Nice goes all wrong at TJs

Being niceThese days when I visit the East Sac Trader Joe’s–which no matter how crowded it is, always seems to have a staff to patron ratio of about 1:1–I notice that the cashiers are very friendly. Like, serial killer friendly. I assume this is company policy. Saturday night, after a long tiring day of yard projects and kid-wrangling, I was asked by the young cashier whether I had any plans. Nothing much, I said, just going to watch a movie with the wife. “Oh really? What movie do you have?” At this point I was too tired to think of way to avoid telling him what movie, and then since it was an obscure low-budget science fiction flick (“Primer“–which by the way was kinda interesting, and at 68 minutes is worth your time, but your wife will haaate it.), I found myself having to give him a plot summary and genre explanation of this movie which I had not seen. Too bad I hadn’t just rented “Caddyshack” or something…

This is not the first such encounter. Last fall, toward the end of baseball season, I was wearing, as I am wont to do, a San Francisco baseball Giants t-shirt. Walking around Sacramento fronting for your Gigantes, you are bound to get some comments. What did I get at Trader Joe’s? “Did the Giants play today?” Not, “Did they win today,” which means we’re both assuming they actually played and really is just a way in to discussing how well they are doing these days. Of course, I probably should have known whether they had played that day. Since it’s baseball, I probably could have gotten away with a quick “yep.” I found myself talking through the intricacies of MLB scheduling–let’s see, is it Sunday or Thursday? because I think they usually have those off…or did they play a nightcap last night and have a travel day today maybe? etc. …

Asking whether they played today is for your friend or your dad or something. Sometimes a Giants t-shirt is just a Giants t-shirt.

So the moral of the story is, when you visit the East Sac TJs, bring your small talk hat. The big flashy one that says you like to chat about your life. And not your Giants hat unless you’ve been over the schedule for the last few weeks.

Author: CoolDMZ

"X-ray vision to see in between / Where's my kimono and my time machine?"

29 thoughts on “Nice goes all wrong at TJs”

  1. I’ve had the same experience though mine got really weird a few weeks ago. The guy bagging my groceries asked if he could try on my wedding ring because ‘he thought it was so sparkly and would be perfect for him.’ I let him and he pranced over to the people in the line next to me to show them. He then politely returned it but I still found the whole scene kind of strange and invasive.


  2. I love ya, DMZ, but without Plumwins’ story made the entry.

    Why doesn’t someone go in in 10-year-old flip flops, a sweaty wife-beater and shorts and buy nothing but copious amounts of hard alcohol and see what friendly conversation is brought up upon check out?


  3. Too real! They are like that at The Nugget Market on Florin.

    When they ask me what my plans are I say stuff like “going home to get drunk, kick the dog, beat the kids, and degrade my husband”. They always kind of laugh..but they don’t ask me anything else.


  4. Ditto Melly’s point on the Florin Rd Nugget! They ask about my food purchases–“Is that good?” “I didn’t know we had (that flavor)!” Or “this is alot of fish, are you having a party?”

    And then they only put two items in each grocery bag!


  5. wait a minute, i just realized the best reference for this discussion is Kristen Wiig’s Target checker character on SNL. anybody else agree she is hilarious?


  6. That character is excellent because it rings true (for me)! I have inlaws that act exactly like that woman.
    But, just about all of Kristen Wing’s characters seem to be a slight variation on the check out girl, like her movie reviewer on weekend update.


  7. wait a second…these people talk to you like a person? don’t they know we’re better than them? peasants. look you bunch of full of yourselfers…these people work all day being treated like crap…probably by most of you…finally someone comes along with something interesting to talk about and you act like an elitist prick…way to go!


  8. What I do like about friendly TJ’s employees — both here and in the Bay Area — is that they’ll tell whether or not something’s good as they ring up your purchase. And usually, they’re spot-on.


  9. DMZ, go to the Marconi TJs and you’ll never complain about our checkers again! I went to the ‘old’ TJs today to avoid the Saturday East Sac parking situation. What happened to this place? What a dump. There were four half dressed barefoot homeless guys (think: pigpen) milling around the free sample lady. The produce was old, products were on the floor, and the place was a mess in general. On my way out there was a man in the parking lot holding up a giant sign that said “My wife and I need money for PG&E. Power shut off!” begging for money. I will happily have my ear chatted off (and my jewelry loaned out) to be back in my East Sac TJs next time.


  10. (i work at tj’s)

    oh come on now.. did someone asking you about a movie ruin your night? Did bringing up the giants offend you? Maybe you shouldn’t have worn a giants Tee.

    Now i realize that we have a few rather.. eccentric.. employees. Yes the wedding ring thing is a bit out there. And we do have a creepy demo guy (i’m supposed nobody has mentioned that). BUT.. when I am on reg and you come through my line do you know why i talk to you? Because i don’t want my day to be a boring ass day of staring at all of your groceries. I am genuinly interested in what your going to do today. Do you know how many of the tj employees are really into indy flicks? Wait wait.. you probably don’t care. Look i don’t mean to get all rant-ey on you but really, i am not below you. i am not a square who doesn’t know shit. I am not required to be “serial-killer” friendly to you. And i most certainly would appreciate it if you did me the common courtesy of treating me like an equal, not a servant. Because honestly, I have a lot of crazy ass people come through my line, and i do it for them.

    bottom line, if you don’t like it.. stop shopping here.


  11. Andy, the demo guy of whom you he the astrologer / yoga instructor / Trader Joe’s demo guy? While some may be put off by him, I always thought that it was cool that he’s making his living by doing EXACTLY what he loves to do. (I don’t work with him though, so my perspective is obviously different.)


  12. @andy

    First of all, is this an A’s-Giants thing? We Norcalers (Norcalites? Norcalies?) have lived in peace on that issue for a long time, so don’t go blowing it now.

    But seriously, this whole blog/snark concept is predicated on the notion that the subject of your ridicule is never going to actually call you on the carpet. I don’t understand why what I wrote came off as superior. I’m a little concerned that you’re reacting to what TalkingOutHisPocket said (dude, how could you not see that one coming?) and not what I actally wrote, but I’ll go ahead and say I’m sorry if you were offended. I never meant to seem superior to the TJs staff. I like to employ tactics like hyperbole and self-deprecation to comedic effect, so I hope my comments came off as at least slightly exaggerated and mostly making myself look like an antisocial jerk who blames other people for his weaknesses.

    I would like to offer a few suggestions for the small talk:
    – anything more than “how are you” and a certain percentage of women are going to assume you’re hitting on them.
    – never walk away from the reg carrying a customer’s jewelry, purse, cell phone, or urn with a relative’s ashes.
    – think twice about asking parents with a cart full of crackers and mac n cheese if they have big plans for their Saturday night; most of the time it’s going to be putting that stuff away, doing bedtime and then hitting the couch.

    And the bottom line for me? If your job sucks so much, why don’t you quit?

    P.S. I don’t think your manager would want you to tell somebody who spends $150 a week at your store to shop elsewhere just because he doesn’t like the small talk.

    P.P.S. Is there something we should know about creepy demo guy or is he just “eccentric”? We call him “flower guy” because he always gives flowers to the kids. I always feel 80% comfortable with it.


  13. yeah thats who i’m talking about. I believe his name tag reads “mercury”. haha.. astologer and yoga instructur.. he also used to have a radio show from what i’ve heard. I haven’t personally had many problems with him, probably because i’ve been with the company so long that not a lot gets me riled up anymore. He’s a bit hard to work with just because he doesn’t know anything but demo i guess. I just think he’s creepy because he’s a bit… over-fond… of children i think. Every time i see him give a little girl a flower and tell her that she is beautiful, (“oh and you look just like your mother”) i cringe a little bit. Your right though, i couldn’t imagine him working elsewhere.


  14. ah.. another response before i read it..
    soo. @ coolDMZ

    Totally not an A’s/Giants thing, i just felt like i came down a bit hard and wanted to attempt to add some humor. Really what i wanted to get across is that it is my job and i enjoy having conversations with the people in my ‘hood. I don’t feel like @ tj’s i should be expected to fill a “speak when spoken to role”. I completely understand how certain employees are a bit.. misguided.. or read a situation wrong.. when making conversation. It would be nice to not have the entire store be judged by a couple sub-par interactions.

    now, to respond to “small talk suggestions”

    -If i am asking a woman what she is doing tonight, i most likely AM hitting on her. I’m not going to cross the line unless i get some positive feedback though.

    -the wedding ring thing was too far. That guy also pastes pictures of orlando bloom on his reg. So yeah… i agree.

    -I get the party/parent thing. I agree on that one too.. but if a person has 5 bottles of chuck and some yo-baby yogurt.. hey.. i might get the wrong idea.

    and don’t get me wrong, i like working at tj’s. I’ve been with the company for 5-6 years now and this is the first time i have ever heard this sort of response. I really like our customers. Also, we do in the 100G range every day, 150$ a week is not going to make a difference except freeing up a parking spot.

    p.s. flower man is harmless as far as i know.. i’m about 70% comfortable.. just a proximity thing i think.


  15. Thanks andy! Again, I have no idea how what I said could sound like I expect cashiers to stand there and not talk except to say yes sir when I ask for double bagging. I’m glad you love your job; I love shopping at Trader Joe’s. Though from now on I’ll have to wear a fake handlebar mustache since my photo is up there and I don’t want andymess on my goji berries.

    One nit to pick though: I would think you probably do in the 100G range weekly because of a bunch of individual $150/weekers, and that if you told enough of them to piss off that would cut into the Gs. I’m no financial panther though.


  16. I’ll have to say that I love the T&C Trader Joe’s, and I don’t mind a little banter while at the register. If I want faceless incivility, I’ll go to Albertson’s. When I worked the cashier station as Rasputin Records in Berkeley, I wanted to talk with people and find out weird things about them (which isn’t hard in Berkeley), it kept the day going by quickly, and helped me to add to my collection of perfectly useless information that I keep in a jar in my head.

    …oh yeah. GO A’S!


  17. haha.. no moustache required! as one who grew up in a family of teachers who argue for fun, i hold no grudges. I mean, we could be like, family now. haha


  18. Andy, you’re in good company. Both my mom & MIL are teachers, and I know precisely what you mean! (Can I just say how much I love TJ’s Very Cherry blend of mixed berries & black cherries, as well as the packets of frozen brown rice?)


  19. I have to say that I both agree with the tenor of this article, and while not disagreeing with it in any way, also say that sometimes the unique approach to small talk that I get at TJ’s actually works for me sometimes. Conformist douchebag? Well, I’d invite you to come meet me, but I probably won’t like you and I don’t want to waste my time, so you’ll have to find out if I am by the whim of chance.

    But yes, there is a finesse involved, and some people, people who are probably perfectly normal people otherwise, don’t have it, and I’ve encountered that at TJ’s as well.

    But there’s also a finesse in responding to it. Like the Giants shirt thing. I got something like that for wearing a Mets shirt (I don’t even give a crap about the mets, it was cleaning day, and I bought it at Goodwill). Maybe you shouldn’t be expected to have to diffuse things with careful politeness at the checkout stand, but it is kind of nice to see people working in that kind of environment and not just shoveling out the same thing all the time.

    We’re more used to the common “Thank you sir, you saved seventy-three cents today” because it’s long-established. It’s actually not that much less awkward, we just are used to it.

    I personally think it’s more creepy when they say “Thank you Mister Olsen” at Safeway, and I didn’t tell them my name.


  20. Andy, i finally saw the Orlando Bloom montage this morning and how I missed that before I’ll never know. You were spot on as that’s the guy. I’d also like to give a shout out to Jeff who helped me and was nice, polite, funny and cute if it’s ok for a married lady to say that.


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