DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have noticed a trend in casual customer service workers’ way of speaking. As I’m checking out at the grocery store, the bank or the pizza restaurant, many workers ask, “What are you doing the rest of today?” or “What are you up to today?”
While I’m all for friendly chat, I find this question odd, invasive and a bit rude. I hardly believe that they care about my daily, tedious comings and goings, so really the question is insincere. What is the most kind, polite way to respond?
GENTLE READER: No, they don’t have a sincere interest in your plans, any more than you have in theirs. They were instructed to make conversation with the customers, and may even have been told to ask that exact question.
The idea is supposed to be that it makes the store seem welcoming. But a uniform question does not allow for the fact that not everyone doing errands wants to chat. Some do, sometimes -- and others, never. Miss Manners enjoys this when on vacation (with the fun of speaking a foreign language), but not always at home, when she is more likely to be in a hurry.
Clerks should be allowed to judge whether an individual seems amenable. Sometimes a pleasant “Hello” is all that is required.
But if it would be useful for them to have a standard opening, personal questions from a stranger will not do. We call those nosy. So, by the way, is commenting on the customer’s groceries, as in, “I see you like beer and chocolate.” Or on the withdrawal, as in, “Making a big purchase?”
That is why we have the weather, the traffic and the weekend game to lament. But not the election.