Weird Things Customers Say

The other day I was rereading the short and memorable book Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores. Always makes me chuckle. If you’ve never heard of this amusing book, it is about book stores - mostly in Edinburgh and London. And the weird things customers have said there, q.v.

More generally, what are the weirdest things customers or clients have said to you?

My wife worked in a tiny food court of two restaurants: one was a halal restaurant and my wife worked at a sandwich place.

One time a woman came up to my wife and asked her “Is the food at this sandwich place halal?” My wife said, no, not necessarily, but customers looking to keep halal would often order a tuna sandwich to be on the (relatively) safe side. The woman gave her a blank look and then replied “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t halal because I’m a Christian and I only eat Christian food.”

‘How many shrimp in a dozen?’ I always had to hold my breathe and assume they thought it was like a baker’s dozen and they’d actually get 13.

I worked at Wal-Mart during the summer breaks between my freshman and sophomore, and sophomore and junior years of college. Generally speaking I liked it well enough, and I tended to like the customers too.

But one guy…

This old man, probably at least in his 70s, approached me and pointed at a sign about 12’ above our heads. “That sign says you always have the lowest prices,” he said, and I nodded. “That’s a goddamn lie.”

Puzzled, I didn’t say anything.

He’d sounded friendly enough, but his tone changed. “Take it down.”

It took me a second to understand he wasn’t joking, and I told him I wasn’t allowed to. so he then began to angrily demand I get a ladder and take it down. I told him I couldn’t, and he wandered off ranting about finding a manager.

I never heard anything about it from management, so I don’t know if he found one to complain to.

Other retailers made similar complaints about Walmart’s “Always” slogan and an industry group did rule that the store should remove them.

Walmart complied and changed the slogan in 1994.

Speaking of weird things customers say in a bookstore, I actually worked in a bookstore for about three years. I had a particularly odd conversation with a customer once who had difficulty grasping that a bookstore is not a library. He appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties and of sound mind, but had just never considered that a person could purchase a book. He looked at me like I was pulling his leg when I explained that he could not “check out” a book and bring it back later, but was welcome to buy a book and keep it.

I always find it bizarre when a customer rants about policies at the employee of some giant corporation; do they not understand that the guy stocking the shelves is probably not the same guy who owns Walmart?

My biggest pet peeve working at the grocery store is when customers ask where a product is, but they refer to it by some name that only they use instead of the actual name of the product, and I practically have to interrogate them to figure out what the hell they’re asking for.


“Boneless olives” for pitted olives
“Regular sauce” for ketchup
“Fries for hot dogs” for potato chips

As the parent of small children, I would charitably assume that their brains have been turned to mush by lack of sleep and all the nonsense names that children come up with for things.

Avocado pits are called huesos (bones) in Mexican Spanish so maybe that?

This person was definitely an Anglo, though. I can understand when people who aren’t WASPs or WASP-adjacent have different names for things (for example, Worcestershire sauce is called “salsa ingles/English sauce” by most Spanish-speakers, which threw me for a loop at first), but by and large the really confusing ones come from Caucasian native-English-speakers who have somehow concocted a name for a common product that exists only in their own head.

Not necessarily weird, but definitely creepy: as a call center worker, I have had male callers quite seriously ask me out. OK, you do not know for sure if I’m female (I am), into men (quite straight), married/engaged/in committed relationship (very married), how old I am, how far away from you I live or anything whatsoever about me as a person. Just how pathetically desperate do you have to BE to do that? No, the friendly customer-service voice is NOT an expression of attraction.

My daily walk took me to a mall with a Borders, which had several inviting-looking easy chairs among the shelves. Each day, I would read several chapters of a best-seller there, then put it back. I read “Kite Runner” and “Thirteen Moons” an “Suttree” at Borders., maybe a few others.

Nobody ever said anything. Yes, I did buy some books there, but not those.

I work in lighting (theatrical, film, television, etc.) and more than once I’ve had this conversation:

Client: Well, can’t you just shoot the light around that corner somehow?
Me: If I could do that, I’d have a very different job title.

In one job I had, my immediate supervisor was a morbidly-obese woman with a lovely phone voice. Once, a customer very insistently came on to her, repeatedly. You should have seen the look on his face when he finally came in and met her.

On a similar level to the people who think the workers are the people in control- I worked in a chain convenience store for a while, and this guy started coming in every day, asking for a specific yoghurt brand. We didn’t stock it, it was pretty obscure.

After about 4 days of this, I asked him why he kept coming in and asking for something he knew we didn’t have, and he told me that if he kept asking, the manager would see there was a demand for it, and order it in. Apparently, in his mind, at the end of the shift, the manager- who spent all day in the back office- would come round and ask the staff on the till if anyone had been asking for things we didn’t have, so he could add them to the next order.

In the end, I got fed up and explained to him that; no-one had mentioned him or his yoghurt to the manager, nor were they likely to do so, and even if they the manager did find out he was after it, this was one little shop in a big chain- if it wasn’t on the ordering system, the manager couldn’t add it to the order.

The stupid thing was, there were a bunch of little independent shops on the road, several of which probably would special order something like that if they could find it available, but no…

It’s been a few years now since I was customer-facing, but one story still sticks out - the couple who were absolutely incensed that we had described them as ‘pensioners’ in a document we’d sent (a perfectly standard word in the UK to describe someone who receives a pension, though admittedly it does have some mildly negative connotations). They actually said to me that it was “equivalent to using the n-word to a black person”. Um, no - it really, really isn’t.

Customer: “You know, in 1955 I could buy that for a quarter!”
Me: “Welcome to the 21st Century. It’s a bit more than that now.”

We also had a woman who would tsk with a horrified expression over our uniform shirts and then go find the store director to complain about how awful it was that the women employees were forced to wear men’s clothing.

She was the same one who would go up to any woman lifting anything heavier than a box of tissue and warn them that lifting “heavy” stuff would damage their “female parts”.

I’ve been doing more work in the back offices this past year so I don’t get this so directly anymore.

In my late teens, I worked for 3M (the people who make scotch tape). This was in Wales, not Minnesota.

There were two of us who, as part of our jobs had to phone a daily order for dry ice (they use it to keep the adhesive cool when mixing it). The woman at the supplier had the really breathy, sexy voice and we often fantasized about what she might look like.

One day I had the chance to go to the supplier to resolve some problem or other and managed to get a look at her. She was quite attractive but old enough to be my grandmother.

"You’re … you’re … JUDY?!?