There is always a line at the Subway sandwich shop where I have lunch. Subway usually has about six bread options, but today, they were out of everything except for wheat and honey oat. As I made my way through the line, I noticed that the worker explained to each patron that there were only two bread options. The worker was clearly not happy about having to explain this deficiency to people and her irritation showed; she practically yelled the remaining two options to people.
I just ordered my sandwich efficiently and waited for it to be toasted. As I was waiting my turn in the lettuce-tomato slot, I watched as two more people encountered the rude worker. Then the next guy in line, who hadn't been paying attention, ordered his sandwich: The worker said, "Alls we have is wheat and honey oat." The customer replied, "Whatever is fresher."
That was not the right thing to say. If the worker was agitated to begin with, she was downright angry after that comment. For the remaining time I spent at the counter, the workers just looked at each other with sideways glances, frustration and shame. It was not a pleasure to dine with them today. And, that's mostly because it's clear that they hate their job.
Honestly, I don't blame them. These Subway workers go to work everyday, and they have to deal with customers who show them very little respect. When they return home, they cannot talk about their time at work as something that was meaningful in their life because ... well... society does not respect sandwich artists. That kind of sentiment can wear on you. Not many people thank the worker for making our sandwich, or tell the cashier at the food court to have a nice day.
In contrast, we have parades for teachers, firemen and police officers. Workers in these noble professions frequently receive public gratitude. A significant portion of the population feels as if they owe a teacher a piece of their heart for being a teacher. Very few people feel that they owe their local department store worker anything but criticism.
What are the noble professions, anyway? Teachers, firemen, soldiers and police officers have noble professions; they frequently receive public gratitude just for doing the work they do. A big reason for this public gratitude is because it is politically popular to show public gratitude to people in noble professions. Doing so makes you appear noble yourself.
Some other professions carry a negative social stigma. It's politically popular to hold disdain for these jobs. For example, plenty of people hold disdain for our consumer culture, blaming our financial troubles on consumerism (at least in part). Indirectly, this creates a negative stigma on any sort of service job: sandwich artist, retail sales associate, or cashier at Walmart to name a few.
What's the purpose of noble professions? I'm not sure. We might believe that people who work in noble professions are underpaid. In this view, we bestow gratitude on workers in noble professions to compensate them better. But then, the flip side of this perspective is that we bestow disdain on ignoble professions (i.e., retail and sales) to incentivize workers from being in those professions in the first place.
On the other hand, when you verbally accost your sales associate, what do you hope to accomplish? Are you seriously trying to incentivize the worker to switch careers? Even if that's the effect of your insults, I doubt that's why you mistreat sales associates and sandwich artists. I think it's because some people are just ungrateful, and when you're the customer, being ungrateful goes unpunished. After all, the customer is always right.
On a more serious level, it's wrong to take sales associates and sandwich artists for granted. First, the person behind the counter is just as human as you are. On that fundamental level, you have no right to judge. Second, sales associates and sandwich artists obviously provide a service you're unwilling to provide, and you value that service enough to pay their wages. Put differently, how would you like to make your own sandwich? Or, why didn't you shop online?