Thursday, May 15, 2008
I Miss My Van De Kamps Lady
I grew up in the 1960's, at a time when women still had modesty and men held open doors for them. I loved going to the grocery store with my mom, the Alpha Beta Market, in North Hollywood, California. We would walk the isles and I would watch my mom scan her list, written in her perfect script on the back of an envelope which had once held a letter. When she went up to the butcher counter, the man behind the counter would smile and say "hi" and hand cut her meat while she waited, all the while carrying on a friendly conversation. There was no pre-packed and close to expiration date meat, the ones we find these days that look like the losing team's baton in an Olympic race, handled by too many people and never finding it's way to the finish line. The best part of the shopping trip came when we would head over to the Van De Kamps bakery counter, where a smiling lady in full Dutch regalia, down to her clogs, would hail us over with a sample cookie for me. I would press my nose to the glass and look at all the wonderful and mouth watering treats, and together my mom and I would pick out our cookies and dessert for the week, as well as our fresh dutch crunch bread. When it came time to check out, my mom would gently place our items on the conveyor belt, while holding a conversation with the checker, one of the many who mom was friendly with, just because they knew her from shopping. I would watch the items float by me as they were rung up , and I would find my heart racing as I watched the Blue Chip stamps making their way out of the cash register. Those cashiers would always make a point of handing me the stamps with a small bow and a chuckle, they knew I was the keeper of the stamps in my family. And the most amazing part was that when I finished counting my stamps and turned around, our groceries were in bags and ready to go and a kid, not much older than me, would be waiting with a smile and a "which way Mam" for my mother. You see he would push the cart to our car and help my mother put the bags in the back of our station wagon. This was the way it was "back in the day", this was normal expected service received at any retail store. Employees were courteous and the customer was always right. When I grew up and became a mom, i taught my kids "please" and "thank you" and the basic Golden Rule "treat others as you want to be treated." I told them that no matter who you are talking to you treat them with respect and compassion, as we are all human beings and children of God. I am proud to say, without hesitation, that my kids to this day always say "please" and "thank you" and they treat everyone as if they are family or friend. But now I wonder if I have done them a disservice, you see not every person has been taught this, and in fact many people these days are quite the opposite. They have grievances and frustrations and they were never taught to treat others with respect. The consumer is no longer the customer, just a bottom line. And the employee is no longer serving anyone anything but attitude. I ask myself, is it me? And I started asking my friends, and I began to hear the same thoughts and some really sad stories about just plain rude retail sales people. Is it that we are all so jaded by the events unfolding in our world or have we just become immune to the feelings of others. Are we in such a place that we put political correctness before plain old common courtesy? I just know that for me to pay the prices that I am paying for my weekly food and groceries, I am not getting service in return. I am tired of squashed bread and bananas, and dented cans, and watching my groceries being tossed to the other side of the conveyor belt. I am tired of paying 25 cents for a cart only to find that halfway through my shopping trip it has a bum wheel and will no longer move in any direction but right. But mostly, I am sad, sad to see that my kids don't know anything different, because for them ours has been a declining society, one in which they are a bottom line and a net sale, a blip on the NYSE. I miss the old days, and I miss the old ways, and I miss being treated like the customer and not like the interruption in a grocery checkers conversation, or a deli person's story about his latest conquest. I don't want to feel like I have to wash my hands as soon as I get home from the grocery store before I handle our food, because the store itself is so dirty. I don't want to have to feel uncomfortable asking for help when I can't find an item, or a nuisance when I am in need of service, which "excuse me" is what your getting paid for. I don't want to have to feel like I need to watch my attitude for correctness, when all I want is service. I don't care who you are or what you look like I will treat you with respect, but please do the same to me. I am a person too and I am giving away our hard earned money because, well basically, we have to eat. I have to add here that I am talking about both Costco and Stop and Shop, two stores riddled with a lack of service and an abundance of attitude, to me the two biggest offenders. And these are the days where I feel like I missed my time, I am truly a woman of a past era, one with doors held open and chairs pulled out for me. Where I am safe and comfortable and where I feel like I am the customer and I am right. I miss my Van De Kamp's lady, I want her back, and a cookie couldn't hurt.