So my boyfriend and I go to the home-improvement store to buy a scale and I go to the nearest help kiosk or whatever you call it and ask one of the sales associates for advice. Specifically, I am wondering how reliable the various digital scales are because mine totally lost its accuracy after a year, even when I changed the battery. The associate, a guy maybe 18 or 19, says “Are you sure the problem’s with the scale?” Then—my boyfriend denies this, but I saw it—the guy looks over at my boyfriend and sort of rolls his eyes at him, man to man.
I say, “Thanks, that’s helpful,” and march out of the store, my boyfriend hurrying after me.
My boyfriend tells me that it was stupid of me to storm out like that. He says that the kid was just trying to make a joke, and that anyway this store probably has the best prices, so that by leaving I was just hurting myself. What do you think?
—Dieting in Dover
I’m not sure what the kid was after. He may have thought he was making a little joke all three of you would find funny. He may have actually believed you could have been mistaken about the scale, and wanted to be helpful and possibly save you some money. Or he may have known perfectly well that he would offend you. (My money is on that last one.) But it doesn’t really matter. Clueless, condescending, or outright offensive—whichever he was, there is no reason you had to put up with him if you didn’t want to.
But let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute and run through the best arguments I can think of for making light of the kid’s conduct, and staying in the store.
One is that you may have offended the salesperson, or hurt his feelings when you turned and left. This is unlikely; I suspect that he just shrugged his shoulders and moved on. And even if he did take offense, it is probably good for him to get a little negative reinforcement when he makes questionable and probably sexist jokes.
Two is that, if you had stayed around, you might have found someone who would actually help you. This strikes me as even less likely; I have hardly ever encountered anybody in big stores who knows, or much cares, about small appliances—if a scale even rises to the level of an appliance.
Three is your boyfriend’s point that the store probably has the best prices. I have no idea whether this is true but, even if it is, getting the best price on a product becomes much less attractive when you are not sure whether it’s a good product. If the staff at a brick-and-mortar store can’t or won’t help you weigh the merits of different scales, and if shopping there is not a pleasant experience, it makes more sense to shop online, where you can look for rock-bottom prices and probably read customer and expert reviews.
Or, if you know of any, you could go to a store where the prices may be a bit higher, but the staff is knowledgeable and helpful, or at least obliging and inoffensive. I am all for going to real physical stores whenever possible, to help the local economy and increase the amount of eye contact among humans. In fact, I am willing to pay a little more to even when I know exactly what I want, like a specific book, to help keep local shops open—but only when the store offers good service or otherwise contributes to the community.
So no, I don’t think you were “stupid,” and I certainly hope that your boyfriend doesn’t make a habit of using that word to characterize your behavior. His doing so, and his making light of a remark that upset you, do not redound to his credit. Nor does his apparent siding with a loutish bro he’d never set eyes on before instead of supporting you. A bathroom scale may not be that big a deal. (Okay, I admit that it can be—this is where I sort of roll my eyes at you, woman to woman.) Being sensitive to your partner is a huge deal, though. The incident you write about is fairly minor. But if your boyfriend’s behavior at the home-improvement store strikes you as typical, you might want to sit him down and have a chat. You might even want to think about whether he is right for you. Look back on the way he has treated you, and see if the scales fall from your eyes.
La Wally says:
If she had a do-over, I’d tell her to check out the different scales at the store and see if anybody else could help her, then look up ratings and prices on her phone while still at the store. Use that info to buy the scale there, or not. Then she can go back and tell that first salesperson he was out of line, if she still wants to.
As for the boyfriend, I’m not sure he acted all that badly. I would need to know more. Besides, she didn’t ask about that.
I love the place where I go to swim four or five times a week. Going there takes a big bite out of my budget and uses up about half of my free time, but it has been worth it. Swimming is the only exercise I like. The pool is wonderful—bright, clean, very big, not too crowded.
I have this routine where I swim laps, then read a magazine while I soak in the hot tub for twenty minutes or so, then shower and dry my hair and so on and drive to my home office, or to the college where I teach part-time. This routine used to leave me feeling calm and invigorated. But then this group of ladies started showing up. According to the people at the desk, at least some of them belong to church or community group, which brings them in a van. A bunch of them are almost always there at the same times I am.
I have several minor problems with these women, mostly because they seem to have zero sense of personal space and are forever doing stuff like sitting two inches from me when there is plenty of room elsewhere, jumping under the hairdryer I was in the middle of using when I step away to get some more gel, and so on. But I can live with that. What’s really making me crazy is that they talk a lot, usually at the top of their voices. It often sounds as if they are yelling out some warning, or crying for help, or having some huge fight. Since I don’t understand a single word of the language they are speaking, or should I say screaming, there is no way for me to filter what they say. I try to block them out entirely, but it never works. What can I do?
—Rattled in Raritan
I sympathize with you—more than I should, probably: I have missed the artistry, and sometimes even the plot, of many movies, and enjoyed some concerts less than I might have, due to obsessing about somebody’s popcorn or loud whispers or crinkling program. And even though the swim club experience doesn’t depend on sound in the same way, I can imagine how jarring it is to be soaking in a hot tub and hear someone shouting what, to a non-Loud-Lady-Language speaker, sounds just like a tsunami alert; or to be in the locker room standing on one naked leg, trying to squeeze yourself into a damp racing suit, and lose your balance when some unintelligible person six inches behind you shouts what could very well mean “They got me!” or “Duck!” or “Rabid dog!” or “Man the torpedoes!” or “You talkin’ to ME?”
However, even though I agree that your problem is real, it may be hard to solve—if by “solve” we mean getting the ladies to change their behavior and quiet down. You could try talking to the management, but I am not sure how much help they can or will provide. This probably depends on the nature of the facility. If it is fancy, smallish, expensive, and spa-like, somebody might be willing to talk to the ladies or their sponsoring group and try to get them to dial it down a few decibels; but even if management does try, it may be hard to make the Loud Ladies realize how much noise they are making. After all, they apparently sound just fine to one another. And if the facility is more like a Y, or a local community center, or a sports gym, you may have trouble getting anyone to care about some women who are just one noisy group among a diverse and rowdy collection of aging jocks, high-school swim teams, youth basketball players, Silver Sneakers seniors, and others who come and go throughout the week (although not, I hope, at the same times you do).
Or you could try talking to the Loud Ladies yourself. I know people who would have no trouble asking your ladies to be quieter, even if doing so meant using gestures indicating loudness, headache, keeping it down, and so on if necessary (although I would bet that, unless they are all recent arrivals, some of your ladies must know basic English). But I am not one of those people and would want to know the ladies better before I risked offending them and making matters worse. You may be made of sterner stuff. If so, be my guest…but remember that you will, in effect, be telling them that something they do habitually and naturally is annoying and rude.
If quieting the ladies down doesn’t work out—which I predict—it might help to change your response to them. How about if you try to develop some sympathy or fellow feeling for them? Think about what a fine thing it is that they get to enjoy one another’s company. Ponder the likelihood that, where talking unbelievably loudly is concerned, they really cannot help themselves. Perhaps their decibel level has something to do with their language itself, or their culture. (I do not mean to stereotype any particular language or ethnic group here. These ladies may just comprise one tiny, abnormally loud subculture of their own. And of course I have absolutely no idea what their language, country of origin, etc., actually are.
You might even try establishing some sort of relationship with them, perhaps by admiring this woman’s suit or that woman’s brush. Or by pointing out that the water in the pool has been really cold lately, while hugging your arms and going “brrr.” Or by picking a moment to leave the club when you can hold the door for the ladies and smile at them they file out to the van. Getting to know them better won’t make them any quieter, but it might make their noise less irritating.
And don’t forget about earplugs. They won’t look out of place at the pool, and even if they don’t totally block the ladies’ voices, they will probably lower the decibel levels enough to make their conversations sound like ordinary chitchat about goggles and grandchildren, not desperate pleas and urgent warnings.
La Wally says:
If the women are really that loud, do complain to the management. They will not want to lose customers. But you will probably be happier if you are not so sensitive. I would work on that.
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.
La Wally is the nom de June of June Cleaver‘s adult daughter. In real life, she’s an artist and entrepreneur. What’s up with her name? In choosing a pseudonym, the two of them considered the names of the original Cleaver family offspring, both boys, but rejected “Beaver” for obvious reasons. “Wally” alone seemed too masculine and generally hideous. But “La Wally” brings to mind Catalani’s wonderful opera. Speaking of which, have you seen the movie Diva? You should.