One of our fun little games at the front end of our store is – when a customer is being especially rude, disrespectful or generally irritating – to come back with a wise-ass comment that is satisfying without getting us in trouble or written up. Then, when you get a little break in the action, you go to a colleague and say, “You won’t believe what I said to this guy…. Yeah I got away with it – he never knew what hit him. He just walked away confused.” This restores your dignity and your enjoyment of the work.
The other day a woman apparently thought that I was too speedy or off-center. (Cashiering when the store is busy is manic work if you are trying to stay sharp, non-robotic.) When it was her turn to stand in front of me, she said “OK, now stop. Take a deep belly breath – now let it out.” I did all this dutifully, then said “OK, now are we going to meditate together? Sufi dancing?” It was just disrespectful enough to be fun, but not to make her talk to a manager.
Two days ago I was working with a woman customer who I would have thought was too young to easily take offense, but I think she just didn’t understand the meaning of my word. She was being pretty funny with a little edge and I said, “You’re kind of a wise-butt, aren’t you?” She obviously didn’t understand how genuinely respectful this word is for me (is it a generational thing in how we use the word?) and took offense. She looked at the guy she was with and said, “Oh, I’m a wise-butt, am I?” It took a lot of walking-back of that remark (“I’m a wise-butt – I really think it’s great.”) to assuage her. I think we finally got on the same page, because before she left I made bold to teach her a silly little made-up song, to the tune of I think a Monty Python song “He’s a lumberjack”: “I’m a wise-butt and that’s OK.”
I won’t give up being a wise-ass – it’s too satisfying, makes the time pass. And, since I came back from my year-long sabbatical, I am more of a wise-ass than before – to an extent that really does feel a little dangerous but makes me proud. Maybe it’s in part because I feel really respected and appreciated by the store manager: if somebody complains about a little joke, I think he’ll roll with it or maybe also get the joke. But I actually do want to stay centered enough to not go over the edge and be genuinely offensive or not correctly estimate if this person can take some kidding.