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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I disagree with your reply to "Nicki in Maryland" (March 23), the retail saleswoman who is tired of being not only touched, but physically pulled about by customers.

Everyone has personal space, and this includes service industry employees. A light touch on the arm is one thing; to be pulled or regularly touched on the shoulders and hands is quite another. To suggest that Nicki tolerate such behavior to keep a customer, or find another line of work, is disappointing. Frankly, some customers are not worth keeping, or should be educated that retail workers are human beings who deserve to be respected as such.

Maybe Nicki likes her job. Why should she give it up because of the occasional behavior of the rude and insensitive? Perhaps the job works for her because of personal or school issues. Retail jobs often have the most flexible schedules.

As a former retail employee, I have many fond memories, but I also remember people from all levels of society who believe that we are somehow less than human, temporary slaves to be treated as they see fit, and subjected to all manner of poor behavior without recourse. -- BETH IN HAYWARD, CALIF.

DEAR BETH: You are entitled to disagree. However, I also suggested to "Nicki" that she review the company's policy on touching with her employer, stay out of arm's reach, and look for tasks in the store that involve less contact with customers. While some readers sympathized with her, others agreed with me. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: While I agree that Nicki's situation is one about which the supervisor should be made aware, I believe a firm, straightforward "Please don't touch me" is appropriate. I am a former food server. I contended with the problem on a daily basis. I also don't care to be touched by anyone I do not know. I feel that everyone has the right NOT to be touched. We as human beings need to respect this.

Nicki should, indeed, try to remain out of arm's reach as you suggested. That tends to work, as it makes the other person look foolish if they have to lean to grab you. -- CYNDI IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR ABBY: Retail employees have no less right to say "No" to unwanted physical contact than any other human being. Moreover, a corporate culture of respect for employees fosters a healthy work environment, which is far more important to sales than the retention of a single pushy, touchy-feely customer who does not respect employees. Happy workers, confident in the support of their supervisor, sell with smiles on their faces, rather than selling at arm's length in fear. -- CUSTOMER'S NOT ALWAYS RIGHT

DEAR ABBY: Perhaps "Nicki" isn't well aware enough of her surroundings. A conscious effort to train herself to be sensitive to who is around her or approaching her could solve her problem. Simply glancing up could give her a clue as to whether the person is coming to ask a question. As a result, there would be less reason for the impolite to reach out and touch her. -- ANDY IN LUBBOCK, TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: Being touched by customers happens to go with the turf in any meet-the-public job. If Nicki can't accept this basic fact, she should find a job in accounting.

Friendly people make more sales, receive more tips and earn more money. Face it: Friendliness involves a certain amount of physical contact, and it's human nature to reach out to people you like. That's why successful businessmen make a point of shaking hands. -- ALLEN IN GRAND ISLAND, NEB.

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