I hate small talk. I find it mind-numbing and exhausting. Whether it is the weather, the weekend, or work, I don’t care what you think about it and I don’t care if you care what I think about it. Small talk is uncomfortable and I’m not naturally good at it. It is the very definition of hard work. I know there are some who enjoy this and they usually have way more friends than I do and make them very quickly. I get envious of this sometimes and I’ll make attempts at it, but usually I just end up moving to the 2nd tier of friendship development with someone I think is an idiot. There are unavoidable adult tasks like doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, dentist appointments, and grocery shopping where small talk is rampant and REQUIRED if I don’t want to seem like a complete bitch. (I wish I didn’t care about other people’s feelings or what they thought about me because that would solve a plethora of my problems.) Alas, I small talk as much is necessary to be a socially acceptable human being.
Today, I was strolling through Trader Joes on my bi-weekly grocery shopping trip. I actually really enjoy it. I think it has to do with how much I love food and that to me, grocery shopping still represents my independence from my parents and a sure sign I’m making a really good adult. Near the end of this shopping trip, it came time to choose my check-out lane. More importantly, I was choosing my cashier. I choose a cashier based on many factors. It depends on the items in my cart, my mood, whether or not I’m in a time crunch, etc. For example, if I’m at Target buying tampons, but I’m late for work, then I’ll definitely choose an older female who looks like she may not speak English. Easy. No feminine products/male cashier embarrassment AND no possibility of time consuming small talk. In this way, I love language barriers. Today, I was in no rush and in a decent, laizzez-faire mood, so I just chose the shortest line. I got in line behind a young guy and girl, probably in their early twenties, wearing their 90s LA chic, pre-torn jeans, and their sunglasses (INSIDE!) I know these types. They live in Beverly Hills with their wealthy parents. They don’t work and the hardest thing they’ll do all week is decide whether they’ll bring Mimosas or white wine for this weekend’s poolside brunch. Gross. The cashier in this line was an ethnically ambiguous male also in his early twenties. He was cute enough, in that little kid kind of way. He had curly hair, a mildly pimply face, and sort of a high voice. Their small talk:
Cashier: “Hey, guys. You find everything alright?” He said this in that, “I was my class’s vice-president in high school,” voice.
(Long, weird pause.)
90s Chic Male: “Oh… uh… yeah man.” He was too busy checking his phone.
Cashier: “How’s your weekend so far?”
(Longer, weirder pause.)
90s Chic Male: “Oh….. uh…. Good bruh…… Can you put the blueberries in a separate bag?”
Cashier: “Absolutely! Sorry about that.” The cashier digs through the bag for the berries he’d bagged 30 seconds ago, switches them to their own separate bag, and continues to sort without any help from the two. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the cashier. He was just trying to be nice and these two couldn’t even be bothered to smile or make eye contact.
90s Chic Female: Looked up from texting to say to her friend, “Ugh. Oh my god. David’s bringing Sarah. Jen’s gonna be pissed.”
90s Chic Male: “Serious?” Cashier still bagging.
90s Chic Female: “Yeah.”
90s Chic Male: “Maaaaan.”
90s Chic Female: “Yeah.”
The cashier barely finishes their bags before the two grab them and walk off, still on their phones, still having their riveting conversation about David, Sarah, and Jen what a devastating disaster today’s party was gonna be. He, so sincerely, bid them farewell, “Have a great weekend, guys! Thanks for coming in!”
They did not respond.
This was infuriating! This cashier was so sweet and was probably making just above minimum wage at this silly job and was JUST trying to make some small-talk. (I said I didn’t like small talk, not that I wouldn’t defend someone’s right to have it if they wanted it. Bleeding Heart Liberal, right here.)
As the two douches walked off to live their obviously, too awesome for anyone else life, I moved up, determined to turn this cashier’s day around. I would be nice, charming, make eye-contact, be interested in everything he had to say, maybe muster up a joke or two, AND I would help bag my groceries. This was gonna be awesome. I just knew after our interaction he would feel so good about himself. He would probably walk a little taller today. ‘Here we go, Andrea, your good deed for the day. You should be proud of yourself,’ I thought as handed the cashier my cart with the kind of smile that hurts your face muscles. (I should know by now that any time I think I have a good idea of how a situation will turn out, it will probably turn out the opposite.) Our small talk:
Cashier: “How are you doing today, Ma’am? Did you find everything ok?”
Me: Lots of eye contact and smiling, “I’m good and yes! Thank you so much!” I began to bag my own groceries like a good consumer.
Cashier: “How’s your weekend so far?”
‘Here we go. Here’s my chance. This guy and I were going to relate and we were both going to be better for it!’ Me: “Its good. I’m working all weekend so it’ll be busy, you know?”
Cashier: “Oh, like right now?”
Me: Still smiling. “What?”
Cashier: “Are you working right now?”
‘Oh no! Was he serious? Oh my gosh, he’s sincerely asking me this question. This was going downhill faster than anyone could’ve anticipated. What job would require me to be working right now with no make-up, my work-out clothes on, and canned beans in my cart?!’ Me: “No. Not RIGHT NOW. Right now, I’m grocery shopping…. For myself.” I laughed, hoping he wasn’t going to be this stupid the rest of our time together. “I work later on tonight.”
Cashier: “Oh. Ha ha……” He looked at my goat cheese as he rang it up.
I panicked! ‘Oh my gosh. He’s looking at my cheese! He’s going to comment on my groceries. I HATE it when people comment on my groceries. Please don’t! PLEASE…. D….’
Cashier: Holding up my goat cheese, “Have you tried this one?”
Me: “……….Have I tried Goat cheese?” Oh, my brain was on fire! I was losing interest so fast. I had no smile now. This was just miserable. This was the worst kind of small talk because it was already clear that we were never going to understand each other. He was a simpleton and I was not willing to deal with it. (Don’t worry. I’m still not as bad as the couple before me because at least I paid attention and gave him a chance.) It was all my fault. I had engaged him. Maybe he was happy just asking if I had found everything alright and how my weekend was. Perhaps I had caught him off guard by responding sincerely and the goat cheese question was his nervous attempt at taking our interaction to the next level. ‘Why is he scanning so SLOWLY?!?!’
Me: Sigh. “Uuuuuhhhh, yes. Yes, I have.”
Cashier: Still just holding my goat cheese and not scanning the rest of my items, “Is this the honey flavor?”
I was holding my middle fingers at my temples now. Me: “No. Just…. The regular flavor.”
Cashier: “Oh. Cool. I’ll have to try it.” He continued to scan. “So, where do you work?”
‘Oh, Jesus. Kill me.’ Me: “At a restaurant,” I smiled that kind of smile that, to an intelligent person, should indicate I don’t want to say anything more about it.
Cashier: “Oh! Are you like, a chef or something?” It felt like he was talking soooo loudly. People were definitely over-hearing our conversation now.
‘Ok, not only are you stupid, but you’re really bein’ a dick. You’re really gonna make me say it? Fine!’ Me: “No, I’m a server.” (I didn’t want to engage him further by explaining that I was really an actress and artist, blah, blah.)
Cashier: “Oh!” He was excited at this for some reason and was definitely talking louder now. “Which restaurant?”
I let out a sigh. I was not hiding my frustration now. It’s ok, he wasn’t getting it anyway. Me: “Oh, just a restaurant in Pasadena.”
Cashier: “What kind of food is it? Like, what do they have?”
‘Is he seriously NOT done scanning yet?!?! I didn’t even buy that much today!’ I was impatiently waiting for each item and snatching it as he slid it my way to put it in my bag. I couldn’t waste a second getting out of this. Me: “Oh, steaks, burgers, and stuff. Heh, heh.” I was really trying hard not to engage him or anyone else that could definitely hear us at this point. God forbid we bring in a third into this disaster.
Cashier: “Is it worth driving to Pasadena for? Maybe I’ll have to try it.” It was so forced. He was really working hard here.
‘Fuuuuuuuuccccck. No, no, no. You do NOT have to try it.’ Where was this going?! What does that even mean? Was he going to drive to Pasadena, ask for me, sit in my section, and when people ask how we know each other, he’d say “Oh! I’m the cashier at her local Trader Joes, so naturally I’m here to visit her at her place of work!” Its weird! Me: “Oh, its just a corporate, over-priced, plain ol’ restaurant. Ha ha.” ‘Please, please, please don’t make me say more.’
Cashier: He looked at me with disapproval, “That’s the way you talk about the restaurant you work at?”
I cocked my head to the side and lifted an eyebrow. ‘Touche, Trader Joes Cashier. I thought I was attempting to teach the life lessons today. I thought I was passing the judgment.’ Me: Defensively because I was caught off guard by this response, “It’s just a restaurant job while I pursue other avenues. And no, it is not worth the drive.” I swiped my debit card with a humph.
Cashier: “Well, I hope your job gets better!”
‘What?! Are you serious?’ I looked around to see if anyone was listening with the “is he serious?” look. Who did this kid think he was?! This was an unmitigated disaster! Not only was our small talk painful, but this kid was actually feeling sorry for ME! Could I leave knowing he was going to think I was leading a miserable life in which people needed to be sorry for me? ‘I hope your job gets better?!?!’ What a little asshole!
I took my bags, placed them in my cart, and turned it toward the door. With both hands placed firmly on the cart, I turned back toward him and between two very tight and angry lips, I smiled and said, “thank you so much! I hope you have a great rest of the day!”
I left breathing heavily, trying to process what had just happened. THIS was the very reason I dreaded these kinds of interactions so much. I couldn’t go through the rest of the day thinking every time I engaged someone in small talk, it would be THAT awful. I had to convince myself the next time would be better. Otherwise, the rest of my life would be one hell of an uphill battle!
I went over our conversation in my head to figure out what I could’ve done differently. I recommend you re-read just the conversation written bold. It’s much worse without my interjections. My mistake was in how I tried to relate to him. He obviously loved his job at Trader Joes, while I was operating under the assumption we were going to connect by “Damning the Man” and perhaps exchange some witty banter, both of us knowing it wasn’t going further than the validation of my parking. This started us off on two entirely different wave lengths. I should’ve detected it right away and played by the “I love my job” rules, but, believe it or not, I have a hard time acting when it comes to this particular subject. Also, other people were listening. You never know who could over-hear me say “I just LOVE serving delicious hamburgers and French fries to the guests at MY restaurant and you’ve GOT to try the key-lime pie! It’s worth the drive alone!” I just can’t do it. It hurts my soul to even write it.
He said, “I hope your job gets better!” It’s NOT going to get better!! It’s not because it’s bad. It’s because it’s not what I want to do with my life! BUT I CAN’T EXPLAIN THIS TO A CASHIER AT TRADER JOES IN THE 90 SECONDS WE HAVE TOGETHER! Do you see my point?
THIS is why I hate small talk.