Sunday, October 01, 2006

Small Talk

As a cashier, I tend to make inane small talk – brief, cheerful things that remind you that I’m a human being and assure you that I remember you are one, too. If you have a little kid helping you out, I’ll say hello to him or her (and not take offense if he or she won’t respond. It’s cool; I’m a stranger, after all). If you’re buying dog food, I’ll ask you what kind you have (I’ve tried that with cat food, too, but people tend to look at me funny and say, “Just a cat”). If there was rain earlier, or if I have a sinus headache due to changing fronts, I’ll ask about the weather. If I only have a half hour left in my shift, I may mention that in a conspiratory tone.

Guests tend to either engage or tune out. I’m fine either way. Some start conversations with me; this is usually fine, too.

Except once, when a man asked me if I was a student. “Yes,” I said, because I am.

Where do you go?

And I told him. No harm there.

What year, what are you studying?

I mentioned my grad program.

Oh, where did you go to undergrad?

No harm in that. It’s a local school and it’s not unusual for me to know people in common with the Guests.

Then he asked me about high school. And grade school. And my last name. And my parents' names. And my neighborhood. And what time I was done work.

So, in case he’s reading, or in case any of you, my few and faithful readers, don’t see the problem with this line of inquiry, let me explain:

This is creepy. Even disturbing. How do I know you won’t stalk me, kidnap me after work, or hack into my credit card? Maybe you’re completely innocent. Maybe you really meant well and wanted to make conversation, and as soon as you walked outside, you realized how inappropriate it was.

Fortunately, no harm is done in these situations, other than a mild case of the willies.

See, when questions get too personal… I lie.

Let this be a heads-up to any who ask too many personal questions of their cashiers, and a word of advice to any cashier who gets asked.

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