A Supermarket’s Well-meaning Insult

“Do you need help out with that?”

I’m sure that all the employees at a certain Midwestern grocery store chain are unaware of the red flag they’re waving in front of the bull-like customers.

After all, they all say it the same way.

However, I blurted out last week, “Sure. I’m old and feeble.”

I counted two gaping jaws: the dismayed checker and the stunned carry-out teen.

I’ve lived in four towns where this supermarket franchise is located. Everywhere, this identical offer goes on the “don’t you hate it when…” lists.

Fellow complainers have agreed with me. The subtext of the offer is, “Of course, you don’t want to admit weakness. As a customer, you should announce defiantly that you can carry your own bags — letting us off the hook.”

I pointed this out to an assistant manager of the rival supermarket. “I know. It bugs me, too. We work hard not to say that.”

Of course, chances are good that “do you need help with that?” is just a decades-old phrase that used to work.

My wife (the piano teacher) asks her students, “Can you say the same thing, only differently?”

In communicating, be it the spoken or written word, don’t let what you say get overshadowed by how you’re saying it.


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