A few days ago, as I was scanning a handful of items at the grocery store’s self service kiosk, I found myself momentarily distracted by a commotion from the next checkout lane. I glanced over and saw a cashier and customer smiling, laughing, and just generally enjoying themselves. As the transaction came to its conclusion and the lady grabbed her bags in preparation for her imminent departure the cashier moved over a few steps and embraced her in a big-old hug.
Is that a south Louisiana thing? Probably. Everyone here seems to have a family-school-neighborhood-church connection with everyone other resident which is then layered on top of good old-fashioned southern hospitality. The clichés ring true – s/he never met a stranger; there’s no need to hurry; let the good times roll.
This all kind of freaked me out when I moved here 15 years ago; my sensible, no-nonsense, get-right-down-to-business Milwaukee upbringing (where we believed in a well-ordered way of managing life and had socialist government regimes way before Bernie Sanders) didn’t include hugging strangers. Spend 3 minutes in personal chit chat while checking out at Walgreens? Get outta here; I ain’t got time for that.
But…I’ve grown to expect it. Now, when I travel outside of Louisiana I’m acutely aware of the lack of personalized interactions with clerks, servers, office workers, and even the maintenance guy working on fixing a sidewalk. That sidewalk guy in Louisiana? He makes eye contact and pauses to have a brief conversation with every passerby about the weather or the upcoming football season.
Not everyone likes that of course: “That’s not his job; he needs to stop with the idle chit-chat and get back to work.” “He’s wasting time.” “He’s on the clock and wasting our taxpayer dollars!”
But is that the right way? The best way? He’s a human. Working. Just like the cashier at the grocery store, the call center representative at your insurance provider, and the cable guy. Even your HR lady is human. Really.
Until the robots truly and fully take over we are still humans working with other humans. Let’s keep it real.
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