Checkout Guy

During the time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had the odd gripe (usually about myself, and occasionally about the dearth of clothes I can find which actually fit me), but I like to think that largely I’ve been promoting positive vibes. I’ve discussed serious issues – harrowing, even – but with a focus on the positive: someone or something that has inspired or moved me; a rethink of priorities; a counting of blessings.

Today, however, I’m going to have a moan.

Before I do have a moan, I’d like to make it clear that in the 12 years I’ve shopped at my local Tesco, I’ve had very little cause for complaint. Staff have always been friendly and helpful, and sometimes gone the extra mile – for example, the lovely lady who appeared at my side one day at the checkout when I was stressed and exhausted with two kids in tow, smiled a smile that said more than words ever could, and began packing my bags for me. I’m grateful to the patient customer services staff who graciously refund my endless purchases of clothes that don’t fit (“Sorry, too big again”; “No problem, my love”), and to the nice young men who obligingly fetch things down for me from the top shelves.

But yesterday I encountered something really quite horrid.

I had loaded my few items onto the conveyer belt and was waiting for the chap in front of me to finish paying, when a loud squawk erupted from a small child in a trolley at the adjacent checkout. Granted, it was a proper, wince-inducing “yowch” of a squawk, but then it was over. The checkout guy rolled his eyes at the chap in front and said “Just what you need, isn’t it?”

“Hmm, bit mean”, I thought, as chap in front took his bags and departed.

“Bet you’re glad you don’t have a kid like that”, said checkout guy as I approached.

I was flummoxed for a moment, because I’ve always liked this particular checkout guy, with his long hippie hair, easy smile and usually interesting conversation.

“Well I’m going to stick up for the kid”, I said after a pause.

He looked at me incredulously.

“We’ve all been there, haven’t we?” I said, with my best now come on, let’s be nice smile. “I was a toddler once. So were you.”

“I never did that”, he countered flatly. “You should see the things I see in here.”

“Yes, I’m sure”, I replied earnestly. “But that was just a small kid making a loud noise, like small kids do. Most toddlers have tantrums; it’s all part of development, isn’t it?”

“Nope. I never did it”, he said. “It’s the truth”, he added, as it was now my turn to look incredulous. “And neither did my kids.”

I listened, and did my best to reason with him, as checkout guy then proceeded to pass judgement on the parenting of the poor woman at the next till (who, by this time, had left with her child), along with countless other customers who had clearly had the audacity to shop with non-silent children. I dread to think how many times he must have judged me and/or my children over the years, slagging us off without compunction to whoever he was serving a couple of checkouts away.

According to checkout guy, the reason he and none of his children ever had a tantrum or misbehaved even slightly in public is that they “wouldn’t have dared”. “A slap on the back of the legs; that’d do it”, he said. “You should see them in here, kicking off, and the parents do nothing”.

“That lady took her child straight out”, I said, with an attempt at a breezy laugh. “And her kid made one sound!”

He wouldn’t have it, of course. “It all comes down to parenting”, he bulldozed on.

“Well the advice these days is to ignore undesired behaviour”, I countered, even though I was aware it was pointless. “The ‘all attention is good attention’ thing. I feel sorry for young parents these days, doing what they’ve been advised to do and being judged all over the place because of it!”

“Yeah, well the judging never used to happen because kids wouldn’t do that in public”.

I left it there, with him thinking he was right and that he’d convinced me, because the whole thing was leaving a nasty taste in my mouth. I reflected on it, on the way home and afterwards. Yes, I’m sure supermarket staff see a lot of stuff that makes them inwardly wince and roll their eyes. I have no doubt they witness examples of what some, if not most, of us would regard as ‘poor parenting’. And if you’ve been subjected to countless screaming kids all day, I can see why one more shrill shriek could be the final straw.

But, checkout guy:

You don’t slag off your customers to other customers! You just don’t. Especially when it’s a mum and her very little boy who have done no harm to anybody and who probably think, as I’ve always thought, that you’re a Jolly Nice Bloke.

There’s a huge difference between a toddler doing what toddlers do, and an unchecked eight-year-old being a downright brat-fink – and even then, it never does to pass judgement (well OK, not out loud) because you can’t possibly know what learning challenges the eight-year-old may or may not have.

You don’t sit there – at your checkout – passing judgement on an entire generation of parents and their children, especially when you choose to have a job that entails dealing with them all day long and having them believe you’re a Jolly Nice Bloke, and more especially because you have no idea how we parent! There’s no one size fits all when it comes to parenting, just as no two children are alike. We can’t all get on with online shopping (I have tried!) We can’t all leave our kids at home when we go shopping and we can’t always bring them when they’re in the best frame of mind, but deal with that!! (I’m afraid we’re not all going to stop and “give them a slap” mid-way down the frozen food aisle either).

If your children genuinely didn’t have tantrums, then please have the decency to do what other parents in that situation do – i.e. you don’t broadcast it, and you consider yourself lucky rather than priding yourself on your obviously superlative parenting. It’s a bit like toilet training. I stupidly felt pleased with myself when my daughter was dry day and night before she was two and a half … and then it was my son’s turn, and oh my goodness, what a different story that was.

I’ll be avoiding your checkout in future. In fact, I’ll be giving it a very wide berth. But I always like to finish on a positive, so I’ll end with a compliment: for someone who evidently grew up in the Victorian era, you don’t ‘arf age well. I could have sworn you were barely 10 years older than me.

CC The Manager, my local Tesco – to whom I’d like to add that shopping at your store with my three-year-old is generally a pleasant experience, she appreciates the free piece of fruit on offer and enjoys helping me fill the trolley and load items onto the conveyer belt.