Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Please look at me

When my family needs something from a pharmacy, we take a walk to a nearby chain store. For the past seven years, this store has been our go-to location for diapers, formula, makeup, prescriptions and countless other things.

There is a cashier in this store who has been on duty almost every time I've been in the store. But I've never seen her eyes. This woman and I have been through countless transactions together. She has seen my kids grow. She knows what kind of mascara I like. She is aware of the various ailments that have plagued my family over the last half-decade. But she has never looked at me.

She has somehow managed to conduct every single transaction without facing me, looking at me directly or saying anything other than the minimum of words that are required. She has never smiled, made small talk or even said "thank you".

I find myself wondering about her life story. Is she depressed? Is she preoccupied or tired? Does she hate her job? Does she dislike the customers? What is she like when she is with her friends or family? Is she different away from work? Is she secretly a happy person who just doesn't feel the need to connect with strangers? How can she make it through an eight-hour shift without looking at anyone?

The sad thing is, she is not alone. Everyday we encounter service people, cashiers, customer service reps, etc. who manage to do what is required of them - process a return, get coffee, deliver a pizza - without acknowledging the human being on the other side of the counter. I find this situation really unnerving. Maybe I'm insecure but I long for acknowledgement and eye contact. Pleasantries do not need to be exchanged. Small talk need not be included. I can even (sadly) live without a 'thank you' but please, please, for the sake of civility, can you at least look at me?

According to body language experts, eye contact (or lack thereof) is the most important signal we can send each other and indeed when I did a google search on "the importance of eye contact", most of the entries that came up first, pertained to dating advice for men. But perhaps my frustration has cultural roots. If eye contact means different things in different cultures, perhaps I am just experiencing the diaspora that is Toronto. In North America and Western Europe, eye contact is not only considered proper and polite, but it is also a sign of self-confidence. Other cultures seem to have stricter rules when it comes to eye contact, especially within religious or hierarchical parameters.

So, I haven't uncovered the secret of my local pharmacy's behaviour - prolongued unhappiness, general indifference to others, cultural programming - but it still makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't know about you but when I'm spending money, I find it nice to be acknowledged.

No comments:

Post a Comment