Japan is famous all over the world for the excellent customer service, but of course bad and horrible service does exist here at times.  In particular, there’s a woman named Iijima at the Seiyu grocery store near my apartment who has always been just terrible.  I’ve never seen her smile, she mumbles, she gives you dirty looks, and I get the impression that she feels inconvenienced by having to check customers out even though that is her primary job function.

Tonight was no different.  Seiyu (which, just for the record, is owned by Wal-Mart) has some eco-initiative where you can choose to not get plastic bags for your groceries.  They don’t have paper bags at all, so it’s either take the plastic bags or use your own carrying device or bag.  I’ve never actually seen anyone use their own bag, but whatever.  The slight incentive to customers for doing this is that you receive 2 yen (2 cents) off every item.  There are little tags at the register that you can throw into your shopping basket when you check out that signify you will be using your own bag.  Despite this, every single time you go to the register they ask you if you want bags or not.  There is no point to having these “no bags, thanks” things if they’re going to ask you anyway.  But that’s a minor complaint.

The problem tonight was that the guy in front of me, an Asian man maybe in his 40’s, did not speak any Japanese.  So when Iijima the butch checkout lady from hell mumbled to him “do you need bags?” he didn’t understand her and gave a kind of “no” shrug.  So after paying for almost 3000 yen in groceries, he’s standing there wondering why he doesn’t have any plastic bags to carry his purchases home.  (Japanese grocery stores always make you bag your own groceries, making a checker’s job even easier.)  He clearly doesn’t speak Japanese, but was very politely signaling that he’d like some plastic bags.  Iijima clicks her teeth like old people here tend to do when annoyed, then goes to explain to the guy that she already asked him if he wanted bags and he “said” no.  She then takes one of the “no bags, thanks” tags and uses it to try and explain the no bag thing in quick, mumbled Japanese, to a (probably Chinese) man who doesn’t understand a word heshe is saying.  She then shows him on his receipt that she gave him the no bag discount, but he understandably still has no idea what’s going on. He is then over at the bagging area standing there wondering why the gross checkout lady didn’t give him any bags,  justifiably bewildered.

OK I mean come on!  When he came to get checked out he never used one of the  tags to signify he didn’t need bags.  He wasn’t carrying a backpack or anything, so how did she think he was going to carry his groceries home?  And the time she spent futily explaiing to him the no bag initiative could have been better spent just giving the guy a few plastic bags.  But no, she would rather “follow protocol” and hold up the 5-customer deep line while trying to tell this foreigner that he didn’t follow the poorly thought out rules of the store.  On my way out, I gave the guy one of the unused bags I had received, but I really regret not telling Iijima to just give the poor guy a few bags when I had the chance.  I would have even paid the few yen or whatever to do so, if the money was really the issue.  It was just a pathetic thing to watch.  Especially with the no bag signal tags, the default for every customer should be “yes, they get bags for their groceries.”

I don’t know why this annoyed me so much.  Probably because this checkout woman always pisses me off.