Saturday, February 25, 2006

L'enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions

I was buying the paper this morning. At a CVS on Connecticut Ave, near Politics and Prose.
The paper is 35 cents plus 2 cents tax for a total of 37 cents. I give the girl behind the counter one dollar and then as she is typing the amount in the machine, I find 7 cents and tell her "Wait! I have 7 cents" expecting an easier transaction. In fact, she looks puzzled. "How much should I give you back?" she is asking. I tell her "Well, I gave you 1 $ 07 and the paper cost 37 cents so you owe me 1$07 MINUS 37 cents and that's..." I want to let her do the math. She is about 15 or 16 years old. She probably knows how to subtract. She rushes to her pocket calculator as I say. "No, you can do it! I'll help you." I'm in my "teacher mode" now, working slowly with the numbers to make her understand. "How much is 10 minus 3 ?" I ask. When she answers "5", I just ask again. "Don't try to guess, count even on your hand if you have to". She obliges.
I turn around to apologize to the man behind me. I smile while saying that I hope he won't mind but it is important. "Teaching maths to a young mind". He does mind and calls someone to open a new line. I'm undeterred and keep explaining to the girl how to get the result that she needs. I've now got a pen, a paper and I'm scribbling on it, explaining as I write. "So you see, I gave you 7 cents extra from the dollars so that takes care of of the 7 cents extra from 30 cents of the paper". She sees but after telling me that 10 -3 is indeed 7, she cannot tell me that 1$ -30 cents is 70 cents.
After a full 2 minutes of explanations, she finally gets it and says 70 cents. I smile happy and convinced to have done good. As I get my money back (she did gave me the correct change), I ask her "Which grade are you?". Her answer takes me aback. "Twelve grade". I cannot help but joke "Twelve grade! What have you been doing for these 12 years?" Her smile vanishes. She looks at me straight and says with a clear voice "I have a learning disability". I do not know what to say so I just nod my head, feeling embarrassed. As I leave the store, I notice a woman in the line glaring at me with her eyes sending me insults and reproaches.


Blogger Solomon2 said...

"Twelve grade! What have you been doing for these 12 years?"

Would that have been a joke in France? It didn't strike me as funny at all.

If I had been behind you in line, I wouldn't have minded your math teaching (though I think most Washingtonians might) -- that would help the cashier do her job better. But I would find this needling "joke" supercilious, tasteless, time-wasting, and overly personal.

The cashier appears to be entirely blameless in this matter; indeed, she handled you very patiently. If I had been her manager I would have given her high marks. It is also conceivable that her manager, as a result of this incident, discovered her learning disability and fired her.

However, cashiers rarely perform subtraction. When a cashier gives change, they are generally taught to count UP: "thirty-seven, forty, fifty, seventy-five, one dollar." That avoids the "ten minus three" problem.

The socially proper thing to do would have been to say quietly, "I'm sorry" (you made her confess her disability in public when it really wasn't necessary) and slink guiltily away from the counter and leave the store.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Just said...

I agree with you that I messed up big time. I often go into "teacher" mode -- not really thinking about it too much... This time was one time that I should have thought and paused a bit but I thought I was doing good...(hence the title of the post -- it means "Hell is paved with good intentions"...)

I did leave the store right after that, was thinking of coming back later to apologize but never worked out the courage to do so.

This said I don't think that the manager could fire her for having a learning disability. My feeling was that the other cashiers were aware of her difficulties. I was just the only one blinded...

Life is a never ending lesson...

4:28 PM  
Blogger Huan said...

learning disability is only a shame when one seek to hide it. if the girl did not feel shame in admitting it, then it is a shame for another to treat it as such.

9:05 AM  

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