Pity the sales staff?


Example only; not the petrol station in question

I am a sucker for sales staff, overinclined to feel sorry for them for having a job I perceive as pretty unpleasant, and that’s probably how I came to get ripped by my local petrol station.

Tuesday turned out to be one of the rare occasions when I needed to get petrol for the car (R tends to think we’re running dangerously low well before I do, and he also is more likely to drive the car for fun, and hence he usually gets it). This time, though, we were in agreement about the car needing fuel and I was driving it, so away Mr K and I went.

We pulled up at our local petrol station, and I set about filling the car. It’s self-serve and that means that no interaction with humans is necessary at all around here. You can conduct the whole matter with machines – you select your fuel type and put in the amount of money you think you’ll need into the machine attached to the fuel dispenser*, and away you go. If you need change, you can take the receipt that prints out and scan it in another machine to get your coinage. Even if it sounds a bit convoluted here, it’s actually simple enough on the ground and would be very easy indeed if you happen to be fluent or close to it in Japanese; there’s no foreign language option to speak of, it’s entirely in kanji, the most complicated lettering system, and the voiceover uses formal “I bow down to you, customer” Japanese. All of these add elements of difficulty. Still, it’s simple enough once you get the hang of it.

The issue is that it leaves the sales staff at the petrol station with very little that strictly needs doing, and thus they set about finding ways to entertain themselves provide extra assistance to customers.

So, Mr. K was sitting in the back of the car and I was filling up the car, feeling quite pleased with myself for navigating the touch screen, when I was approached by a sales assistant offering to check the pressure in the tyres for free. They’ve done similar things in the past when R was filling up the car so I shrugged and said sure, why not.

Somehow, the free air pressure check ended up including a free check under the bonnet to test the oil, and suddenly there were three sales staff, all men, and all speaking rapid Japanese and brandishing a piece of paper illustrating that there was something wrong with the oil. They would change it, and we really had better do this urgently. I could wait in the “shop” (more of a waiting area with vending machines and a desk for the staff) with the baby.

I let myself be herded along and sat around inside with Mr K for 20 minutes before I mentally called this for the bullshit it was, politely wrapped things up, parted with 1900 yen (a bit under US$20) for an oil change of questionable necessity, and for reasons unknown got a free bottle of Febreeze.

R was irate when he found out about the whole thing, though more with the petrol station than me – he felt that them badgering me, a foreigner with a baby in tow, was the epitome of being preyed upon. He also discovered, upon researching it further, that this particular company is especially bad at feigning free services as an excuse to get under the bonnet, do unnecessary checks/changes, and possibly actually creating problems.

I shouldn’t have gone along with it. I knew it as I drove away, kicking myself, and wondering why the hell I had let myself get sucked into it. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened, and while I want it to be the last, I doubt it will be.

So what’s going on in my head?

Part of it is just wanting to play along and not be difficult. Another part of it is feeling that I should know what they’re talking about, whether it be the Japanese being used or just having a better knowledge of how cars work generally, and not wanting to seem too ignorant. I can see that both of these things are things I need to work on, because both of them can lead me to being exploited.

A lot of my problem, though, is just me feeling like I ought to take pity on the sales staff. This has happened so many times. I am fully aware, after all, that trying to sell people crap they don’t want and making a pittance for it is not how most people want to spend their time, ever. The thing is, the more I think about my pity for the sales staff, the more I think what condescending bullshit this actually is, something something privilege and I more than likely actually need to get over myself. I mean, really? The poor serfs are trying to sell me something, let me show them some pity and buy it, brighten their day and their miserable lives with my presence and my money.

Come on. There’s probably some customer profile somewhere that teaches people exactly how to deal with me. Female, 30s, eager to please and be seen as nice, ignorant, looks down on you. Feign gratitude, overwhelm her with information she doesn’t need, look a little sorry for yourself.

There are a few things I need to remember here. One, I don’t have as much money and definitely not as much time as I or they would like. Two, they’re probably not that deserving of my pity – they’re probably not going to stay in that job and if they do, there might some perk to it that I’ve missed and thus they automatically don’t need as much sympathy.

And three, avoid that petrol station henceforth.

(Image source)


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