Button, Button

I’m new here.
Thank you for your patience.

It’s the 2014/2015 winter and the button on the clerk’s t-shirt—a button big enough and bold enough to be visible from well back—catches my attention as I push my cart up to the checkout in Gilbert, Arizona, which I just now realized has the same number of syllables as Gary, Indiana. Is that cool, or what? Ron Howard, you were such a cute little kid.

I’m in one of those American grocery stores that don’t sound like such to my Canadian ears: Albertsons, Bashas’, Fry’s, Trader Joe’s. Why can’t they use sensible, obvious names for grocery stores? You know, like Sobeys, Metro, Safeway, and Loblaw(s).  (And why is Albertsons the only one not using an apostrophe?  Is it a trick?)  Let’s not even get started on their drugstores. CVS? Walgreens? Are they trying to hide their stores in plain sight?  

But I digress. At least twice. Writing is better than talking for this reason alone: When I lose the thread of what I was saying, I can look back up the page. (Feel free to use this helpful tip yourself.) Buttons, yeah, that’s it.

I’m new here.
Thank you for your patience.

As I unload my cart, I wonder why it always irritates me to be thanked for my patience when I’m in line: on hold for a service desk that, nevertheless, really appreciates my business, for example. Maybe it’s the assumption about what I’m feeling; maybe it’s the presumption involved in telling me what to feel; maybe it’s because almost anything comes more easily to me than patience.

Of course, this button is not really telling me what to feel: it’s telling me not to be a jerk. Fair enough.

So I move on to wondering idly whether I can get people to be patient with me, too, if I wear a similar button. Spending Canadian winters in American springs/summers/falls or whatever the heck season it is right here right now, I feel like a perpetual newcomer. Here and at home, now I come to think of it, which reminds me of a smaller-than-a-quarter and cute-as-a-button button I had in the 1980s and which is now, sadly, gone.

Facsimile of button from 1980s: Just visiting this planet.

The green is off, I think, but you get the idea.

 

But then I move up to the official place for making illegible signatures and see the other, smaller, button on the cashier’s shirt.

In Training

Now I’m puzzled. Why do they need two buttons to announce this kid’s neophyte state? What – the “In Training” one wasn’t enough to elicit patience from customers? Actually, OK, having stood in several slow-moving lines at grocery stores, I can believe that. So why didn’t they just ditch that button and replace it with the other?

After a few decades in and around corporate communications, I find that just a moment’s reflection suffices. Aha! There are two communications occurring here.

One is aimed at eliciting patience with this hapless cashier: “Come on! Have a heart! The kid is new.”

The other is aimed at eliciting patience with the corporation: “Slow and awkward though the kid may be, he has not just been thrust unprepared onto the frontlines of customer service, abandoned to the ravenous and likely ravening hordes, no matter how much it looks like it.  Would we do a thing like that?  No, this cashier is not merely New Here.  Au contraire, he is Being Trained.”

I guess the plain-language, full-disclosure button wouldn’t have quite the desired effect on either communication front.

Acceding to your desire for low prices,
we’re keeping our costs down
by skimping on training,

and imposing on your patience
instead of your cash.

It kinda also means imposing on employees
who, frankly, don’t have many other options,
not that that’s our fault really
or yours either
or even theirs, necessarily,

but we hope you’ll be nicer to them
than we can afford to be.
OK?

But think how big. Think how bold.

 

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14 Comments

Filed under Language and Communication

14 Responses to Button, Button

  1. Jim Taylor

    Ah, yes, digressions. And asides. I love asides. Remember when you could buy a side of beef? But I digress. Perhaps I need a button that says, “I digress.” In sermons and political speeches, I sometimes find the most interesting stuff shows up in the unscripted asides. As opposed to the scripted ones. Which aren’t really asides. Which makes them, what, centres? Oops, digressed again.
    Jim

    • Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Maybe we speak more honestly, directly, and to the point when we go off script, when we’re thinking about the thing itself rather than how we come across? I read an article on direct writing in Toastmaster’s magazine that referenced Haldeman’s (I think) memo when the Watergate crisis really took hold: “What the hell do we do now?”

  2. Last statement LOL. 😀
    We are told society & civilization would fall apart if everybody was “just honest” — disarmed, perhaps, charmed, perhaps, amused, certainly, shocked — no.
    You can’t shock me — I’m in that age bracket. But I can still be surprised and curious, I hope.

    • Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Maybe we should start a button business . . .

      • John always wanted to make a T-shirt that said, “We are They.”

        • Isabel Gibson

          Barbara – Pogo got there, too: We have met the enemy and he is us.

          • Jim Taylor

            Ain’t it int’restin’ how the language rules bend to suit the context? Grammarians insist that the verb “to be” — essentially, an equals sign — demands the same case before and after. Thus, “It is I” not “It’s me.” But Pogo’s inimitable saying would never have lasted if he had said “…and he is we.”
            Incidentally, can you imagine the fun Walt Kelly or Al Capp would have had with the current state of the U.S.?
            Jim T

          • Isabel Gibson

            Jim T – As I understand it, there are two levels/types of grammar: descriptive and prescriptive. The former is a language’s internal structure – things like the order of subject, verb, object. Native speakers don’t break these rules (well, rarely, and only for effect). The other level of grammar is the picky and sometimes picayune level of “proper” speech/writing – things like the equivalence requirement of the verb “to be” and the (now long discredited) rule about not splitting an infinitive. Like most prescriptions, they evolve through time and are best taken lightly. Spanish has two verbs to describe language facility – to speak a language or to dominate it (Alice in Wonderland, anyone? Who will be master, indeed!). As an English dominatrix, as it were, I figure I have carte blanche to play. As did Kelly and Capp, I expect.

  3. Jackie

    Fry’s is an electronics store–at least ’round these parts. As for conjuring images of what each store sells, how in creation does Tim Hortons (no apostrophe) say “doughnuts” to you Canucks? Sigh…the Great Language Barrier with the Great White North.

    • Isabel Gibson

      Jackie – Yes, one of the oddest thing about travelling is finding how much the grocery chains change, both north/south and east/west. I guess eventually they’ll all be part of one grocery behemoth, with some helpful name like “Freds” with an optional apostrophe.

  4. Jackie

    Reference to Gary, Indiana, has “The Music Man” soundtrack in my head now. I will not soon shake that 🙁

  5. Jackie

    The typical American’s attention span would not suffice for such a wordy (albeit truthful) button as you ultimately propose. I do like the “Just Visiting This Planet” one; have I seen that on babies’ T-shirts? They do often seem (and look?) like they’re from outer space.
    Apropos of nothing (hey, you’ve implicitly sanctioned digressions), the McD down the street is hiring for $9/hr, while the In-n-Out Burger only 2 miles farther away is paying $12/hr. Perhaps there are pithy buttons to be fashioned for Ronald’s near-slaves… (“Pay me something approaching a living wage or I’m In-n-Out of here”?)

    • Isabel Gibson

      Jackie – We have yet to eat at an In-n-Out Burger, although we once ate at a Sit & Eat, in Toronto. I bet you could sell those buttons – although maybe not very many.