People Helping People

Who else gets mistaken for employees in retail establishments or is frequently asked by fellow patrons for assistance?

I know not to wear red garments when going to Target, and anyone who wore a blue chambray shirt and khakis in the ’90s* could have been mistaken for a Blockbuster employee.

Tonight at Longs, I helped a young girl pick out just the right microwave popcorn and a woman select a glittery hair clip for a friend’s 11-year-old daughter’s birthday. I was approached by each of these people — maybe they admired my taste in diet soda (all Coca Cola products are five 12-packs for $12, plus CRV; no coupon required) and laundry detergent, so they trusted my judgment to make consumer decisions for them. I truly felt like a Maven in Malcolm Gladwell’s eyes.

Does this happen to anyone else on a regular basis?

*Note the proper position of the apostrophe. The apostrophe indicates where I left off something that was already there, namely “19.” The incorrect way would have been to write it as “90’s.” For more information please refer to Grammar Girl’s guide to dates. As you were.

14 thoughts on “People Helping People”

  1. Yes, mostly in bookstores.

    As I worked as a bookstore employee for several years, this is not as surprising as it might be otherwise.

    However, I also get approached for help not only within stores, but outside— I guess I just exude a level of general helpfulness. And then I go on to prove the questioner’s judgement by actually trying to be helpful, so I guess it works.


  2. I’ve only had this happen to me a few times, but one time was a classic. I was at a work conference and on the second night they had a group of hospitality suites for the vendors. I thought I’d be a little classy for a change so I donned my navy blue blazer and a tie and feeling a little self-conscious about my spiffy attire I made my way to the festivities. I walked into a particularly crowded room and was making my way through it to see if I could spot anyone I knew when I was approached by one of the host vendors. However, instead of the warm greeting I was expecting he said, “I’m glad you’re here! We need more shrimp and more cheese!” I was very embarrassed to find he was mistaking me for a hotel employee. He apologized and I was able to laugh about it later, but for that moment I was mortified. The navy blue blazer has since been retired to my back of the closet Valhalla.


  3. I never get approached for these kinds of things! Maybe I exhibit bad taste? However, I don’t know if I’m necessarily putting out an unhelpful vibe, because in the last year I HAVE been approached with the following: a man at the gym who wanted to commit suicide, a man on the train seeking to “turn over a new leaf” (his words) after just serving 19 years in prison and a neighbor having a complete mental breakdown (literally). I guess I specialize in the more mentally-fragile variety of consumer. Note: I do not, however, specialize in punctuation so now I’m wondering if that hyphen is in the right place. And whether I spelled “hyphen” correctly. RG have mercy! 🙂


  4. No worries about your punctuation, HM.

    The decades thing has always bugged me, so I saw it as an opportunity to do a quick PSA on the correct way to do it. People should get some educational benefit along with the snark — that’s what I say.

    You must exhibit the counselor quality. I sometimes have the “you can tell me anything” sign on me when running out on the trails, based on the stories I get from fellow runners during events.


  5. Yes, it’s a contractive rather than possessive apostrophe.

    However, you should note that until 2005, the New York Times’ house style – and the hundreds of other publications that based theirs on the NYT’s – was to use the strictly incorrect but “stylistically flexible” form, because they believed it “read better.”

    They continue to pluralize both acronyms and initialisms incorrectly on a regular basis.


  6. Grrr! I shake my fist at the “stylistically flexible” notion, as it dumbs everything down even more.


  7. I completely agree. I sent them numerous bits and pieces of hate mail complaining about their inconsistent and (in my mind) completely incorrect apostrophe usage. I like to believe, but seriously doubt, that my complaints had at least a small part to play in their finally deciding to conform at least that one part of their style to the proper form.


  8. To this day I can count on being asked for assistance at least every other time I shop at Old Navy. It is so predictable I am actually dissapointed when I don’t get asked for help.

    Becuase of this, I always try and locate a name tag/logo shirt before asking for help from any store personnel.

    Also, I worked at Boston Market as a teen, speaking of the Khaki/Chambray combo, and always thought it was funny when I went to Gap or Blockbuster and fit right in. At the time I was rather quirky and thought it was hilarious to pretend I was an employee and just see the transaction through, helping pick out movies, walking them to the counter, handing the movies to the register clerk, noting the name tag name and handing them off with a “Jill, can you ring this nice lady up?”, and then walking off. True story.


  9. When I was in high school, I was wearing the classic ’80s outfit of a sweater dress and long strands of fake pearls while I was shopping at Contempo Casuals. A girl about my age came up to me and asked if I had fingerless lace gloves like Madonna. I said, “Ew! No! Those are so tacky!” I then realized that she thought that I worked there.


  10. This has been happening to me for years. Not only in stores but in cities that I’m visiting. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing either.

    I was in a little antique store wearing a wool blazer and tie and was immediately asked for help by a couple of women in their fifties.

    I’m always happy to help. Sometimes if I see someone looking through books or wine or what have you I’ll go over an offer assistance. “Is this wine for you or for a gift?”

    We’re all in this together.


  11. It’s so nice to know that I’m not alone. The most noteworthy instance of this for me happened last summer when I got discharged from Kaiser when I was passing a kidney stone (!) and had just left the pharmacy when two old men asked me where the Camellia Building is.

    As I was walking them there (it was on my way; otherwise I would have found someone else to help them) one of them asked me how long I’d worked for Kaiser — I pointed out my hospital wristband and held up my bag of drugs and said, “They just let me out.”

    They felt really bad for bothering me, but I like to think that when I’m old someone will help me.


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