Mis-Expressed Lane

Today I’m on the Express Lane. (“12 items or less” — that ought to read “12 items or fewer”, but groceries are hardly models of grammar and punctuation.)  I’m not a “number Nazi” — if the other registers are busy, I don’t care if you’ve two dozen items; my goal is to get you checked out and on your way.   It’s a good thing I’m on the express lane, because I have to keep pausing:

“Ah-CHOO! Ah-CHOO!” I remove my face from my elbow, and turn back to my register, where I rub my hands with sanitizer foam.

“Hi there!  Did you find everything for which you were looking?”  bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep “Any coupons?” bleep “Okay, that’ll be $14.67, if you please.”

“What if I don’t please?”  grins a puckish guy.

“That’ll still be $14.67,” I grin back.  “Out of $20?  That’s $5.33 in change, there’s the 33 cents, and 5 — ” I screw up my face long enough to turn away — “Ah-CHOO! Ah-CHOO!” I remove my face from my elbow, and return back to my register, where I rub my hands with sanitizer foam.

“I got my receipt.”

“Thank you; here’s your bag. You have a good day.”

Two hours later, I’m still sneezing.  (Twice at a time; I sneeze twice, my kids sneeze twice, and my grandson sneezes twice.  Funny what-all the genome encodes.)

One of the mysteries of retail is that no matter when people arrive at the store, “everybody” wants to check out at once.  There are lulls, and then there are lines, and lulls again that enable me to wipe the schmutz off the scanner glass, straighten up the candy bars, and finish unwrapping partially-peeled rolls of coins.

Hah-CHOO! Hah-CHOO!” Once again, I remove my face from my elbow, and return back to my register, where I re-rub my now-chapped hands with sanitizer foam.

During such a lull, I speak across the eight-feet gap to another checker, “Are you wearing perfume?”  When she replies affirmatively, I surmise, “Oh, that must be why I’m sneezing.”

“Oh, it’s not very strong.  And I only use a little.  It smells very nice,” she asserts, sniffing her sleeve, “I put it on at 5:30 this morning!”

So what if that was hours ago? Hun, if I’m sneezing this far away, it’s stronger than you think.

Ah-pppbllh! Ah-pppbllh! *sniff*” I go up to the Customer Service desk for a handful of tissues, and return to check the next cluster of customers.

Come the next lull, she wanders over, defensively insisting that her perfume isn’t strong.  “Maybe I’m catching something,” I offer as a conciliatory alternative, wondering if my affect had not come across the right way earlier.  She appears to be one of those really social people who liked to chit-chat with others, and I’ve begun to realize that in such interchanges, style trumps content, and “verbal grooming” trumps practical considerations.

Thankfully this was just a four-hour shift, because my night’s sleep had not been much longer than that.  I go home for lunch and after my short nap, am not surprised to find that I’m no longer sneezing.

And that, O Best Beloved, is why I don’t wear scented body products during any of my jobs.


  1. Bug Girl said,

    19 April 2010 at 1:08

    I have had this fight so many times with my boss. She has this pungent hand cream, and can’t understand why I “don’t like it.”


  2. Andrea S. said,

    21 March 2010 at 14:57

    Her resistance / defensiveness may have nothing to do with your affect. Many people seem to react with defensiveness any time someone drops a hint that something they’re accustomed to doing, like doing, or that makes them comfortable might be creating real misery for anyone else. They don’t like to hear this because they don’t like to confront the idea that they might have to alter their behavior (in this case, to stop wearing the perfume they like, at least on days when working near someone allergic to it) in order to accommodate someone else’s needs.

    My parents are good folks, and usually pretty accommodating of my deafness. But when I first became vegan, they became very irate every time I had to veto a restaurant because I knew they wouldn’t have any dining options for me. And they also became exasperated any time I asked questions about the food in the restaurant — sometimes just due to ignorance about how common it is for animal products to sneak into all sorts of surprising places (they were convinced that certain dishes should be “just fine” and were so “obviously” vegan that no questions were needed) but sometimes they blamed me for being “fussy.”

    It took a year or two for them to gradually accept that, yes, I’m vegan now, I’m going to be vegan for a long time, this isn’t just a youthful lark that I’ll outgrow. And they also needed time to accept that, yes, animal products really DO crop up in all sorts of dishes where you wouldn’t usually expect them to. Over time they learned to make more compromises, including paying more attention to what restaurants have a range of vegan options that I (and now my vegan partner) can eat, and they’ve learned to be more tolerant of my asking questions. It probably helps that over time they have also learned what restaurants are and aren’t compatible with my diet (so they can skip over the obvious “nos”). And it might also help that I have learned enough about the precise sorts of pit falls to expect in which sort of restaurants, which somewhat (not completely) reduces the list of questions I now need to ask compared to the first year or so that I was vegan.

    It sounds like this woman may have been responding, not to how you phrased it or presented it (unless you think there’s a chance you said in a tone that might have come across as accusatory or blaming), but to the feeling of threat that comes with the idea of, “oh, might I need to give up something I enjoy?”

  3. Peter B said,

    21 March 2010 at 0:45

    bulkskincare.com/ has unsented stuff like shampoo base – just add color and the perfume of your choice. Or just pump the stuff out of the gallon jug and use it as is.

    I have no connection with the above site. I knew that such products existed and used Google. This one poped up first.

  4. fridawrites said,

    20 March 2010 at 15:14

    One particular perfume gives me anaphylaxis if it’s in quantity. I used to get migraines from perfumes too. I’m not a fan of most scented products–though I do fine with handmade products (essential oils rather than other esters or something?).

  5. Viverrine said,

    20 March 2010 at 5:43

    Agh, WHY do people always assume that having an allergic reaction means you just don’t like the smell? There are plenty of things that I *would* like the scent of, in fact ones that were formerly favorite perfumes of mine, but I’ve *developed an allergy* to them (lemongrass, notably. I miss it, but can’t be in the same room with it now). I also am generally unable to detect the scent of marijuana smoke( surprisingly, since it’s supposed to be a very strong and distinct smell. I can smell non-burning hemp, but not the smoke for some reason), but I am still actually allergic to it and have asthma attacks and stomach upset around it. Cigars only smell like blood and not a scent of their own to me because my sinuses start bleeding and my nose fills up with it as soon as I’m around them.

  6. Maddy said,

    20 March 2010 at 5:22

    unscented products – why don’t they have neon labels.

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