This blog is really a rant. You’ve been warned — especially those who might take it personally when it is not meant that way.
Yesterday I went to the grocery store. Going shopping is always a big energy drain for me. Sometimes I am lucky and a functional fully-charged cart is available. Even so, with the size of the stores, I drive up and down aisles, trying to fit into narrow spaces, avoid running over random individuals, as I dodge children who want to push the button located on the milk aisle that makes the fake cow moo, laugh, return to their parents, and then run back to do it again. The items I want always seem to be stocked on the top shelves, necessitating getting in and out of the electric vehicle. I try to be a good citizen: smiling at those who greet me and answering politely, using my manners when I drive around someone, and waiting patiently when I cannot get past. This trip began no differently.
Finally after dodging, stopping and starting, and adding two miles to the cart, I had everything on the list. Forward to waiting in line as we inched towards the check-out counter. Eventually, the purchases of the older man in front of me had moved down the conveyor belt, and room materialized for my items. (I can call him “older” since he seemed to be around my age.) Unfortunately, I could not reach the divider due to where he was standing.
I said, “Excuse me.”
The older white man did not react. I said a bit louder: “Excuse me.”
He continued ignoring me. Perhaps he is hard of hearing, I thought. So I said even louder, “Excuse me.”
Finally, he turned.
“I didn’t want to bump you” — he interrupted me.
He said, “I don’t want to bump her,” gesturing to the woman in front of him.
Me: “I understand; I was trying to say that I cannot reach the divider, and didn’t want to bump you trying to reach it. Could you help me?”
He harrumphed and turned his back on me.
No, really, the sound he made can only be described as harrumphing.
The cashier, being an aware person who had probably seen similar interactions many times, pushed the row of dividers to where I could reach one.
“Never mind,” I said to OWM’s back, “she helped me.” Of course, he did not acknowledge my words. Looking at the cashier, I thanked her.
Forward again a few minutes: it’s my turn at the register. During the check-out, I asked the cashier if I could get help out to the car. Just then, a young man came over and said, “Let me help you with that,” and began bagging groceries and putting them into my cart. I thanked him.
As he continued bagging, the cashier asked him if he would help me take the groceries out to my car. He said “yes” and then promptly walked away and began bagging groceries in the next lane. To give the full story, he had finished bagging my groceries. However, I was a bit flabbergasted that he said he would help and then walked away, not to get a coat, but to start another task.
With surprise on her face, the cashier in my line stopped to watch him. I turned to do that too. After a bit, I asked him, “Are you still going to help me with my groceries?”
He said, “Yes.” Then he stopped bagging and stood there looking at me. Everything stopped in both lines as both cashiers observed him. He and I stared at each other for a minute in silence.
Just to be clear, this was a young white man, well-dressed, and undoubtedly a college student (since most of the employees are) who appeared to have normal verbal and cognitive skills. Remember he had spoken politely and clearly earlier when he first came over.
Him: “Oh, did you mean now?”
Of course, being a well-behaved older person — all right, all right, I’m not always well-behaved, but I try to reach that standard in public — I responded, “Yes, please.”
Although I am sure my teeth were gritted, I was pleased with myself that I managed such a polite answer.
Him: “Oh, I guess I can help you.” With that, he left the remainder of the neighboring line’s groceries on the counter and began slowly walking towards the door.
Quickly realizing I’d better follow, my cart piled high with groceries, I headed out to the car as he wandered towards the door. When I arrived at the car, I opened the trunk, and he lifted the trunk lid higher. I used my cane to get out of the cart and put the bread in the front seat so it wouldn’t get smashed in the trunk. After doing that, I turned around to see how things were going. I noticed the cart was full of bags of groceries, and he was simply standing there once again staring at me.
Me: “Is there a problem?”
He pointed to the trunk. He didn’t say a word.
I walked back to see what he was pointing at and saw that there was a sleeping bag in the trunk.
Now, the trunk of my car is big enough that mobsters could easily stack four or five of the proverbial bodies in there comfortably. So the sleeping bag was surrounded by half an acre of empty space.
I looked at him and said, “It’s a sleeping bag; it’s fine, go ahead, the groceries won’t hurt it.”
Silently, he began loading the bags into the trunk. I won’t bore you with the rest.
Perhaps you see a pattern here.
Apparently there is a contingent of our society that thinks it is fine to grunt or gesture instead of using words to communicate. Perhaps they believe it is better to turn away and ignore a stranger in the hopes that they won’t be required to continue the interaction?
Evidently some of those same uncommunicative people think it is fine to say they will do something and then walk away. Could it be when faced with a task that they don’t want to do, they become nonverbal? Am I expected to tell them “never mind” because they do that?
What happened to talking as a way to solve problems? Is communication supposed to be considered unnecessary? Does no one remember that polite comments help in social settings?
Fair warning, world, I’ll just keep on expecting a two-way conversation from all verbal adults. For now, I’m going to drink some tea (possibly with a little medicinal addition). Maybe one of you dear readers will come up with a better solution to this problem.