Mistaking Customers For Employees       

Mistaking Customers For Employees       

Hey – Can You Help Me?

No matter how many “boost your memory” books I’ve read, I can’t remember people’s names. I may recognize a face but draw a blank on a name unless the person goes by “Hey, nice to see you” or “How’s it going?” 

For years I’ve covered up my bad name recall and even limited my circle of friends to people who have the same name (mind if I call you Sue?), but now my lack of total name recall has morphed into something more serious (and embarrassing): employee confusion. I mistake customers for salespeople.Forgetting names, losing track of things - it's all part of getting older. Or is it?!

At first I blamed my bad eyesight for these mixups, but thanks to my Doogie Howser eye doctor who makes my freshman son in college look like a middle-aged man, I can see fine. Then I blamed my cashier confusion on stress, but with both of my sons away at college, the only stress I feel is whether or not our new cat is walking across my kitchen counters while I’m out (she is, unless someone else is leaving tiny paw prints and scribbling the words “haha” in kitty litter on my counters). There had to be a reason why I was humiliating myself so often (without alcohol involved) so the next three times I went to a store, I paid closer attention.

While I was searching for bath towels at my favorite buy-more-than-you-need store, I saw someone wearing a red shirt and khakis and asked her if she had more towels in the back. Instead of checking the stock room, she ignored me. Or maybe she hadn’t heard me. I’ve never been accused of being soft spoken so I asked her again. She turned around and gave me a look that was a cross between how am I supposed to know? and can’t I enjoy my Mocha Frappuccino in peace? and then told me that she didn’t work there.

I thought about how I could play this off so I threw my head back, laughed hysterically like one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and made her think she was in on a big joke. Then I ran out of the store so quickly I knocked over a guy who was interviewing to play Santa and it was only June.

Fresh off my innocent bystander mistake I went to an electronics store to buy a shredder to replace the fifth one I’ve broken in two years. Apparently they put a page limit sticker on the front of each machine for a reason. Finding the right jam-proof shredder turned out to be as challenging as picking the perfect paint color out of thousands of samples while blindfolded. I needed help.

After I walked down a few aisles I saw a man in a blue golf shirt. It’s helpful that everyone who works at the store wears a blue shirt, but it’s not so helpful when customers wear the same blue shirt. As I asked the blue-shirted guy which shredder he recommended, I read the logo on his shirt: “Best Guy” as in best man at a wedding. This time, I didn’t give him a chance to tell me he didn’t work there. Instead I sprinted out of there faster than when a blind date brought his mother along.

My latest and most embarrassing mix-up was at a department store. After wearing the same bras and dating the same guy for four years, it was time to upgrade (the bras, not the boyfriend) and stock up for the next four years. I’d rather spend money on chocolate and wine than on lingerie.

Unfortunately for me, they didn’t have many choices in the flat-as-a-pizza size. I picked four of the least pathetic-looking bras including, the “Why Bother,” the “Are You Kidding?” and the “Over-the-Shoulder Pebble Holder” and then followed the salesperson to the dressing room.

I tried on the first bra, swung open the door, and then grabbed a different salesperson as she walked by. I pulled back the left cup to ask her if the bra needed more padding but instead of looking directly at me she looked up and said, “Um, it’s probably fine…but I don’t work here.” Crap! I just exposed myself to an innocent shopper. All I could think of was how I was going to be handcuffed and arrested wearing nothing but jeans and a bra that didn’t even fit.

What’s wrong with me? I’ve turned into the little boy from The Sixth Sense, but instead of seeing dead people I see employees.

Maybe there’s a 12-step memory group I can join or apps I can download like Tinder that alerts me when an employee is nearby or Uber that lets me track a salesperson’s movements throughout the store. There has to be some way I can stop humiliating myself, although I’m getting a better workout running out of stores than running through my neighborhood. 

Until I figure out a better system, I’m only shopping online.

How hard could it be to find a customer service rep named Sue? 

Lisa Kanarek headshotLisa Kanarek is a freelance writer, the proud mother of two college-aged sons, and the author of five books about working from home. When she isn’t embarrassing herself during simple shopping trips, she writes the work-from-home blog Working Naked. Follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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