As something a little different this month (and to kick off 2019 in style!), I’m not going down the usual route of showcasing bloggers and vloggers’ posts and videos.
Instead I’m going to tell you about a little shopping experience that happened to me a few years ago. I wrote about it on the blog when it happened and it got quite a few comments, so I’d love to recount it here…
One Saturday morning I headed into town and popped into Bonmarché. It’s not somewhere that I frequent that often, but I have to admit, being just 5ft 1” means that I can’t always be picky about where I choose to buy trousers that fit me.
So occasionally, I’ll pop in to see what they’ve got in store. And because I’ve previously shopped in there I’m privy to their customer loyalty scheme, whereby I can earn stamps and receive discounts for being loyal.
The plastic that caused the problem
So, loyalty card in hand, I picked the jeans that I wanted and headed to the till. The young girl (she couldn’t have been older than 23) asked me if I had a loyalty card and I handed it over.
After a few moments of tapping at the till with her ridiculously long fingernails, a frown came across her face. I could feel a ‘computer says no’ moment coming on.
“Er…it’s not accepting your card, so you’ll have to apply for a new one.”
“Oh…that’s odd”, I replied “It’s worked before.”
“Mmmh. I’m not sure why it’s not working. Have you shopped in here lately?”
Admittedly, I hadn’t been into the shop for at least six months, possibly 9 or 10 months, but if I could avoid having to go through the hassle of filling out a long form to get a new card, I was going to try.
“It must only be a few months since I’ve been in…” I muttered.
Time passed and feet started to shuffle in the queue behind me. I waited patiently.
After what seemed like 5 minutes, but was probably just a matter of seconds, Fingernails exclaimed: “No, sorry it’s going to have to be a new card!” and promptly whipped a promotional loyalty card leaflet out of thin air for me to take. “Can I take your name please?”
“Yes, it’s Lauretta Wright” I replied, spelling it for her.
“And your title…. (and here came the killer line) – “Are you a Miss or Mrs?”
Why the title?
Now, if truth be told, I have a bit of a bugbear stating whether or not I’m a ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. I just find it totally irrelevant why others would want to know my marital status to buy some jeans.
So when I’m faced with questions like this when I’m form filling, I’ll always tick the ‘Ms’ box. However, the cashier didn’t give me the option of ‘Ms’. She assumed that I would be okay with choosing between Miss and Mrs. And I wasn’t.
What’s unfair is that the same rule doesn’t apply to me. Can you imagine?
“Ah, yes Sir, the purple tie looks great on you…. You’d like a loyalty card you say? Of course!…Right then, first question, are you married or not married?”
I digress. Going back to my own conversation with Fingernails…
“Miss or Mrs?” she asked.
“Do I have to specify?” I asked her boldly. I wouldn’t normally take a stance on this seemingly trivial matter, but she had irked me slightly with her assumption.
By this point I think she had clocked that I was being (what she would probably describe as) awkward, and quickly responded “No, of course not, that’s fine.”
“Whatever happened to Ms?” I silently asked her. “Do you know what Ms is? Didn’t they teach you that in sixth form or college?”
Now it’s getting awkward
Fingernails continued to tap at the till and the tapping began to grate on me. More foot shuffling went on behind me and I heard someone tut. By this time other cashiers had stopped what they were doing and were starting to look over.
Ordinarily, this is the time when I would have given up and just said, “Look, it’s Mrs”. But for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to say it, so I kept quiet.
And then, just as I was wondering how she managed to wipe her backside with those nails she said: “No, sorry, the system says I have to input a title.”
I was right all along – the computer was saying ‘No!’
She looked at me expectedly and raised her eyebrows. I didn’t like the look.
“So, is it Miss or Mrs?” she said, a little too abruptly. From the look she was giving me, I guessed that she was silently cursing me. I could feel eyes on me, wondering what I’d say after keeping everyone waiting for so long.
I felt my cheeks starting to burn…it looked like I had lost the battle. “But not the war” I told myself, straightening up and looking Fingernails squarely in the eye.
“It’s neither”, I replied curtly. “It’s doctor.” I paused for effect. “Doctor Wright” I said a little too loudly, but I wanted the people behind me to hear why I wasn’t accepting ‘Ms or Mrs’. I wanted them to think that I had worked for donkey’s years to get a GP licence or a PhD.
I once read that in order to fool someone into believing that you were telling the truth, you needed to look them square in the eye and not break eye contact. This is one of the few times when I silently congratulated myself on acting the part. In fact, had I been in the movies right now, I was sure I’d be in the running for an Oscar.
And those two little words “Dr Wright” has somehow transformed Bonmarche into a flurry of activity within a matter of seconds.
Fingernails apologised profusely. The people waiting in line forgave me and I was presented with a new card and my new jeans in a carrier bag (without being charged the plastic bag fee) within a matter of seconds. And that was that.
It was like watching ‘flies around crap’ (as my mother would say), except this time I wasn’t a turd; I was Dr Wright and I commanded authority. And boy did it feel GOOD when they respected me.
As I walked out of the shop with a spring in my step, I felt smug. I would allow myself to feel guilty later I told myself. But for now I’m going to enjoy the feeling of victory.
And now, every time I receive a letter through the post from Bonmarche addressed to ‘Dr Wright’, I smile to myself and remember Fingernails’ learning lesson that day. NEVER MAKE ASSUMPTIONS despite appearances. You just never know who you’re taking to.