One of the things I find myself doing at work is watching customers walk up to the counter, realize that buying cigarettes and soda involves talking to another human being, and frantically try to determine our relative places in a hierarchy.
Let me refine that a bit — what I find myself doing is trying to keep my contempt and/or pity from showing too much while watching them do this.
Some customers try to reinforce the dominance they want over me (“retail is part of the service sector, therefore you’re my servant,” they imagine, or maybe “it’d cheer me up if I had some little people to abuse”). They usually do this by giving me a diminutive nickname like “bud,” “buddy,” or “hon.” It’s especially noticeable when someone “buds” me five or six times during a one-minute interaction.
Conversely, there are people who think that they have to suck up to me while handing me money or that, since I’m not obviously subordinate to them, I must be their master. “Sir” is the most common sign of this and, like “bud,” can happen five or six times a minute. Some of them try to lighten the mood or sweeten the taste of my boots by making a joke out of it — most commonly with “boss,” though I’ve been called “cap’n” more than once.
A few people are unwilling to guess at which of these applies. They’ll “sir” me in one sentence, “bud” me in the next, and watch my reaction for signs as to which one is correct.
…NEITHER, YOU INSUFFERABLE DIPSHITS.
None of this posturing and dominance-and-submission signaling is necessary. It’s possible, even easy, for two strangers to talk without one of them having to kneel before the other. I do it dozens of times a day, and some of the customers I deal with are willing to reciprocate. But the rest of them…
Sometimes I despair.