DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am the manager of a retail chain bookstore. Frequently, I have customers who want to discuss their political or religious beliefs with me or my employees. How can I politely let them know their advice is inappropriate and nip these remarks in the bud?
Sometimes they seem to be provoked by the books we are selling, but their comments are quite personal and not related to merchandise. They are not simply asking for more books related to a particular title, but are outright telling me whom I should vote for, and that I should tell all my other customers to vote for that particular candidate. Others have told me to attend a particular church.
I cannot just pretend to agree with them, even if I wanted to, because then I would risk offending other customers in the store who disagree.
I am happy to serve all customers regardless of religion or political affiliation, and therefore do not feel that a retail store is the appropriate place for proselytizing or politicking. These people don’t seem to do it to other customers in the store, yet they seem to think that salespeople are fair game.
GENTLE READER: Indeed, they are addressing you as a bookseller, which is what you are and how you should respond.
There is no need to address any personal questions about your affiliations. Rather, Miss Manners advises you to say, “Let me think what books might interest you. Do you prefer ones that agree with you, or are you interested in finding out what your opponents are arguing?”
Should they persist, rather than taking up your offer, you should add, “Well, look around. You’re bound to find something that will interest you.” And then excuse yourself to tend to other customers.