eddie bauer was having a store closing sale today, and everything was 70 to 90% off. since i’m not a) white, b) in my 40s, or c) living in a cabin, i don’t usually shop there. however, they were also selling their furniture and fixtures, and i found a bench with a leather seat for only $20 that would be perfect for my entryway.
as i waited in line, i noticed an exasperated cashier telling a customer who had handed her a sweater, “Honey, it’s cheap. CHEAP. Do you want it?” the customer was a petite asian woman in her mid-40s and her facial expression was one of helplessness. she turned to her early teens daughter and asked her in Vietnamese, “How much is that sweater?”
the cashier rang up the sweater and told them that it was $21. the woman handed her two more sweaters, asking for the sale price. again, the cashier was rude, saying “IT’S CHEAP.” she refused to give the individual prices of the sweaters, ringing them all up, and telling the woman and her daughter that the total was “SEVENTY-EIGHT DOLLARS. CHEAP. DO YOU WANT IT?” the woman stood there, confused.
i tried to intervene, telling the cashier, and the 3 employees with her, that all this woman was asking for was the price of each sweater. in my head i was thinking, really, is that so much to ask? and did they have to be so rude to her? just because her english was limited didn’t mean that she didn’t deserve good customer service.
i finished my purchase before the woman had figured out the cost of each sweater, but i couldn’t stop thinking about the incident on my way out to my car. it had surprised me, because i’ve always lived in diverse areas where i had never encountered this kind of xenophobic rudeness. it had resonated with me, because she was Vietnamese, and though my parents had decent English skills having lived in Australia for several years, i have family who immigrated to the US much later and had to navigate the confusion of the English language and American culture. i remember being that kid in preschool who couldn’t really understand what everyone else was saying. i remember my vietnamese babysitter who would walk to school to “pick me up” and walk me home, wearing the traditional vietnamese peasant clothing (pajama-like shirt and pants) and carrying her sun umbrella/parasol and smelling of tiger balm and who knows what else. i remember being the daughter embarrassed by my parents’ latest miscommunication.
it made me sad, but also reminded me how great my interactions with patients of different backgrounds have generally been. and i am thankful for the many times that i have seen these patients with preceptors/attendings who treated them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.