How Not to Act in a Cheese Shop
December 6, 2007

The Questions:

"I don't know what I want. I usually like Kraft cheese -- do you have any of that kind?"

Do we have any fake plastic cheese that only by the extreme stretches of the imagination can actually be called cheese? Hm, let me check. Nope, we don't seem have that kind of cheese.

"I just want a cheese that I can eat right now -- do you have that?"

As opposed to a cheese you can eat only after waiting the required two hours post purchase?

"What cheese is good with bread?"

Gee, I don't know, the kind of cheese that's good with WATER!? I mean, come ON! People really need to think before they open their mouths.

"How about this cheese -- is it good?"

No, no, because, you see, we only sell bad cheese here. It's a new thing. We think it will catch on.

And the most WTF question: "What's a good cheese to eat on the Ferry?"

I don't that complements the salty air? One that doesn't get sea sick?

The Don'ts:

DON'T come to the store in the middle of your run when you're all nasty and smelly and dripping your personal sweat all over the cheeses -- it may surprise you to learn that PEOPLE EAT THOSE CHEESES! You sweat on it, you bought it.

DON'T come to the store in a major rush because you have to catch the ferry and then get demanding and impatient because you don't feel your needs are being met in an immediate enough fashion. As you've told me so many times, you've been to our store so many times. Hence, you should already know that our store is frequently filled with lots and lots of customers and just because you didn't budget enough time in your schedule to taste every cheese in the shop only to buy the stuff you always buy doesn't mean we're going to ignore every single customer lined up in front of you at the cash register!

Look, I know you think your tot is the cutest thing ever to walk God's green Earth but please, DON'T bring your kid into the store on a Saturday during the farmer's market when the crowd at the counter is so thick that it starts to eat away at our oxygen just so your kid can practice his lisping questioning skills. "Ask the lady what that cheese is." "Ask the lady if you can hold the cheese." "Ask the lady why the cheese is that color." "Ask the lady why her face is turning purple and she's starting to go into convulsions."

DON'T come to a store like ours and expect to walk away with cheap cheese. We don't sell it. We sell cheese from all over the world and, yes, it can run $27/lb. Even domestic cheese can be really expensive because it's artisanal and, unlike France, our government doesn't have it in them to subsidize our cheese. "Goverment cheese" in this country has a whole different kind of meaning and doesn't exactly bring to mind words like "Brie," "Roquefort," or "Fougerous."

I was sort of explaining this concept to one customer as he boggled over the price of a French cheese. I explained that it was French and homemade. Grinning like an idiot that i suspect is of the "village" kind, he asks, "Oh, so, like some little guy in Tuscany is making it?" Right. Except that the "little guy" is IN FRANCE!

I swear, how do these people not fall down more?

You want cheap cheese? There's a Safeway on Mission -- go bug them.

The Stories:

This one day a fussy-looking woman poked at the round of Mimolette and demanded: "Why does it look that way?" and I proceeded to tell my story of Louis XIV and the Dutch cheese it mimics. When I was done with my spiel, the fussy-looking woman turned to her husband and minced out, "That isn't what they told me YESTERDAY!" before she dragged him off. The hell? Like, was she testing us or something? What did they tell her yesterday, and why would what I told her make her storm away in such a huff of Chanel No. 5 and salmon-colored lipstick?

I really don't understand the people who are shocked to learn that there's a register in the store. Sure, our cheese barge is slightly pushed out into the hallway but behind us, there's a whole huge store -- doesn't it follow that there's a register back there and not hidden amongst the rounds of cheese? I guess not, because I kindly tell them -- and yes, I AM kind even in the face of all this shoving of bills, coins, and credit cards -- "I'm going to finish up with this and then bring it over to the register where [Insert Fellow Cheesemonger] will ring you up." Their eyes get round and surprised, "Oh, there's a register? Where? I don't see it!"

Every so often one (usually every few seconds) of us has to bellow: "If you need help at the counter, please take a NUMBER from the front of the STOOOOORE!" And invariably we get the question back, "We have to take numbers? Where are they?" AT THE FRONT OF THE STORE! And then there are the people who actually have the gall to get mad at you because they were squawking away on their cell phone when you made the Number Announcement five seconds ago and therefore didn't hear the Number Announcement, and it's clearly fault of the entire store that they didn't know we were taking numbers. Of course, I don't want to forget the people who stare blankly at you when you make the Number Announcement and as soon as you're done swallowing a gulp of water to soothe your raspy throat, they start asking you questions and demanding cheese. Because, clearly, the number system doesn't apply to them. In fact, they are above numbers.

The assiest customer I ever had started pulling cheeses out of the reach-in and piling them up on the counter. I walk over to him and ask if I can help him with something. Without looking up or making eye contact of any kind, he points at the round of St. Pat's and the round of Red Hawk and instructs me to unwrap them both because he wants to smell each of them before he buys them. Fine. He continues to move through the store tossing more pieces of cheese over the rounds and onto the barge where we work. I unwrap the St. Pat's and try to hand it over to him. He sniffs at it and shoves -- he SHOVES -- my hand back and says, "It's fine. I'll take it." I unwrap the Red Hawk and make the same polite attempt of offering it to him. He pokes at it with his index finger and again shoves -- HE SHOVES! -- my hands back. Don't touch me. No. Seriously. DON'T TOUCH ME!

Anyway, as I go to wrap up the cheeses I just unwrapped, my manager comes over and asks my wandering customer if he needs help. Before I can tell her I have it covered, Mr. Assy says, "Yeah, while she's wrapping my things, you can cut me some more stuff." We pretty much have a rule that no customer is entitled to take up the time of two cheesemongers especially when other customers are waiting. My manager told me later that if we had been more slammed with customers, she would have let him have it -- politely but firmly, of course -- for thinking he could monopolize multiple cheesemongers.

After my manager finishes cutting his cheeses to order, Mr. Assy walks off down the hall, waving his hand over his shoulder mumbling something about coming back in a minute. Whatever, dude. I wasn't about to start ringing him up and take up the register with his order when neither my manager nor I had any idea when or IF he was coming back. I piled his wrapped cheeses in basket and put it behind the counter. Mr. Assy didn't come back for another half hour! He strides in and looks at me. "Have you finished wrapping my cheeses?" he demands, interrupting the customer I'm helping at that point. Without looking up from my task of cutting some St. George, I tell him his cheeses are over at the register. Thankfully, another cheesemonger was over there because there was no way I wanted to have any further dealings with that character. Ass.

However, lest you start attacking my customer service skills -- which were nigh impeccable and shiny, happy even in the face of such extreme assitude -- I will direct you to a piece I wrote detailing the customers I love.

More Life in Cheese Reading

(This post originally appeared on The Daily Bread blog a few years ago when I was manning the counter at Ye Olde Stanke Cheese Shoppe, but as the blog is now defunct, I'm reclaiming and adapting the post. I know it's one of Jen's favorites.)

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