Friday, April 25, 2008

BURCE Almighty

Like many of you, I have a few credit cards and a couple of those grocery store "club" memberships.  I never have enough points for anything, but the ones that offer some sort of sale price or instant savings seem to work best for me.  There is one particular store in my neck of the woods that likes to personalize each transaction.  I'm sure you have had this experience a few times.  The clerk takes a quick peek at your name on the receipt and then, as natural as rain in Portland, says, "Thank you very much Mr. (or Ms.) Smith..."
     Sure it's amusing, but they are trying to be friendly.  If you are used to being called Mr. it can be a bit deceptive.  My students have always called me Mr. G.  Even when I run into a former student, it's the same.  When the grocery clerk spouts that familiar greeting, I often feel I have known them for years.  For me, it seems very natural and probably makes me comfortable with people who really don't know me at all.  But here's the part I really like.  On my Safeway card, my first name is misspelled.  It reads BURCE not Bruce.  I love it!  
I love it because it keeps people guessing; maybe that really is his name.  I love it because it's flawed.  It is quite comforting to know that these technological advances are hardly perfect.  That the human element is always present. 
I worry too about the information we put out there and the consumer profile that must accompany all our transactions.  But I know too that mine is a bit deceptive because the pattern that exists is highly irregular.  Seems I have to go to three or four stores to get the things I want.  The stores with the "clubs" are usually a last resort.  What can they do with information like I buy organic popcorn, sugarless bubble gum or frozen yogurt?
      I wonder if any grocery clerk will ever ask me about my first name?  Probably not.  They barely have enough time to glance at the last name.  And what do they do with the names they can't pronounce?  I guess those folks go without the friendly greeting.  Maybe not.  Maybe there is a concerted effort to teach the clerks the names of the store's customers.  Maybe not.  The best we can hope for in this speeded up experience of consumer exchange is a fleeting glance at our names.  And even then, it's not an exact science.

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