Sunday, June 5, 2022

Taming the Wild Karen!

It is possible to modify someone's negative behaviors, if you set parameters - like with children!

I was reading one of these "tales of woe from the retail world" and this jumped out at me:

It's 2 PM today, and I am starving. I am just coming back from the fast food joint down the street and I am walking towards the break room with my food in hand hoping to enjoy a quiet, peaceful lunch to re-energize myself so I can continue dealing with the endless waves of snarky customers that my workplace is notorious for attracting. As I am getting to the door, this blonde woman, around her 50s, begins to follow me (I can feel her following me) and she begins to do that "pssst!" noise that is so fucking annoying. She continues about 3 times or so but I ignore her, since, you know, I am not a fucking dog or anything. After she realizes that I am not going to react to her summons, the conversation goes a little something like this:


Me: Oh sorry ma'am, I am on break right now. But let me get one of the other employees to help you out.

At this point I begin to reach for my walkie talkie to call someome to the aisle for help, but she isn't having any of it.

Woman: WHAAAAAAAAAAT?! I will NOT be treated like this! I am a valued customer and I demand to be treated as such! You will provide your service to me RIGHT NOW and that is THAT! No questions asked!

Me: Ma'am, I would be happy to help you but my lunch break is only 30 minutes and---

Woman: I don't give a shit! I don't care if you're starving! The customer always comes first!

At this point, I didn't even retaliate. I just turned around and ignored her as I walked into the break room with my key and shut the door behind me. She began to angrily pound on it for a few seconds until she finally stopped, presumably because a co-worker came to the rescue.

Now, granted, most of these "stories" online are made-up, either to get more followers or because they want to act out a revenge fantasy (in these stories, the customer gets their comeuppance, the boss is fired, the protagonist is promoted to Corporate VP and everyone clapped. The End).

But this story resonated with me as I know that person and they say those sort of things like "WHAAAT?" and "EXCUUUUSE ME?" to retail people.  So two things popped into my mind, maybe three.  First, did the person posting this interact with my friend? (Was it at Michaels?).   Second, if not, then do these "Karens" all get together and coordinate their harassment techniques, down to what they say and do?  And Third, well, I forget the third.

I wrote before about Karens and how annoying they can be.  There is a Karen in all of us, waiting to be unleashed in the retail environment, due to low blood sugar or dehydration.  In fact, that is the key of the story above - the "Karen" approached the worker on his lunch break.  Likely, she was going to go and stand in line at Chik-Fil-A after she ran "a few errands" and thus wanted to find her bobbin of thread or whatever and couldn't find it and was frustrated.  The brain runs low on fuel - sugar - and the blood thickens due to lack of water and the blood pressure soars.  The end result is inevitable and can happen to anyone.  Never shop while hungry or dehydrated - it will always end badly.

Compounding this problem, though, are ingrained attitudes about "the customer is always right" and that sort of nonsense.  This is the cry of the unempowered person.   They feel they have no control over their lives.  They are constantly at the mercy of tradespeople, suppliers, retailers, and restaurants, as they cannot even cook for themselves, much less repair a sink or something.  So they lash out, demand discounts and special services, convinced this is the only way they can "win" at the game.

You know the type - they will bitch and moan about waiting in a long line, but when it is their turn at the head of the line, they will take their sweet time!  They've had 15 minutes in line to study the menu and make their selections, but at the head of the line they go, "I'll have an...uhh... uhh.... uhh."   Worse yet, they want everything made special during the middle of the lunch rush - and then melt down when it isn't "right."

My friend who does this has been banned from several businesses because of this behavior.  They went into the cell phone store and because there was a line of people waiting to be served (there always is) they stood in the middle of the store and literally screamed at the top of their lungs - a real shriek - and then said they would refuse to leave unless served right away.  The Police were called and they were escorted from the premises.   So now, they go to the "other" cell phone store and act humble.

They have gone through nearly every lawn service company on our island.  None were ever good enough and they were always accused of knocking over some lawn ornament or another (which they have peppered their lawn with, making it nearly impossible to mow) and then expecting the service to "pay for the damages."   They asked me if the guy who does my lawn (when we are away) would mow theirs and I explained to him the problem and told my friend "he was too busy to take on new customers."

And so on and so forth. Every commercial transaction becomes a battle and threats of lawsuits, demands for discounts, special treatment, etc. Eventually, no one wants to deal with them and word gets around.  Tradespeople either refuse to show up, or quote exorbitant prices.  And although there are dozens of tradespeople to choose from, they end up being beholden to one or two, because they've "burned" everyone else. You can see how Karenism backfires in a big way.

It doesn't affect me directly, except when we go out to eat together.  I mentioned this before - how food is being sent back for trivial reasons ("It isn't what I thought it would be!") or continued complaints about the food, the service, the decor, or whatever, while we're eating.  On one famous occasion, they complained about the chicken wings (which were fine) and started throwing them onto the table.  I picked them up and ate them.  And no, they weren't drunk - they don't even drink!  It was appalling - seeing an adult act like a six-year-old.

Fortunately, I have experience in this area. My Mother was a raging alcoholic and would stage "scenes" at restaurants.  We finally put our foot down and said, in no uncertain terms, that we weren't going to go out with them if this childish behavior continued.  And for the most part, it worked, but like any child, my Mother would continually test the boundaries, which usually meant, we had to excuse ourselves and leave.  Always drive your own car - never sit in the back seat of your parents' car once you are an adult, period.

So, applying this experience, I told my friend, to their face, that this sort of thing had to stop. Restaurants are not staffed by slaves or serfs, but people like you and me, who are often struggling to keep up with customer demand.  Just because you are paying the bill doesn't make you "Master of the House" or Queen For A Day or whatever.  You are a customer, paying for the privilege of being served.

Also, you have to be situationally aware of what is going on in any business establishment.  One of the most annoying things people do in restaurants is sit down and chitty-chat and not bother to look at the menu and when the waitress comes, they say, "we're not ready to order yet!" and often do this several times even as people are lined up waiting for tables.  Eventually, the waitress stops coming to their table and it becomes a war of passive-aggressive behavior.

If you are in a restaurant and you see a ten-top table walk in, or worse yet, a senior bus tour, get your order in right away.  The kitchen is about to be slammed and if you wait any longer, you will be at the end of a very, very long line.   It isn't worth it.

I am fortunate that Mark majored in Hotel/Restaurant management and has given me some insights - and warnings - of what to expect in these places, based on his education, experience, and mistakes.  For example, early in his career, he was managing a gourmet restaurant during Sunday brunch.  A wave of people came in and since the restaurant had enough seats, he seated them all right away.  What he forgot to take into consideration was that the capacity of the restaurant wasn't determined by the number of chairs, but number of wait staff, the size of the kitchen, and how quickly they could prepare food.  So naturally, the kitchen got "slammed" and the chef asked Mark what the hell he was thinking. So Mark opened several bottles of champagne and went around offering "complimentary" drinks to alleviate the inevitable wait.

That's why you see restaurants with a line waiting to be seated, even as there are empty tables.  If there isn't enough wait staff or the kitchen can't keep up, it doesn't matter how many physical chairs there are. Similarly, when it is busy at a restaurant, it isn't the time to order off-the-menu or make wacky substitutions or deletions or special diet requests.  You shouldn't act surprised when the entree comes with the standard fries instead of the sweet potato you ordered. Just go with the flow and things will be much easier for everyone all around - including your dining companions.

Speaking of passive-aggressive, one thing my friend does - which Mark pointed out - was to start speaking softly - almost in a whisper - when making these wacky special requests.  In a crowded, noisy restaurant, servers can barely hear you as it is.  Are they intentionally doing this, hoping to get a "comp'ed" meal?   It is possible, as they are always regaling me with how they scored free food or such.  I guess I spoil the party, here, as I always say, "speak up, the waitress didn't hear you!"  I guess that is buzz-kill for the sort of folks who throw a fly into their soup and demand a free meal.

I guess the other thing is, I don't go out to dinner with my friend much anymore, in part - or whole - because of shenanigans like this.  Like the dwindling number of lawn services that will talk to them, my friend is losing people who will interact with them.  You don't have to be friends with everybody, and if hanging out with someone fills you with anxiety, maybe that is telling you something.

And that makes me sad, as I like them and they are otherwise nice people.  Maybe they should take up drinking and learn to relax and go with the flow.  Or just realize that it isn't empowering to be a pain-in-the-ass or "special" but actually the reverse.  Once you become the PITA customer, your options diminish, not expand.  And I doubt they end up scoring any "deals" as a result.  And yes, they coupon all the time.

They are also the type to go to a bad restaurant, again and again, hoping to "fix it" and get the service they feel they deserve.  There is a "Dairy Queen" here on the island which is infamous for its hour-long waits for a melted ice cream cone.  The only reason it stays in business is that we have a lot of tourists and they don't know the score.  Yet my friends go there every week, because Dairy Queen sends out "coupons" (usually for horrible ice cream drinks) and then complains about how long it took or how they never get the order right.  Sometimes it is best to walk away from things like that. If enough people did, maybe they place would go belly-up and someone else would take over the space.

It is possible to tame the Wild Karen, but it requires that people - all people - not put up with that sort of nonsense.  It is possible to "train" Karens to stop Karenism, at least in your presence.  But once out of earshot, they revert to their normal practices.   Sadly, many restaurants and retail stores cater to this sort of behavior not because they believe "the customer is always right" but that some of these Karens will end up paying top dollar for products just to "show" the retail employee how "powerful" they are.

You laugh, it is one of the many time-tested strategies car dealers have been known to use.  You belittle the customer and his credit score and he may end up buying the car at full price just to show you who's boss! Yes, it is idiotic.  Yes, people do it.  And yes, often car dealers use low blood sugar and dehydration to get customers to "melt down" during a deal, so that they become embarrassed and compliant and buy the car without questioning the costs in detail.  Never go up against experts in psychology, even if they don't have a PhD in the subject!

So in a way, I feel sorry for the Karens of the world, even as they make life miserable for the retail employees of the world.  These are people who feel unempowered and put-upon and thus have to lash out to feel some level of "control" in their lives.  And like I said, we are all Karens at one time or another.