Please don’t do these things at your local grocery store.
When I first moved to New York City after college and was desperately hunting for a job in journalism, I got a part-time, interim gig at Trader Joe’s, which I held for about 6 months.
Overall, it was a lovely experience. TJ’s has a reputation for great management, higher-than-average wages, and a fun work environment—and I can attest that all of that is true. Yet during my short stint, I also witnessed a number of strange, surreal incidents... almost exclusively from the customers.
With the caveat that 99 percent of the people who shop there are perfectly nice, kind folk, here’s a roundup of the 5 weirdest encounters I had on the job. Have a laugh, and please, please don’t do these things to your local grocery store staff.
TJ’s has a very generous return policy. Essentially, you can bring back nearly product in any condition and get a full return, no receipt needed. Some customers took full advantage of this, regularly bringing in nearly or completely eaten products—like, an entire bag of chips with just the crumbs remaining, or an empty jar of peanut butter—and demanding their money back because they were “dissatisfied” with the products.
The worst offender was a middle-aged woman who once brought back $30 worth of groceries claiming everything in her previous purchase—from crackers to ice cream to salad—was bad. Based on the empty packaging she provided, by “bad” she really meant “eaten.” My manager had to come over to approve the return, and though we both acknowledged later that the incident was clearly ridiculous, she walked away with a full refund because the “customer always comes first” at TJ’s.
I’m of the mindset that having a little fear in New York City is a good thing. It keeps you sharp. Get too comfortable reading your book on the subway, for example, and you may later find out that your wallet is gone.
But there was a small group of patrons who took this to the next level with their fear of the checkout scanner. Yes, the scanner. They demanded we type in the 12-plus digit barcode for every single item they were purchasing because they feared scanning the items would somehow imbue them with radiation. It once took me more than 35 minutes to ring up one woman’s full cart of groceries in this manner. Even worse, she watched me like a hawk the entire time, and every time my hands got within a foot of the scanner, she’d yell “DON’T!”
A Spiteful Suitor
If you’ve ever visited a Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably noticed that the cashiers are friendlier than average. Part of this is because TJ’s screens for friendliness in the interviewing process, and it’s also because geniality, in general, is one of the company’s core values. One night early on in my employment, I learned there’s a flipside to this friendliness: it can easily be misinterpreted as flirting.
We were nearing closing time, and a young fellow in a business suit came up to my register. After five minutes of small talk about our days and the weather (during which I learned he was a banker on Wall Street) he asked for my number. Feeling pressured and put on the spot, I gave it to him.
He texted me a few days later to ask me on a date. I simply wasn’t interested, so I politely turned him down, giving the excuse of not being over an ex. That triggered a series of angry texts wondering why I would even give him my number in the first place if I wasn’t interested in going on a date, with the insinuation of how I could give up the opportunity to date someone wealthy and wonderful.
I stopped responding, but unfortunately that wasn’t the end of it. He texted me several months (!!) later asking if I was “still bagging groceries LOL.” He then showed up at my register several weeks after that, greeted me with a snarky “Well, we meet again…” and scowled as I rang up his items.
Some customers took it upon themselves to bestow me with life advice on how to “pull myself out of” my current situation, i.e. grocery store employment. “Did you go to college?” they’d asked. “You should really be using your degree, you know.” “Have you heard of LinkedIn?”
Granted, TJ’s wasn’t where I dreamed of building a career. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going that route (heck some well-known people have done stints there) and I found their judginess/presumption to be a) rude, b) seriously uncalled for, and c) really rude.
The Awkward First Date
Of course not every strange customer interaction was terrible—some were just plain odd. Once, a 20-something couple came to my register with a full cart of groceries (we’re talking toilet paper, canned goods, cartons of OJ and milk, etc.) and argued about who was paying for the haul. They were both trying to insert their credit cards for payment while simultaneously blocking the other’s attempt and telling me “don’t let him/her pay!”
I initially thought it was sweet...until the woman revealed they were on a first date and the groceries were hers. “We just met—it’s weird that you’re trying to pay for my groceries!” she said. What’s really weird, I thought in my head, is that you decided to go GROCERY SHOPPING for your very first romantic outing. Things got awkward REAL fast. She ultimately paid and they left before I had time to ask how/why/what the heck.