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Miss Conduct

A shopper's wish

Wanting salesclerks to say "thank you,"’ plus donating to religious charities.

By Robin Abrahams
December 19, 2010

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There is a lack of courtesy I find frequently among employees of retail businesses: not saying “thank you” to the customer at the time of a purchase. I feel that this is basic customer service, but many times I am offered only a “here you go” or “have a good one” while they hand me the receipt. I have been making a conscious effort to wait for their “thank you.” If they do not thank me, I am silent. What is your opinion on how to respond if no “thank you” is given?

J.T. / Monroe, Connecticut

I believe salesclerks should say “thank you” to customers. Regardless of whether you are a CEO or at the bottom of the corporate ladder, everyone should recognize that they are, ultimately, working for themselves. Take pride in your work, present a professional appearance, think of yourself as a representative of your organization, treat all customers, clients, and co-workers with respect, and keep a keen eye out for opportunities to take initiative and make your workplace a better one.

Oh, wait. You aren’t a salesclerk asking me for advice on how to survive the holiday season without becoming homicidal, or how to advance in a tough economy when you don’t have much formal education. You’re a customer complaining that salesclerks don’t pay you the proper deference. Right. Well, as the paragraph above indicates, I, too, think that salesclerks ought to thank customers.

However, you are the one who is writing me for advice, so here it is: Imagine being 19 with no college degree, in this economy, trying to pay rent. Imagine being 60 and on your feet all day, attempting to get in as much overtime as you can so you can buy Christmas gifts for your grandkids. Imagine being an immigrant dealing with orders and questions hurled at you all day long in a language you’re only beginning to learn. Imagine the customers who throw their purchases at you while chatting on their cellphones, or scream at you because the store is out of wrapping paper or the new Stephen King anthology.

Then take a deep breath and think about the spirit of the holidays. Have an eggnog with a shot of Kahlua if that helps. And think about what you have to be grateful for, instead of who ought to be grateful to you.

The father of a friend of mine recently passed away. I’d like to make a donation in his memory. Do I have to donate to one of the causes designated by the family, which are all religious charities for the blind (one of his sons is blind)? Their religion is different from mine, and I don’t feel comfortable supporting it. I’d be happy to give to a secular charity that helps the blind. But is that rude? Self-righteous? I want to honor my friend’s dad, but I don’t want to support an organization I don’t believe in. I have polled friends, and people have wildly different opinions.

D.G./Cambridge

Thanks for warning me that I’m going to get hate mail no matter how I answer this one, D.G.! I appreciate the heads-up.

I think you should give to one of the charities listed, once you’ve investigated them. (Doing a little research on any charity is a good idea, to see how much of your money will actually go to help the cause and how much for overhead.) I understand the discomfort with giving to a religious organization that isn’t your own, but if you aren’t supporting indoctrination efforts, it shouldn’t matter. There isn’t some special Catholic or Muslim or Baptist way of helping the blind – religious organizations can do secular good. Also, those of us who are outside a given tradition can help shape it by reinforcing its good works and amplifying its moderate, compassionate voices.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to misconduct@globe.com Blog Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at http://www.boston.com/missconduct. Chat Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.

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