Overheard on CNN.com: Do I have to talk to grocery clerks?
May 28th, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Do I have to talk to grocery clerks?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Smart phones, Facebook, Twitter and text messages give people the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere at anytime? But what about the person right in front of you.

Psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle says technology is giving users companionship without the demands of a relationship. Her essay has generated an interesting etiquette debate.

We expect more from technology and less from each other

Many said acknowledging someone who's helping you is just the right thing to do, while other CNN.com commenters thought making small talk was pointless.

JustinAT88 says "I hate it when store clerks talk to me. 'Hi how are you today?' Like they care, they get paid $7.25 an hour. I'd much rather prefer someone who doesn't give two craps and just rings me out with the quickness. No small talk, no nothing. It annoys me, you are not happy and cheerful at $7.25 an hour working at a store, you're just not."

Lexagon agreed, saying "so, in the example given, the person should forgo communicating with people with whom she has a personal relationship to trade empty pleasantries with the supermarket checkout guy?"

woodartist said those pleasantries weren't always empty.

"Perhaps you'd also appreciate a cashier who looks at what you're buying at someplace like Home Depot and then points out that you've got the wrong products and they won't work together. Just maybe that casual conversation that you abhor will save you a bunch of effort, time, and...oh yeah...some money too.

I can't count the number of times I stopped someone who was clearly doing a "plumbing project" with pipe that can't be used for water. DOH! When I asked, and they responded, not one complained when I explained the potential problems and see that they ended up with the right stuff."

Commenters like Jo said it was about manners, not technology.

"It is quite rude to ignore anyone who is speaking to you. It's not asking too much to pass the time of day with a clerk. Their job is boring and mundane as it is, and chatting up a customer is just good business - it creates a personal relationship between you and the store.

If it's a call you simply MUST take, simply excuse yourself with a simple, 'Excuse me, but I have to take this call.' If it's something that can be put off, simply say to the person on the phone, 'Excuse me, but I am in the checkout line just now. May I call you back?'

Good manners aren't changed by technology, except by people who haven't got the finesse to be courteous to begin with."

Many commenters said that seeing people messing with their phones instead of having dinner conversation was a sad commentary on society, but others, like seyedibar, had a sunnier view of technology:

"It's not sad. It's amazing. Now that we can be linked with all our friends at any time we want, accommodations must be made for the time spent communicating. Life hasn't gotten colder, only more communicative. What you call a neurosis is a scientific blessing, especially for those who have so many friends and associates that they can't see them all in a day."

What do you think? Is it OK to text in line? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or click on the blue button below to file an iReport with your webcam.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.


Filed under: Overheard on CNN.com
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    It was much better when everybody was courteous, but that was a very long time ago.
    Basically, it was before HAIR (the 1960s).

    May 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      I wish i could have been a teen / young adult in the 60's, most people today suck.

      May 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • phunk

      Most people and things suck today because of the ones who were teenagers in the 60's. They are the ones who are in power generationally both in business and politics and they are the ones who have ruined this country. Thanks for nothing, children of the greatest generation. I hope someday my generation doesn't hand the world over to our children in a similar shape you are leaving to my generation. Enjoy your retirement and step aside already.

      May 28, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    Don't take it personally, but all sales folks are trained to smile, greet customers in a friendly manner. They probably could give a rat's as* about you but it's just part of the job.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. madmaninthemiddle

    Why wouldn't you be friendly to a cashier? Why does it matter what they are paid? We are all human beings deserving of courtesy and respect. If you are such a big shot that you are too good for these people, send your personal assistant to the store so you can keep tour head firmly implanted in your backside.

    May 28, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mickey1313

    I believe it is the right thing to do to be polite to the clerk. They undoubtedly hate their job, and are friendly on orders from the boss. What really gets me is people on their phone in there library or in the office break room. Those are both quiet spaces for people to read and relax. Even worse is coupling the above with with a non English conversation. Babling in public IS RUDE. I wish we could go back to the very olden times, when you could challenge a rude person to a duel, and legally waste them for rudeness. Just my opinion though.

    May 28, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mickey1313

    And for the final commentator on the article, no one NEEDS to schedule time for communication, no one is that important, except works leaders and ceo,s. Get over your selves.

    May 28, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Works – world, darn auto correct

      May 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • hamsta

      mickey i told you before you would agree with a ham sandwich. why do you think world leaders and captains of industry deserve special treatment

      May 28, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dazzle ©

    You would be surprised at how far it goes to chat up a grocery store clerk. Of course they are trained to speak like robots and it is a mandatory requirement that you hear"Thank you for shopping at ________. Or the one I hate is being assaulted by management when you are in the aisles"Are we finding everything we want today." I do give those types a piece of my mind as I am not a we and it is insincere. The grocery store that I frequent every one knows me by name and knows that I am always in search of the obscure. I have received phone calls from department heads telling me that they just received something that I am looking for and they hold it for me. I've been given many discounts and special offers including free home delivery when life gets crazy. You would be surprised at the amount of money clerks receive especially those that are long term employees. Many of them feel forced to be part of a union for better or worse. It doesn't hurt to be polite and civil. These folks are not lesser human beings based on the work that they do.

    May 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. faithskye

    Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like being able to chat with the cashier at my supermarket and the barista at my coffee shop and et cetera. I get a greater sense of community out of good old face-to-face communication than out of texting and tweeting. Anyway, I always think it's better to expose yourself to new people rather than confine yourself to your comfort zone. Who cares what they're getting paid or how they feel about their job? You never know what they could teach you.

    May 28, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • dazzle ©

      @faithskye, I am in full agreement with you. My barrista knows I like my Venti coffee strong and bold and he never fails to pull through. I've met the most interesting people by face-to-face communication no matter their line of work.

      May 28, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I agree completely!
      I find my most fascinating conversations are the completely random ones with total strangers...and I can usually call them "friends" after that!

      May 28, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    I work for a library.
    Even though there are signs posted clearly throughout the library, people will still talk on their cells...and as our library is a fairly old, well built building,, reception is spotty; this results in people yelling so they can be heard by whomever they are talking to.
    Worse, they will just come up and stand at the counter and wave their card at me while chatting, as if I can somehow divine telepathically what the hell they want.
    So, I just stand there and calmly look at them until they deign to look at me, whereupon I say, "I'll be happy to help you AFTER you conclude your very important call."
    No, you are not obligated to make small talk with me because your job is so very much more important than mine, but I am in no way obligated to help you in any way, shape, or form until you hang up.
    Is this rude?
    You tell me.

    When someone greets one with a "good morning", if you are so self-absorbed with yourself that you can't even be bothered to say "good morning" back, well, you suck as a human being.
    Although i'd bet you would be the first to bish out the clerk for some percieved bit of rudeness, wouldn't you?

    May 28, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mace

    It is difficult to deal with people who are more interested in their phone that what is actually going on around them. They do not, as a general rule, react as quickly, will often stand there with a blank expression like they aren't even sure what they are doing and usually do not pull out any form of payment until the second, or occasionally the third, time asked. People can do what they want, I don't really care, but usually the idiot with the phone is the guy holding up the line and the one everyone behind them hates.

    May 28, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. justathought

    I generally talk to the grocery clerks, I try to complement them on something, plus I address them by the name on the I.D. Badge that they are wearing. The first time I did this was with a gentleman at the check out counter, I ask him if he cared if I called him [his name] and he said “Yes, please do, it helps make my day to know that somebody cares enough to notice I have a name.”

    May 29, 2012 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Stacy

    I can't believe were discussing this. I am appalled that someone would take issue with someone saying hello to them while you are being checked out. Is this what we have become? So technologically innundated that we choose to forego face to face time at all? I weep for our future.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  12. Name*David Bruneau

    Whoever wrote this sounds like they're from ,Boston ,New York ,or Joisey by their lach of humanity.

    June 24, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |