shopping as religionConsumerism is a religion. The one who dies with the most stuff wins. Shopping malls are the temples…

And shopping assistants are increasingly acting like they are the new dispensers of pastoral care:

How are you today?” “Have you had a busy weekend?” (that’s the Protestant/Catholic/Calvinist work-ethic denomination where busy = positive). “What have you been doing this morning?” “What do you have planned for the rest of the day?” etc.

Actually, you read it here first: they don’t really care. The words do not correlate to their dictionary definitions. They are faking it. They are lying.

They certainly do not have the training or the skills to deal appropriately with honest responses to their interrogations. Nor is the environment or the time allocated appropriate.

This just happened to me: I was buying a card at a bookshop. The teenager behind the counter started this grilling of the woman ahead of me in the queue: “What have you been up to today?” She replied with something I did not hear. Perhaps the attendant didn’t either, or perhaps he was distracted finding the bar code to scan. In any case essentially he repeated his question to her in similar words. The woman, apparently thinking this was a genuine request, started with increasing distress to explain in great detail the particulars of the family member whose deathbed she was just away from in order to make this purchase – and so on. It all ended in fumbling embarrassment.

Here’s the thing. If commerce wants to take on the pastoral care dimension of religion alongside plagiarising and abusing our religious language in your advertising, etc. then train your clergy. Otherwise, have shop assistants stick to general politeness and helping people achieve their shopping goals.

Clarification: This is obviously not the fault of the nice young people behind the counter, doing what they are told, trying to be friendly, receiving minimum wages, and following the instructions of those far better remunerated who are training them. This is about reflecting on the appropriateness of customer service training trends.

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