Is it just me? Is anyone else tired of being interrupted with a demanding “excuse me” at the most inappropriate times? It doesn’t matter what you are doing – whether on the phone, in a personal conversation, or concentrating on your work — some inconsiderate klutz who can’t wait until you finish what you are doing will butt in with “excuse me” and woe be unto you if you ignore the intruder or take offense at the interruption. The words “excuse me” are now the politically correct and socially acceptable means to engage in a feigned civility that used to be called rudeness.
I recall an incident at the pharmacy when I was on the phone taking a prescription from a doctor. As he was giving lengthy and somewhat complicated instructions to be placed on the label, I heard a Voice at the counter.
“Excuse me?” queried the Voice. It had a demanding edge to it, but that’s okay. After all, the Voice did say the words “excuse me.”
Choosing to stay focused on what the doctor was saying I ignored the Voice — but not for long. Two seconds later I heard it again.
“Ex-cuse me?” the Voice persisted, louder and more strident. But again, that’s okay. After all, the Voice did intone the sacred words “excuse me.”
At about that time the doctor had changed his mind about how he wanted the patient to take the medicine. “Change that to 1/2 in the morning; 1 at noon and 2 at dinner on day one. Skip a day and on day three …” Trying to listen to the doctor and trying to hush the Voice at the same time, I smiled, made eye contact with the Voice and put up my hand to indicate he had been heard. That was a mistake because the Voice took it as a signal to be even more aggressive.
” EX-CUSE ME”, persisted the agitated Voice. “I just want to know where you keep your condoms!” I asked the doctor if he would excuse me for a moment, placed my hand over the mouthpiece and said to the Voice, “Excuse me, I’ll help you as soon as I can.” I then took the phone to a corner where I concluded my conversation with the doctor.
The Voice remained stationed at the counter.
Upon approaching the Voice to assist him, he blurted out, “Lady, you are a bitch. All I want to know is where you keep your condoms.” The tone was as demanding as a holdup in progress, like “give me all your money or I’ll shoot.” I’d say this was not okay behavior on his part as he did not preface his uncouth remark with “excuse me.”
“Excuse me?” I replied, “condoms are in a locked case on aisle five. (Yes, in the “olden days” they were kept locked up) I’ll be happy to call for a key.” Which I did – promptly. I announced over the loudspeaker, “We need a key for the condom case on aisle five, customer waiting,” The keeper of the key who was also the store manager was slow in arriving, so I called again. “Customer waiting for condoms on aisle five!”
“You’re rude. You are trying to embarrass me,” the Voice snarled. I’m going to report you to the manager.”
“Excuse me,” I replied, “He has the key so when he gets here you can report me.” Two minutes later the manager appeared. The Voice chewed out the manager for making him wait and complained about my demeanor. After the Voice left with this treasure from our very own Fort Knox, the manager called me aside.
“Excuse me, Barbara, the customer said you were nasty. What’s going on?”
“Excuse me, he didn’t say I was nasty — just rude.”
“So why were you rude?”
“Excuse me, I wasn’t rude.”
“Excuse me, Madam Pharmacist, the manager curtly countered, you must have been rude or he wouldn’t have complained.” (The customer is never wrong.) After a little more no-win repartee, the manager left shaking his head.
The title of a play I had seen many years ago suddenly popped into my head: “Stop The World I Want To Get Off.” As I thought about how to stop the world long enough to jettison the manager, the Voice and the condoms into outer space, I heard another voice.
“Excuse me, where are your restrooms?” “Public restrooms are at the back of the store. Just go through the double doors and turn left. Be careful not to fall into the pit of snakes right inside the restroom door. And the condoms are on aisle five.”
“Excuse me, you’re being rude, aren’t you?” queried the Person, obviously taking care not to outright accuse me of being rude.
I admit I failed to preface my reply to her question with “excuse me.” I quickly reconsidered my social sin of omission and began a more thoughtful response with the correct penitential words.
“Excuse me, I’m just trying to be helpful, to anticipate your needs.”
“What a totally weird and rude person you are! I’m going to report you to the manager. What is her name and where is she?”
“Well, excuse me!” I replied defensively. “The manager’s name is George and she just left on vacation.”
Dealing with impatient customers is not easy. You have to learn how the hard way – with a smile. Customer service experts who write books and are paid big bucks for their expertise apparently never worked in retail pharmacy.