Missing the Social Cues

Last week, in the parking lot of a supermarket I sometimes patronize, I encountered the effusively friendly employee whose job it is to bring in the carriages once people have loaded their bags into their vehicles.  I wrote about it here.

My problem is that some 24 hours after I had reported on the exchange – after everyone who read the post had had a nice warm bath in the sweetness of it, more details about our meeting began coming back to me. It hit me then that I actually read him all wrong and denied him the kindness he was obviously hoping for, all because I appear to have blocked out two small parts of our meeting even as they were happening.

See, this store has a big No Tipping sign up by the cash registers so it didn’t occur to me that maybe the man was wildly effusive in his warmth toward me because he was hoping for a tip despite the rules. It didn’t occur to me because he had said so many over-the-top sweet things, calling out “Ah my friend!” in his melodious East Asian accent when he first saw me leaving the store, then going on to shake my hand, to make small talk about my purchases, and to repeatedly exclaim “You are my good friend!” in a sort of joyous yodel, He even sort of blessed me as we parted with a “See you next time!” (Or as he said it in his new-to-the-language way “Next time I see you!”)

But then the next day the two additional details of our interaction came back to me:

The first was the fact that when I entered the store and smiled at him in his place by the door, he did not smile back but only nodded in somber fashion. His smile did not appear until he saw me leaving the store 30 minutes later and hurried over to push my cart and unleash his stream of friendly chatter.

The second was the fact that he uttered this one odd sentence when he finished loading my bags into my car: After smiling some more and shaking my hand again, after once again saying, “You are my good friend!” and explaining that if I needed help in my house, or any place at all, for cleaning, for anything, I should call him – he then nodded toward my battered little minivan and said, “You have car. I have no car.”

Had he in fact been out-and-out asking for money and for work, and if so, how could I have failed to see this?

Did I wrong him or did he faintly wrong me? It’s hard to imagine that the latter could be true when I was the one with the car, and a command of the language, and money to spend at this upscale supermarket. Whatever insight anyone out there has I sure would love to hear it!


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