I once went into a convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes. I don’t remember when, exactly, so I’ll just relegate it to the ever-so-desriptive time frame of “a while ago.” Anyway, I ended the transaction by asking “Do you have any matches?” If I stopped there everything would have been fine. However, I couldn’t help myself and asked “Do you have any matches? I forgot my lighter at home.” I told the truth, but why did I bother saying it at all? Why did I need to add the justification at the end? Did I really worry about the girl behind the counter thinking I couldn’t afford a lighter?
I may have not been too poor but I am too cheap to buy a new one if I know mine is still good. (Considering I quit since then, and in fact had a long time before then, I’ve had this same lighter for years—hence the reason I can’t remember exactly when the event happened.) But that’s all besides the point. I didn’t need to say anything. I’m not too upset about this. After all, the girl didn’t seem to care what I said. Still, I noticed what I had done and found it odd. It got me thinking about all of the little such instances that I witnessed when I worked that side of a convenience store counter.
Here’s a good example. We had a semi-regular customer who would come into the store and go right to the liquor wall in order to examine the whiskey. When he knew that the cashier would be able to hear him, he would pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels and comment on how that’s the good stuff. I don’t like whiskey myself but I do recognize that it is one of the better brands. He then would set the bottle back down and grab a cheaper brand. He would bring that bottle to the counter to buy, saying something along the lines of “I guess I’ll get this tonight” as if he was settling on that particular brand for the evening and saving the good stuff for later. Yet he did this every time. I don’t remember him buying a bottle of Jack Daniels.
The man is a well-known figure in my community so I won’t name him. Nonetheless, it’s not like he was doing anything wrong. He has a perfect right to go into a legal establishment to buy a perfectly legal bottle of whiskey. He didn’t necessarily hide the fact. Was he worried that people would think that he couldn’t afford the good brand? Furthermore, why did he care what a convenience store clerk think?
This touches on a larger issue of caring about what others think of us. I’ll try to keep the scope small with this blog post. I should look at the other side of the issue, though. We have this assumption in our culture that we shouldn’t care what others think about us, even though we break that guideline all the time. My tirade against myself or bringing up the example of the man buying whiskey implies that assumption. But maybe we have a good reason to care what others think about us, even in specific cases when it doesn’t matter. We keep the habit going because once we break it, we might not realize when it can become a problem.
Let’s look back at the two examples I gave as well. I could easily say that the girl behind the counter is a convenience store clerk, who is she to judge? On a cruel scale that might be true, but at the same time she was quite attractive. Maybe I wanted her to think that I had money after all. Of course, in that case I probably should have bought a lighter. That’s all assuming, of course, that she would be interested in a smoker anyway.
With the man buying whiskey, he probably knew that I had access to a lot of people at my job. A lot of people from the community, including its more prominent members, came into that store. Hell, at one point one of the owners was on the town council (at the time of this writing he still is). While he might not have cared that people knew he bought whiskey he might have not wanted it getting around that he was too cheap to buy Jack Daniels. He had some sort of image to maintain.
We go throughout our lives, working on how others perceive us without our realizing it. I need to start paying closer attention. Even if I don’t do so for the sake of bettering myself, I would at least have more material for this blog.