Please … ‘Say please and thank you’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 8, 2001

The young mother was obviously overwhelmed. Her arms loaded with shopping bags, she reached to stop her scampering preschooler and missed. He dashed over to the earring display; she bent over to collect the spilled contents of her shopping bags.

Her older son wandered nearby, asking what sounded like an unending question about the watches in the display cases. &uot;Which one do you like? What about the blue one? I think Daddy would like this one, don’t you? Can you come look at this one?&uot;

The sales clerks just ignored her. One clerk stood nearby, gossiping with a friend as she rearranged watches inside the display case, occasionally cutting her eyes toward the young family.

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The other clerk stood behind the department store jewelry counter, helping a customer and chatting about the upcoming Christmas holiday.

The mother gathered her preschooler and parked him, with the shopping bags, at the end of the counter. Ten minutes later, when the other customer at the counter walked off, the mother approached the clerk.

&uot;Excuse me. We wanted to look at a watch in that case over there. Could you please help us?&uot;

&uot;No,&uot; the senior clerk replied curtly. &uot;I’m going on my lunch break. You’ll just have to wait for someone else.&uot;

Stunned, the young mother looked around. She spotted the other clerk, helping another customer at the watch display. With preschooler in hand, she walked over to the watches and waited. As the clerk was ringing up the sale, a third customer walked up – an older woman. Within minutes, the clerk turned to the older woman. &uot;Can I help you?&uot;

&uot;Excuse me,&uot; the young mother interrupted harshly. &uot;But we’ve been here for almost 15 minutes and no one will help us.&uot;

The clerk’s stared icily at the young mother. &uot;You just have to wait,&uot; she said.

&uot;But we were here first,&uot; the young mother said, her voice quivering with frustration. &uot;First, you ignored us; then, the clerk at the counter refused to help me, saying she was going on her lunch break. Now she’s helping someone else, and you’re refusing to help me?&uot;

The clerk rolled her eyes at the young family, uttered a &uot;fine,&uot; and marched over to the watches. &uot;Which one do you want?&uot;

&uot;This one, please,&uot; the oldest son said. &uot;Or maybe this one?&uot;

The clerk sighed loudly, handed the watches over and crossed her arms. Within two minutes, the young boys had picked the watch for their father and the mother was at the cash register.

&uot;Look, I’m really sorry,&uot; she said to the clerk. &uot;I shouldn’t have interrupted; it’s just that we’ve been shopping all morning, the boys are tired and hungry and, well, I just felt like no one wanted to help us. I’m sorry.&uot;

&uot;Whatever&uot; the clerk replied.

&uot;Uh, thanks. And, for what it’s worth, have a good holiday,&uot; the mother said meekly.

I wonder what Donald McCollough would think of that scene. The Presbyterian minister and author who wrote &uot;Say Please, Say Thank You,&uot; uses his book to expound on the basic respect we owe each other. He talks about the little opportunities we have each day to build that respect – from saying please and thank you to being prompt (which respects the value of other people’s time. And he drives home the point that respect for others should be a cornerstone of our lives. &uot;With each little expression of thoughtfulness we create something of immense significance – character, both our own and that of others.&uot;

Now, if we could only sell courteousness – and respect – alongside the watches.

Stacy Graning, Democrat editor, can be reached at 445-3539 or via e-mail,