Q: Please explain how to gently and politely prompt clerks, baristas and others who handle cash to help them focus on the task at hand.
With the spread of computerized cash registers, the mostly young people who handle transactions seem to pay less attention to the actual money in their hands. They wander off, leaving my money on the counter; they chat with their co-workers and punch in the wrong amounts; when the computer tells them that the correct change from a $20 bill to pay for coffee is something and 16 cents, they blandly hand me only the coins.
Is there anything kind and positive I can say that would encourage them to focus on the transaction for the 15 seconds or so that it takes to make my change, or is this a lost cause?
A: Your purpose is to get the barista’s attention quickly without being angry or rude. You should therefore not be looking for kind and positive, but rather startling.
“Oh my goodness! Nineteen dollars and eighty-six cents for a cup of coffee!” delivered in a voice completely scrubbed of sarcasm — but loud enough to turn heads — will accomplish the task. Most service employees at least understand that customers who draw attention need to be dealt with quickly.
You can then be gracious and laugh at your own mistake. Miss Manners of course assumes that $19 for a cup of coffee retains some shock value.
Q: A friend sent a personal email message, asking me to donate to her daughter’s mission trip overseas. A few weeks later at church, we were talking after services, and her daughter came up to us. My friend introduced us by saying, “Sweetheart, this is the lady who donated for your mission trip.”
The daughter didn’t even glance in my direction before saying in an irritated tone, “I don’t have time for this; give me the keys.”
I was shocked. I could tell my friend was embarrassed, so I said I needed to go anyway and left.
Time has gone by, and I have received no apology in any way or even a thank-you. I would like to send my friend and her daughter an email, but don’t quite know how to word it. My husband suggested to kill them with kindness, but I want to let them know just how put off I was by that behavior. Any suggestions?
A: While there is no doubt that you are owed both a thank-you and an apology, your friend is aware of this and her daughter does not care. Aside from the fact that you are not the etiquette police, a note will therefore be ineffective.
Similarly, Miss Manners suggests that an abundance of kindness is unlikely to be fatal, either to your friend or to her daughter’s behavior. Next time you see your friend, say that you are so sorry that the mission trip was not everything your daughter had hoped for. When your friend protests that the trip was a resounding success, explain that you must have misunderstood the daughter’s reaction.
If the mother truly was embarrassed, this will provide an opportunity for her to apologize and offer thanks on her daughter’s behalf.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.