The Duty To Confront, Part One: A Starbucks Encounter


A friend on Facebook just posted this tale…

“Lady at Starbucks yelled at employee for serving old sandwiches marked 8/11. She was irate and insisted on seeing the manager. The manager told her that today was 8/11. Lady said “oh” and no apology for employee who was now in tears.”

And, apparently, nobody, including my friend, stepped in an demanded that the customer apologize.


We have a shared duty to keep up basic standards of ethics and decency. In this situation, and apology is mandatory, and if the woman, who had a valid reason to complain if she was right, didn’t have the sense, character or decency to do the right thing, she needed to be told, and even embarrassed.

Three incidents in my experiences come to mind….


I was shopping at a CVS last month and saw a two for one sale of 12 packs of Coke. When I got my sales slip, I saw I had been charged full price for two packs. I pointed it out, and the clerk checked. An expired sales slip (the date in miniscule letters) had been left under the item. “Sorry,” she said.

“You should be sorry, because you’re giving me that item at the posted price. I just happened to check the slip, which I usually don’t. That’s a bait and switch, and I don’t appreciate it,” I replied, a bit testily.

“Why are you yelling at  her? She didn’t mislabel it!” interjected another woman in line.

“She’s the representative of the store–see anyone else around?” I said. “This has happened to me before, and she should know that CVS is responsible for the listed price, expired or not. She is supposed to know that, not brush me off with “sorry.” If I yell at her, she tells her superior, and maybe this sloppy store stops doing this. Back off.”

But I should have complimented the woman in line for getting involved.


At my local 7-11, where I know all the staff, I watched a woman with a cell phone earpiece talk loudly with someone while paying for her items, barely glancing at the clerk handling the transaction. This really hacks me off.  I tapped her on the shoulder. “That’s rude and demeaning. What’s the matter with you? This employee is a human being. You look him in the eye, you stop what you  are doing, and you say “thank you.” She looked at me like I was deranged.

“If I see you do that again, I won’t be this nice,” I said. “Now apologize to him.” She did, too.

The clerk gave me a free bag of pretzels. (He knows my brand).


Years ago…hell, decades ago, I  bought something from a fruit stand in D.C. When I got the change, I realized that I have given the owner a twenty and only got change for a ten. I said so, and he denied it. I was adamant. I said that I knew I had a twenty dollar bill in my wallet, it was gone, and it was gone because I gave it to him. He got upset and started shouting; I made it clear that I wasn’t backing down. “Let’s get a cop,” I suggested. Other people were now listening. He gave up, gave me change for the twenty, and told me never to come back.

“Don’t worry about that,” I said as I left. About a block down the street, I found the twenty in my pocket.

I walked back, found the guy, who looked like he might hit me, and abjectly apologized. I even offered him the twenty. He just ordered me to leave.

I don’t blame him.

49 thoughts on “The Duty To Confront, Part One: A Starbucks Encounter

    • He was really pissed, and since I had been publicly challenging his honesty, I can’t say I was surprised. Let me tell you that the walk back to the stand was one of the toughest blocks I’ve ever traveled.

      • Still, you took the walk back – totally the right thing to do. And I bet you apologized pretty abjectly and eloquently too. He really should have accepted your apology.
        Though, another great truth of life is, you can’t make other people do what you want them to.

        • I remember vividly thinking, “Oh, crap, there’s the 20. And I just stole this guy’s money while calling him a cheat. Now I have to prostrate myself. Can I let this go? Nobody will know! (20 more rationalizations to follow). Hell. My father would go back. I gotta go back.”

    • Well said. Yes it was, and yes he did, and moreover, published his shame and his apology for the whole world to see and memorialise.

      Perfection is not required – good job, it’s not possible. Doing your best and being honest about your errors is.

      There’s unfinished business here though. That money has to be returned somehow, and a written apology sent. Whether it’s accepted or not is out of our hands.

      Maybe if some of the readers here got together and sent a letter signed by all, detailing what Jack wrote?

      It took me 40 years to track down someone I owed an apology to once – it niggled me until I did. He’d forgotten about it of course, but I hadn’t.

  1. This reminds me of all the patrons screaming at the library staff because a. They returned that book, oh wait, here it is under the car seat; b. “Don’t you know who I am”, I shouldn’t have to show you my ID or library card to check out $$$ worth of materials; c. Expect the 19 year old college student to jeopardize her job and break the law because you want to know what your wife checked out. I did have patrons surround me as protection when a parent stood screaming at me because I told her son he couldn’t roller skate in the library nor climb on the security gates. Some proactively contacted the director to defend me. We have had one person banned for a period of time for behavior who came back and apologized. A true rarity.

    • As a school librarian this all sounds very familiar to me. It’s one of those jobs that makes you a better tipper, a more patient store customer, a less angry phone solicitation recipient, and a less patient listener to the abusive behavior of bullies.

  2. So Jack, if that had been a man on the cell phone, 1. would you have challenged him? 2. What if he told you to fuck off, this was none of your business?

  3. Does anyone remember Politenessman, a manners and etiquette superhero in National Lampoon magazine in the 70s and 80s? He would show up on the scene, throwing a steel hanky at people caught in the commission of various social faux pas, setting things right. The bruised and bleeding offender would then thank him before he sped off to continue his work.

  4. Our neighborhood recently incorporated as a city. While in the process, the citizens involved in the effort formed both a committee to incorporate and a political action committee, to which a local law firm made a substantial contribution. As far as I know, there were no strings attached to the contribution. After over a year, that city has now decided to hire this law firm to collect delinquent property taxes. When I mentioned the contribution, a local citizen told me about the splendid record of the firm, and said “This firm has violated no ethical law in the State of Texas, as far as I know”. I told her that it was not the law firms ethics I was concerned about, though I take rather a dim view of them playing typical Texas politics, but rather the city council’s, with 3 of 5 members being members of both the committee to incorporate and the PAC. I doubt that my concerns will make any dent in the decision making process, but I had to try.

  5. What am I saying! There’s a Starbucks every other block and a CVS every third. I’m not sure about the fruit stand with the frothing owner, though. I think he lives near me. He’s still pretty pissed off about the time I turned around without considering my bulging backpack and knocked a shelf of overripe pineapples onto the nearly ripe peaches below. Several helpful passers-by tried translating my apology. Or . . .maybe not

  6. Jack, I love these stories and I’m sad to report that I have had the same issues at CVS. Maybe it’s not a “random” occurrence.

    I shared your stories with my family and they all got stuck on #2. They did not agree that customers have ANY obligation to interact with a cashier, above and beyond the actual transacting of money. In fact, come to think of it, I have often been ignored as cashiers go about their business while chit chatting with their fellow cashiers. Maybe what bothered you (and it bothers me) is when we are forced to listen to the cell phone conversations of others.

    And in case you want to add another story to this list…. shortly after reading your blog, I stopped by our local Italian market to buy something for dinner. A mother was (way too mildly) reprimanding her young son (maybe age 4) for touching EVERY loose fruit and vegetable in the store. He was picking his nose at the same time. Did I have a responsibility to say something to the nose picker’s mother or a store employee? Moral of the story- always wash your fruits and vegetables.

    • What’s wrong with the phone call is that its unbelievably rude. A clerk is a human being, not an ATM. When anyone interacts with a human being, you interact. You say hello. You say thank-you. You say good bye. I’ve been in low level jobs, and such interaction makes work bearable. The conduct your family seems to think is OK (they think that because it is so common) also encourages cleraks and other service personnel to be similarly rude to them. I resent clerks, sales and service personnel who are sullen, don’t make eye contact and refuse to speak, and I often tell them so.

      Slam dunk Golden Rule issue.

      • To me, your conduct on no. 2 was wrong, not only because of the objections just raised but also – and mainly – because you are asserting that people have an obligation to be pushy and intrusive. It is wrong to interact more than minimally with staff carrying out such duties because what, for you, is a few minutes and a one off is for her (it’s usually a “her”) yet another wearying sameness hitting all through the shift: the principle of the apocryphal Chinese water torture, torment by slow but steady dripping on the forehead. You were not being considerate, i.e. you did not consider her situation. Granted, she might have been the sort of person who finds all that energising, but then again she might not, so the safer choice is the considerate one. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and if you don’t know which is which you shouldn’t urge it.

        Having said that, it was also wrong of the customer to throw her own telephone conversation onto the server, for the very same reasons, but your cure – bearing in mind that it also involved an argument in front of the server over and above exhorting pushiness towards the server – was worse than the disease.

      • Normal human interaction is being relegated to the garbage heap, due to these damned phones. It blows my mind to see kids in the halls at school, no one talking to each other, but hammering away at their text matrix-interfaces. Seriously, dozens of kids, and near-silence. Its scary. At some point in the future, we will have feeding tubes, and no vocal cords.

        • Why text when you can talk? Isn’t that what cell phones- or any kind of phone- are supposed to be about? Even better is communicating face to face. I prefer that because you can read your counterpart by facial expressions and gestures that not only supplement words, but predate vocabulary.

          The human face is the most mobile of all living creatures on Earth. It got that way for a reason! Texting removes all those factors from the mix. It becomes a matter of basic, badly worded phrases- the modern day equivalent of grunts and whistles. Even monkeys can do better.

          And what’s worse, it reduces one of the most rich and variegated languages on Earth- English- to that level. If you can’t talk and deal with people face to face, you can’t truly function in a free society. And what you do communicate is sterile and soulless.

          Kids shouldn’t text. They shouldn’t even have a damned cell phone. Tell them what we used to say back in the 1960’s. “Get out there and relate, man!”

  7. After working in food service, I am always suspicious of such protests. Many stores will give a discount or a coupon when the store makes such a mistake. I remember a woman who would special order food, then belligerently complain that it was prepared wrong (“I said no sauce and you wrote down no cheese!”). We would usually give such a customer the corrected item for free, so she was doing this repeatedly. She was eventually warned by management, so she got her husband to order the food. She had him come into the store and complain that it was prepared wrong. When we pointed out it was exactly as HE had ordered, he said ” Oh, yeah” and left. Then his wife came in yelling at us for messing up her order, cursing at the employees, etc. Then the manager stepped in and loudly said “You were warned about this! Your days of ripping off this store are over. If you come back, we will have you arrested.” Her husband looked furious…at her.

    It may not have been a mistake on the date. The customer may have been causing a fit trying to get a freebie. When the store is wrong, it is good business to do something for the inconvenience. I always wondered how many people were just taking advantage of that fact.

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