No, you may not help me

Back in the Big Band era when I started reading the comic strip Cathy, I decided early on that the most irritating character, apart from boyfriend (now spouse) Irving, was that know-it-all salesperson at the department store whose advice always fell somewhere on the curve between questionable and downright lethal. I comforted myself, though, with the notion that this was the clever manipulation of a stereotype, and no such person truly existed.

Then someone did the same thing to Sya, and it wasn’t even store staff:

One thing I hate about shopping in public is that there are people around. Like salespeople. But at least they leave you alone when you tell them, “No thanks.” Then there are the other shoppers. Sure, there are the crazy people who get in your way, but they’re nowhere near as annoying as those shoppers who think the store is a social free-for-all. Take, for instance, the lady who kept following me around, giving me unsolicited advice when all I wanted was to get a pair of jeans to replace the worn out ones that I do have.

I’ve been known to talk to shoppers, but I avoid giving advice unless it’s empirically verifiable (e.g. $5 for 9 ounces is, in fact, $8.89 a pound). I do not, however, sink to these depths:

If an expert decides to tell me how to best run an experiment or some random person tells me how to eat some food without it getting on my shirt, that’s terrific. But pants with elastic waistbands? Please. I might be the untrendiest twenty-something in the pacific northwest, but there is no way in hell I’m taking fashion advice from a middle-aged, frumpy hausfrau in a tracksuit.

Most of the untrendy twentysomethings I know look just fine in jeans — not that they’d want to hear that from me.


  1. McGehee »

    7 April 2008 · 9:40 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a random fellow shopper offer me advice about anything.

    Then again, when I’m in the store I usually look, in the eyes at least, like I’m on one of those action-movie commando raids: “Get in, get it and get out, and may God have mercy on anyone who gets in my way because I won’t.”

    I think there could be a market for this talent, if only I knew how to teach it.

  2. fillyjonk »

    7 April 2008 · 12:03 pm

    I don’t get unsolicited help from fellow shoppers but I do get (usually when stuck in the checkout line waiting for the person three carts in front of me to be struck by lightning for bringing 32 items into the 20 items or fewer lane) people who decide that I look like a good person to share their whole sad life story with me.

    I’m not sure why other than that some people seem to need to SHARE regardless of the fact that the person standing near them in line is staring at the floor with their arms crossed and is studiously trying to pretend that they’re not hearing something that would probably be better told to a priest or a psychiatrist.

  3. Tat »

    7 April 2008 · 3:32 pm

    Well, I have no problem whatsoever with telling them they’d be better served if told their story to a priest or psychiatrist.

    Wearing glasses is the key. Contacts make you a magnet.

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