation rising in the blush on my cheeks, I felt the rage and ‘How DARE he’ boiling in my veins. I felt that awful feeling anyone who has been on the receiving end of sexism, racism, bigotry and such has felt. That sudden, ridiculous feeling that you are somehow ‘lesser’ because of your race/sexuality/genitals.
How could a friendly, jovial comment be greeted with such open hostility and a cruel, demeaning tone? Even if he didn’t find it funny, all he had to do was LEAVE. Why did he have to go out of his way to stop, and put me down for daring to speak? Why did he have to be so deliberately, unnecessarily rude?
It was seriously difficult for me to even type it. Even doing so I feel humiliated. A few stupid words! Words that might have gone over some people’s heads or seemed like a joke to others.
No. Paired with the tone of voice and the facial expression, that was no joke. That was a very deliberate, calculated attempt to ‘put me in my place’ because, clearly, a woman daring to speak, let alone make friendly conversation, is a crime.
In my facebook post at the time, I put ‘I don’t understand. I just don’t understand how people can do that sort of thing, attack others for no reason, put others down for no reason.’ But sadly, I think I do understand.
Some people are so hateful and spiteful and insecure that the only thing that makes them feel better is making others feel worse. The only thing that makes them feel powerful is making others feel weak.
Some people are so blinded by hate they will take any opportunity to strike at those they despise. In this case, clearly, it was women this misogynist targeted. Unfortunately, I was the representative.
However, I was going to tell you about the positivity that came from this negativity, wasn’t I?
This post is not supposed to make you angry or sad, but to show you how easily the negative words of a hateful misogynist can be turned around. Turned, if you will, into a tool to drive determination, positivity, and good old fashioned Girl Power.
I am lucky I had started the day in such a good mood. Years ago, Hell, even a few months ago, during one of my depressive episodes, this would have ruined my whole day.
This day, I was able to let it go and turn it all around.
I was furious for about twenty minutes, then I made the choice to let go of that feeling. I became determined. They say ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, right? Well a woman insulted is just as bad.
So I determined that I would not give this awful man power over me. I would not allow his words to affect or ruin my day. In fact, I would counteract them!
I decided I would spread positivity, instead of negativity and I turned the experience into a mission!
As someone working in a busy coffee shop/café who would spend a good portion of the day around the tills serving customers, this was easy.
It just so happened that I got my chance as soon as I came back to the front of the shop from my little break, and my chance changed everything.
Three women in a row came to my till during a quiet spell. Each woman came up to me with the same demeanor. Distracted, polite but disconnected, not particularly focused on the world around them. Each one looked a little tired or busy, one even looked pretty slumped, probably from stress although I can’t say for sure.
What happened next was beautiful.
The first woman had stunning makeup. Very natural but professional looking. I complimented her on it and how professional it looked. I told her how gorgeous she looked today.
Her smile was radiant. She grinned so wide and laughed, thanking me profusely! She seemed almost in shock as she walked off, clearly not having expected a compliment. She collected her coffee still smiling and walked out of the shop with her head held high, not looking down at the ground like when she had entered.
That’s when the next woman approached. She had glossy hair up in a messy ponytail, it looked lovely and wavy. I told her she had the most lovely hair and I really admired the way it looked styled.
She seemed almost taken aback. She laughed and told me she just throws it up without brushing some days. I recognised my own tendency to reply to a compliment with something self-deprecating, so I made sure to reiterate that I thought it looked lovely. She thanked me again and left smiling shyly, looking a little more relaxed.
The third woman approached then. I was thrilled, her outfit was lovely, I could give yet another person a compliment already! I made sure to tell her I loved her top, which had a fashionable sleeve design that I have always admired.
She thanked me and told me where she had bought it. We talked a little about what we liked about that design then she thanked me again and left. I noticed, without a doubt, that her shoulders were more relaxed and her back straighter leaving than walking in.
The power of a few words, kind or cruel, is phenomenal.
The affect that man had on me could have ruined my day and in turn, I would have never noticed these women. (And the others I complimented later!)
Because I was able to turn my experience around, it had a ripple effect. Those three women walked out of my store feeling better about themselves! More confident, more relaxed, even if it only lasted a moment.
I will never know, but if that feeling stayed with them, just think how many people they may have complimented in turn! Just think of all the positivity we were able to spread!
It only takes a second to tell someone they have nice makeup, or hair, or clothes. It cost me nothing and took no effort. But it’s possible that I made someone’s whole day, or they made some else’s, in turn. Isn’t that worth it?
I am going to try to hold this lesson in my mind every time I go to work from now on. I’m going to try to remember that day whenever I go to the supermarket or a baby group. I am going to try, no matter what, to spread positivity even with just a kind word or two, every chance I get. I am going to let my sons see me do this and teach them to do it too.
Because honestly? I’d rather live in a world where people build each other up, instead of tearing each other down.