Borderstan Candids: The Curtain of Silence

by November 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm 1,808 5 Comments

"Borderstan"Candids", Borderstan

Do you make true human contact with the person who hands you your morning coffee or brings your lunch to the table? (Luis Gomez Photos).

Borderstan welcomes a new contributor in the Lifestyle section. In “Borderstan Candids,” Candida Mannozzi will be sharing her observations about people, places and general things she observes in the neighborhood. She owned Candida’s World of Books on 14th Street NW.

From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at [email protected].

Running a small independent shop first really brought this home to me. If you’re serving behind a counter or register, you often become invisible and inaudible to the customer.

You will be expected to ring people up, combine, toss and dress their made-to-order salad, etc. while they’re conversing on their cell phones or with their accompanying friends; credit cards or cash will sometimes be tossed (yes, tossed) across the counter in your direction; the receipt signed or change taken without so much as a glance at you. It’s as if you’ve disappeared behind a curtain of silence, meaningful exchanges happening only among the people on the other side of the counter.

It leaves a bitter taste in the server’s mouth — I know from experience. It’s offensive, and in some extreme instances, the server or cashier will feel degraded.

Borderstanis, you might have seen this, you might have done this, yourselves, at times. Just remember: as a human being, that cashier’s life is just as complex, rich and fascinating as you know yours to be. Now, for the record, most of my customers did not behave in this manner, but the behavior of those odd few stands out and I continue observing it in neighborhood establishments.

I have since made it a particular point to make eye contact with the person serving me behind any counter, register or checkout station. If they ask me how I am, I tell them and ask about them, looking straight at them. It’s amazing to see their startled, often incredulous expression. There is sometimes a bit of a pause, then usually their face breaks into a smile and we may even have time to chat, briefly, until the transaction is done and I can go. I leave having had a pleasant exchange with someone who is also gratified, having been treated like a person, not a soulless robot.

Think about it: it costs you no extra time, you still have to go through the process of having that lunch sandwich made, or being rung up. So why not add a more humane, possibly humorous interaction to what is otherwise a dull routine? Everyone wins.

All this becomes moot, of course, at the self-check-out counters that seem to be popping up more and more. I wonder if they’re being installed, because our in-person exchanges have become so perfunctory and cold?


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