How well did I handle this customer?

I work at a hardware store. I was helping a woman select a product. She took one off a shelf to read the features/instructions on the packaging, and said, “I can’t read this. Where’s the English?”
This set off my racism alarm, but I looked at the packaging, and pointed out that it was in French and Spanish, but had the English instructions listed first, in boldface. She then said, “I don’t like that it has Mexican all over it.” Ugh.

At this point, everything I wanted to say would cause my employer to lose a customer. I paused to consider my response, then I continued to advise her until she took the item to Checkout, complaining that it probably wouldn’t do the job, and she’d just have to return it. It was a teaching moment, and I let it pass.

So, how’d I do? How would you handle it, better, or worse? What if you also owned the store? I’m having fantasies where I’m the owner, and can say what I want.

I think Ron White said it best - You can’t fix stupid. I’ve never worked retail, but I’m inclined to think that there’s nothing you can say or do with people like that. Minimize interaction, take their money, send them on their way.

Different story, tho, if another customer or an employee is the target of the stupidity. But complaining about printed instructions? Not worth the aggravation.

“But Mexican is considered one of our most beautiful languages!”

Years ago co-workers and I would occasionally talk to each other in an exaggerated, very bad Irish accent (inspired by the movie “The Commitments”). An older co-worker once commented, “I like when you talk in that Ireland!”


You handled it fine. The bigot wouldn’t have learned anything from whatever you could have said without getting fired. I do the same in the taxi. If people begin talking racist or vaccines or politics, I change the subject or just shut up. It’s my job to drive them, not teaching them tolerance.

Due to you being at work, you can’t really let her have it the way you’d like to, so I see two other options.

First, just stop and stare into her eyes for about 10 solid seconds, without saying anything. Then, say, “Okay, moving on, here are the features you want…” and continue in a professional manner. Sufficiently socially awkward that just maybe she clues in that she might have done something wrong, but no so in-your-face that she can complain to your boss about it.

Second option is to weaopnize her racism. Go into a just-enough-over-the-top fake racist mode yourself. “I understand you, ma’am, but when you hire those illegal Venezuelans from the parking lot to do the actual work you want done, they’ll only be able to read “Mexican”, won’t they? This is just part of the price for being able to exploit their cheap labor!”

@Capn_Carl I think you did fine. That wasn’t the place to fight that battle. It would have been pointless and would not have accomplished anything.

But now I want to hear the fantasy, no-holds-barred, damn-the-torpedoes, unvarnished rant you wanted to lay on her. Fire away!

This is a beaut, BTW: :rofl:

You did the right thing. You were loyal to your employer by ignoring a customer’s stupidity.

If you had said something perhaps “Well, ma’am, the company that makes that product is willing to sell it to anyone who wants to buy it.” would have worked. She would have assumed you meant “…even Mexicans.” when you were really thinking “…even ignorant bigots.”

Your job was to help the customer, and you did your job. As an employee of that store, your job is not to rehabilitate racist/xenophobic customers.

A store owner will never alienate a customer, unless that customer does something egregious that is directly offensive to the owner, the staff, or other customers. It’s generally a business decision (Will this harm my business, or improve it?) or in some cases just human decency and ethics (a customer calls an employee or another customer a racial slur). This IMHO does not rise to that level.

If you were another customer standing there while this exchange happened between a customer and an employee, you would be within your rights to give this idiot a piece of your mind.

You hit on what I was going to suggest. I do like the first idea promoted by @Hortatius, though, with just letting the conversation get a bit awkward. These seem like great responses. The only other one I can think of is repeating that the English part is the part in bold.

But it’s also extremely hard to come up with the right thing to say in the moment. The higher priority in for the OP is not to get mad at her. Not just because it would not be what the employer would want, but because the anger would not have helped.

I’m not sure I would have succeeded as well as the OP. I think I might have been able to bite my tongue (due to social anxiety) but would still come off as angry or be too interested in getting out of the conversation.

I think you did fine. As others have said, you aren’t going to fix her racism while helping her buy a product. And she wasn’t attacking you, or another member of the staff, or a customer.

Sucks to deal with things like that. Good job on holding your tongue.

It’s thise customers that beat the joy out of your job. My spouse worked in a lumber/hardware store. Twas a perfect part time job for a semi retired bloke of all trades. He was often asked to apply for assistant mgr but he wanted no part of that.

He could handle the wack jobs most days until Covid came and pushed the fringe loonies right over the edge. He got death threats and promises of a ass whipping for asking them to mask up. Store paid shit for wages and the last asst manager hired was a Trumper whose vehicle had an assault weapon window sticker and flew both a trump and a confederate flag. Spouse quit stating covid concerns and took the unemployment.

What a drag people are so fucked in the head to spew their shit on innocents.

“The Spanish is only on there to ward off bigots. The manufacturer doesn’t want racists using their product, out of a concern over them being associated with white supremacy. So, by putting just a bit of Spanish on the package, it ensures that members of hate groups don’t buy it.”

And no, don’t actually say that. :slight_smile:

I think the only educational effort I’d make in this circumstance would be to point out that the product manufacturer distributes their products internationally and it would be cost prohibitive to make the boxes specific to each country they sell to. I’d say it slowly while looking down my nose at her.

The customer sounded like “a real piece of work”. Nothing you could have said would have prevented you from being dragged into their chaos tornado.

I think you should have sold her the English only version, explaining that it was a special order, and of course more expensive since it was made in 'Merica.

Tell her that Senora Gonzalez will be happy to help her check out and be sure to pick up her complimentary churro on the way out.

“And I don’t like that you smell like moth balls, but here we are.”

This is one of those times when silence says more than speech. The problem with an over-the-top response is it might be misunderstood by someone else, will fly over her head, plus prolongs an unpleasant conversation.

Me? I’d be tempted to sing the first line from Frijolero under my breath. Yo estoy hasta la madre de que me pongan en sombrero.

That store sounds awesome! I don’t even like home improvement, but I’d be finding excuses to get nails or fixtures every week. Every neighbor would get a new deck.

ETA: On preview, I read that as “Selena Gomez”. Carry on.

This is the funniest thing I’ve read all week.