Bullied into a Sense of Humor (Part II)

Note: Yesterday was the first part of this article.  And how I developed the sense of humor I have, or don’t have.

Scene: Trader Joe’s close to my house. I am in the checkout line with three items. Most of the lines are filled with people with full shopping carts. In front of me is a couple with their son, age 3 or 4, who is pushing a kid-size cart.

trader+joes+escondidoHe pushes up to the counter and starts to unload the tiny cart. He drops the bag of washed, organic spinach just short of the counter. He drops an avocado. He drops a box of FruitFloes. I glance at his parents, expecting them to help, but they are both holding up their cameras, chuckling, videoing this incident with two cameras.
Dad: “Good job, Noah!”
Mom: “You’re going to be a celebrity on Facebook!”
Noah hoists another bag of greens, this time making it onto the counter. He sees the end of the bell rope that checkers ring to call a supervisor. He grabs the rope. Both parents are still videotaping.

1qVK0D.AuSt.74Noah glances at Dad, who says, “Good job, Noah!” Noah glances at me, but I’m wearing sunglasses and not reacting, so he glances at the checker, who looks doubtful. Noah pulls the bell, ringing it loudly. He then laughs, points at me and says, “She did it.” Mom swings around to film me. I stand absolutely still, not wanting to be part of this early-stage drama. Not wanting to be on a Facebook video.

The checker chimes in. “Yes, that woman rang the bell! We’ll blame it on her!” Mom continues to video me. Dad laughs, points and says, “Her fault, her fault!” The checker looks serious and says, “Boy are YOU in trouble!” to me. She winks at Noah’s Dad.  Noah is completely into this now, clanging the bell and pointing at me. “You did it!”

I should be laughing, but I’m not. I am feeling. . . shamed. Blamed for something I did not do, no matter how trivial.

Noah rings the bell again, and a manager appears. A thousand unhappy thoughts cross my mind. Would they be blaming me if I were better dressed? A man? Younger, prettier, and not in the “grandma” age range?  Why is no one doing a “good job” of explaining to Noah that

  1.  He should not be ringing the bell
  2.  If he rings the bell, the consequences are his responsibility?

Turning to leave the aisle, I go to stand in another, longer line, not willing to explain anything to anyone. I’m humiliated. This should be rolling off my back, but it’s not. I feel angry, too. Tears are starting up in my eyes behind my sunglasses.  I hear echoes of “you don’t have a sense of humor.”

But this time, I decide to do something. During the 20-minute wait in line, I think about what happened. I didn’t protect myself because the woman with the camera would have caught every reaction and I didn’t want to become a meme on Facebook.  Because I don’t know how to react in a situation in which I don’t know the rules of engagement. Because although I have lived in the U.S. my entire life, was born here, I still feel like an outsider. Someone who doesn’t belong. Who can’t blend.

After I buy my three items. I approach the woman checker who cheerfully let Noah blame me. I touched her shoulder gently and tell her I felt humiliated and shamed, and it would be lovely if she never blamed an innocent person for someone else’s behavior again. I say it softly and gently because I have had time to prepare.

She looks at me and says, “Everyone was joking. You had no business feeling bad. That’s on you.” I stopped. Breathed. “I am not going to rehearse the event again. All I want you to know is that your words hurt and embarrassed me.”

“That’s not my fault,” she said sharply, “if you don’t have a sense of humor.” Blaming the underdog for not having a sense of humor is the refuge of a bully, and now I understood my own emotions better. “All you need to know,” I said, still softly, “was that what you said hurt me. Whether or not I have a sense of humor, what you did was painful to me. I hurt enough to leave your line so you would not continue to humiliate me. Please don’t do that to someone else.”

And then I left. Shaking. Because I did what no one did when I was three or four years old. Stand up for me.

-Quinn McDonald is still processing this event. She is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.






85 thoughts on “Bullied into a Sense of Humor (Part II)

  1. Oh….ps…can you save me a place in The Old Writers Home with you….hope it’s like the old marigold hotel film and we will be sipping gin and tonics as the sun goes own in an old palace in India x

  2. Enter menopausal woman…..I would have seen the red mist…reprimanded the child,grabbed the phones off the video filming parents ,given the cashier a piece of my mind,demanded the manager,when it played back I would then look like the nutter causing the scene…..and be carted off and blamed for something I didn’t do!….yep you dealt with that really well my dear,enter I have serious blame issues unfounded from childhood…..they reared their heads when I read your post…. And whoops…thought my anger issues were under control…maybe not…but I am in protective mode for those I care about and I guess that’s a good thing! You are loverly and so insightful…this post shows you as vulnerable as the rest of us and you communicate so well. Thank god no one has videoed my kids in a supermarket…they are 11 and 14 and i still avoid going with them if possible! You are a hero ….be it inner in difficult circumstances x

    • This made me laugh so hard. Too bad you weren’t with me in line. We might both be banned from TJ’s, but we would have had a great time!
      My child (who is now a happy adult) would occasionally act out in the supermarket. I always left my cart and took him out until he could get a grip. Sometimes I lost the cart, sometimes when we came back, it was still there. I did not want to subject other parents to a temper tantrum–his OR mine.

  3. I’m trying to figure out when it became okay to encourage our children to misbehave and then call it cute. And even worse, produce a video of it and expect others to be entertained by it? I’m the Grandma in the produce aisle that gives a screaming kid in the grocery cart the look that says “you better straighten up” and they do. I don’t do it to be mean but because their parents aren’t parenting. I understand there are times when the shopping just HAS to be done and the kids are tired but much of the time it’s just a case of a spoiled child and most of us can tell the difference. I used to leave the store if my kids made too much noise, which they seldom did. But I digress.
    In your situation, Quinn I would not have been so quiet. I’m not normally one to make a scene but in this case the child would have had the benefit of my grandmothering and been told to leave the bell alone and the checker would have gotten a tongue lashing for promoting the chaos as well. And not to stop there…having been in retail management for many years I would have liked to have known how my employee handled that situation and been allowed the opportunity to apologize. It’s not too late. And please don’t think you will be humored. Good management will sympathize and take responsibility and at the very least have a talk with their employees about the incident. It’s a teaching moment for the manager. Ummm…did I say…it’s not too late?

    • Your grandmothering is both impressive and enviable. I’m not the grandmothering type, and I could not carry off what you could. I’ve tried in other circumstances and it was never accepted–I heard all about he said/she said, and the value of the customer–remember, they were yuppies with a cart full and I had three items. And I am a firm believer of dealing with the offender directly.

  4. All my life I was told by my father (a sociopath who delighted in his power over his family and ‘lesser’ beings) that I was too sensitive and couldn’t take a joke. I’m so sorry this happened to you and I relate to everything you have said

  5. It wasn’t funny and you had every right to your feelings. I would have spoken to the manager about his employee made me feel. Good managers want to know of behaviors like this from their employees. And, it ‘s quite possible that the employee would have been busted on video tape when the manager played it back and saw the child pulling the bell and the employee doing nothing to stop him.

    I am sorry you had to experience this horrible behavior from these bullies. And I’m sorry that yet another child is being reared with no sense of accountability and responsibility.

  6. I despair of parents who are raising their child to believe this kind of behavior is not just OK, but something to be laughed at. I am so sorry for your experience and wish you had not been treated so poorly. I would have taken my concerns to the manager, especially after the cashier was so apathetic and rude about it afterward.

    • I have a tendency to deal directly with the people I have a problem with. I don’t think of this as “confrontation” but as stating my feelings to the person who hurt me. I was pretty sure if I told a manager, he would appease me with apologies, and then, when I was gone, asked the cashier, who would say she was having fun and a crabby lady didn’t have a sense of humor. They would both roll their eyes and move on.

  7. What a horrible experience. I would have stood bewildered, confused about what was going on. It’s difficult to be sane and rational when others around you are playing an unfamiliar game.

  8. Holy mother of G-d, I was trembling reading your story, Quinn. What a nerve of all of them, from start to finish. As for the videotaping, I think I would have smacked that phone right out of their hand. No one has the right to video me without my permission. (Google Glass wearers, are you listening?) Ugh. Another thing your bullying-into-a-sense of humor stories reminded me of is that all my life I was told by friends, family and strangers that I had such a serious face. Was everything all right? Did I feel OK? Can’t I just smile? There was even a customer at work (long ago) who told me he didn’t like the way I smiled. I told him that I would refrain from punching him if he would keep his comments to himself. It took me decades to learn that my ‘neutral face’ came across as serious or unhappy to some people. At that point I was free to say, “Who the f*ck cares?!” and to stop reassuring people that yes, I was OK.

    • Oh, you got the “serious face” thing, too? I can’t believe that people think that is OK to say. But, we already know that I don’t have a sense of humor! I love the idea of you smacking the phone right out of her hand. I would have laughed out loud then!

  9. What a horrible experience. I can feel the tears stinging in my eyes also. I don’t know what I would have done, but I admire your courage Quinn. When people consider bullying as humorous, I’m grateful to lack a sense of humor also!

  10. I agree with the comments here, and also wonder what the manager who arrived as you left the line did. You should talk to that person as well so that they get the whole story not just the perpetrator’s story. If they are a decent manager, they need to know.

    • He showed up to see what the bell-ringing was about. When he saw it was a cute kid, he let it go. I’m sure they get a lot of cute kids whose parents buy a lot of groceries and wine. Because he did nothing, I didn’t approach him. I went directly to the woman I had a problem with. That’s my way. If you are going to face it, do it head on.

  11. it can feel quite crazymaklng when you’re the only person not laughing and there is no one to validate your position-the one that makes so much sense.I would suggest writing to both that manager @TraderJoes and a copy sent to the corporate office.You should have been treated in a respectful manner and that checker needs further training.Also,they are supposed to be the ones to ring that bell to have assistance,how inconsiderate of her to let the kid ring it and inconvenience her coworkers.

  12. The bigger lesson for all of us is to be mindful of what we say to others and when attention is brought to hurtfulness,to take responsibility by sincere apology.What a world this would be if we could do this simple but not easy thing.

  13. I’ve always kept this in mind. I seem to have been born with it.
    When you go to live among the humans, remember:
    They are brutal, permanently primitive, and willfully ignorant.
    They are pinnacle-predator apes and as such very dangerous.
    They won’t exist for very long, but it’s a fascinating, if dead-end, experiment.
    They can become aware of their own miserable shortcomings, and the results can be astonishing.
    Collectively they’re a dead end and a waste of matter and energy. Individually and in small units they can sometimes temporarily transcend this.
    More than anything, they are very, very dangerous.

    • And I keep wondering what I would have done, had I been the checkout person. Especially if the couple were older than me and/or big-spending regulars. Given my own history of jaw-on-the-floor speechlessness in such situations, I can’t say that I’d have done any better in that moment than she did. Hopefully I’d be a bit more gracious and less defensive later, though self-justification is (as Pete has said) hard to transcend even temporarily. Yes, I think I’d have been afraid the couple could get me fired if I didn’t go along. Dangerous – indeed very dangerous.

      (Congrats to Quinn – it’d have taken me a whole lot more than 20 minutes to work out how I felt and what to do about it. Your example gives me hope I’ll get that quick yet.)

      • The parents were a lot younger than the checker. She was in her mid-40s, the parents in their early 30s. I think I would have not yelled at the kid, but I sure as hell wouldn’t have punked another customer, either.

  14. I love these posts and the comments. Yes it is also sad that children and women are also blamed for what the bullies do. Convenient scapegoats. I have lots of stories but we all do. Thank you for standing up, sharing and to all the commenters (is that a word?). We all need to show our voices!. The older I get, the more I do!

  15. Not funny at all. I see stuff like this all the time in my job. I always think no manners but yes it is worse, bullying it is. Don’t know that I would have been able to say anything either. My thought is you cam mot video me without my consent. The clerk should be fired. The child will grow up entitled and a bully.

  16. Oh Quinn, I’m so sorry this happened to you. While I was reading this, I could feel my anger rise and wish I could have been in line with you. I’m afraid my “hero cape” would have been put on and I would have set the family and check out girl straight as well as inform the manager (and the rest of the customers) of my displeasure. I may even have sent a piece to the op-ed column of the local paper entitled “Bullying at Trader Joe’s” 🙂
    You have such a warm heart Quinn and I am so glad that you confronted the check out girl even if she was clueless. That may have been the first time in her life that someone called her out on bad behavior. Perhaps you have planted a seed that will be watered by others and grow into a new perspective for her. Hugs to you!

  17. Because I am generally considered an outspoken person, and have a good sense of humor – especially when it comes to making fun of myself, AND I shop at Trader Joes all the time, I really took a couple minutes to think what I would have done – based on your circumstances and on the memory of many other times when I have encountered out of control kids with out of control parents.
    I would have said just one thing – “Get a grip on your kid. You’re in public.” and left the line without another word. I doubt that would have been included in their videos because it turns the spotlight on them for bad behavior instead of you.
    What happened in front of you was NOT funny or cute, and I am so glad you stood up to the clerk. It is surprising how the clerk reacted because Trader Joes really strives for stellar customer service. I guess the clerk didn’t get it right which customer deserved her support there, but there is no excuse for how she reacted when you confronted her after the family was gone. If that had happened at our Trader Joes, she wouldn’t have her job anymore.
    Thanks for a great post. You are such a good writer that you had us all standing there in line with you!

  18. Because I am generally considered an outspoken person, and have a good sense of humor – especially when it comes to making fun of myself, AND I shop at Trader Joes all the time, I really took a couple minutes to think what I would have done – based on your circumstances and on the memory of many other times when I have encountered out of control kids with out of control parents.
    I would have said just one thing – “Get a grip on your kid. You’re in public.” and left the line without another word. I doubt that would have been included in their videos because it turns the spotlight on them for bad behavior instead of you.
    What happened in front of you was NOT funny or cute, and I am so glad you stood up to the clerk. It is surprising how the clerk reacted because Trader Joes really strives for stellar customer service. I guess the clerk didn’t get it right which customer deserved her support there, but there is no excuse for how she reacted when you confronted her after the family was gone. If that had happened at our Trader Joes, she wouldn’t have her job anymore.
    Thanks for a great post. You are such a good writer that you had us all standing there in line with you!

  19. I feel your pain. I wish I had been in line behind you. I would have said something when you were blamed (and I don’t say this to be a hero, it’s been my way of being to stand up for underdogs.) I also would have gone to the manager and had he/she stand by to witness you speaking to the clerk. It may sound harsh but some accountability at a store such as Trader Joe’s is called for in my opinion.

  20. The child did not know better. He will never know better with parents who seem to encourage bad behavior instead of correcting it. It was not your fault and it was not funny to me either. I am sorry that you had such an uncaring clerk also. Our world suddenly has turned to lack of empathy and understanding for people.

  21. Reading this made me feel sick to my stomach too. I’ve had similar experiences and never understand what the “joke” is. I think the way the clerk reacted to you – after the incident – may have been even worse than the actual event. If I had been her supervisor – I would have fired her on the spot. She was just plain rude. btw – I have an excellent sense of humor and can laugh easily at myself – but I don’t think what happened to you was funny.

  22. Why, why can’t people just accept responsibility and apologize? I have a BIG issue when someone tries to belittle someone when they should instead be apologizing. Good for you, Quinn, for going back to the cashier and calmly addressing the issue. Even though you didn’t get the response you deserved, you did the right thing! Hopefully you planted a seed in her head and she’ll think about how she should have handled the situation. Hopefully.

    And it scares the h*%l! out of me to think of the kind of teenager and adult Noah will grow up to be. Irresponsible parents raise irresponsible children and we see way too much of it these days.

  23. Your story woke up many memories….staying apart from the “joke” and filming, leaving and then returning to speak with your heart centered voice.. much courage, ever so right in taking these steps and actions. Perhaps one person at a time we can make a change by modeling soft voice objection to bullying, by not engaging with the bullies, by allowing the truth of a tender heart filled with love and compassion to be our guide. Much love for you as I read again the story, hurtful bullying is certainly not just about children.

  24. Wow. Thank you for sharing. I admire your courage in removing yourself from the situation and then speaking up in person to one of the instigators, all while remaining calm. You gave everyone there an opportunity to learn from their participation in that experience. And now you’re giving us a chance to learn, too. Thank you.

  25. It would be interesting to hear what the clerk’s response to you would have been if you had your phone camera focused on her while you spoke to her. Good for you for standing up to the bully. I applaud you for making her accountable. It is a rare thing in our culture and we need more of it so that the behavior you witnessed occurs less frequently.

  26. Thank you as always for your honesty about your process and for honoring your feelings. It helps me to know that other “grown-ups” struggle with how to own their own feelings and react in challenging situations.

  27. Whoa…amazing. I worry about Noah. What are his chances of growing into a sensitive, responsible adult? Not good I’m thinking. Gee Quinn, my heart hurts for your experience. You handled it well which is not a surprise. Blessings and love,

  28. Sarcasm and humor at the expense of others can also be how people attempt to relate to others when they are afraid or nervous. I have to watch it in myself as well as others – I appreciate the reminder, Quinn.

  29. Sarcasm and humor at the expense of others can also be how people attempt to relate to others when they are afraid or nervous. I have to watch it in myself as well as others – I appreciate the reminder, Quinn.

  30. Thank you for modeling a difficult situation, Quinn. What you did was different. You stood up for yourself, but beyond that, when that wasn’t enough, you stood your ground. You did not back down even though your message was not received. I believe the checker lashed out because she was humiliated, and was double humiliated because no one likes to be caught in looking bad. You didn’t lash out. You stood your ground. That is a very brave thing to do, and I will tap in to this experience in the future when I confront a bully. Very impressive. Proud of you, Quinn. Love! Pam

    • (I was standing in line too.) Oh I agree! The wonderful thing (although painful and truly courageous of you Quinn) is that the clerk heard it 3 times. She may not have accepted her responsibility at the time, but she will replay it many times and will have the opportunity to respond with compassion the next time someone shares authentic feelings with her.

      • Yep, the checker was the one who represented the store’s policies, and she should have stepped in and enrolled the parents to the right behavior. A training issue, for sure.

  31. Any Real American — especially one in Arizona! — would have instantly drawn his Glock*, placed the shooty end** inches from the father’s forehead, and calmly explained (in a top-of-the-lungs shriek) that the video will be deleted from the phones NOW because of [law, court decision, constitutional amendment, etc.]***
    *I’m still not altogether clear about why Real Americans need Austrian pistols, but that is apparently the case.

    **My apologies, as I am informed this may not be standard RA jargon.

    ***This last part is optional, but represents a corollary Real American certainty that knowing how to identify one — or at most three — actual laws or similar**** is the basis of a legal education and bar exam, which anyway are just a matter of remembering a few more of those.
    ****Real Americans***** also understand that laws are laws, they’re all transparently simple to understand and apply, you don’t need to read the whole thing just the title, court decisions amount to laws anyway (as long as one agrees with them; otherwise they’re conspiracies), and all that other stuff lawyers like to blather on about is just BS they use to cheat Real Americans.
    *****who, by the way, would probably go into a Trader Joes only as a last resort if Walmart runs out of Oreos or Target (those commies) whines about carrying guns ****** inside.
    ******I know. I know, RA jargon rules call for euphemisms here, including “piece”, “firearm”, “glock”, “AR”, etc. Sorry; I haven’t yet mastered the many nuances.*******
    *******Oh, right, Real Americans don’t do “nuance” and anyway ain’t that one of them furrin’ words? Mebbe even (spit) French?

  32. Heartache. I don’t have a sense of humor either, I guess. Skimming news on internet today, I misread ” New York Times Headlines” as “New York Times Bleedlines” and the next word was “Assault”. It was a gut hit. And your vignette feels connected, as if it explains more than is first apparent. Thank you for standing up for your little girl.

  33. Oh, Quinn…there is so much wrong in this story and none of it has anything to do with you! I have witnessed at least three other really extreme examples of parenting gone wrong in the last month in public places and wonder how these children are going to ever learn respect for other people, their feelings and their belongings. You didn’t say how old the clerk was but I assume she was a member of the previous generation when we began to see this incredible self-righteousness.
    You were so courageous to go back and speak to the clerk but you should never have to defend your “lack of sense of humor.” You are not the one out of place…

    • When we speak up for ourselves, we are often met with fear and anger. It’s the two emotions we know best, and use the most. She didn’t want to admit being wrong, so making me wrong was her safest bet. Too bad. This kind of behavior has a tendency to move in circles.

  34. I have no words really. Disgust comes to mind. I feel bad for our country when this next generation grows up. We thought their parents were bad. Just wait. The worst is yet to come. I am sorry for what you had to go through with this very toxic family. And they are toxic, I believe.
    As for humor, I can’t imagine how anyone would think that was funny.

  35. ..and I think the way you stood up for yourself is very brave! I forgot to say that.. It wouldn’t surprise me when the checker remembers your words later in the day and wonders about them.

  36. 1. Bullies are cowards
    2. Marianne has it wrong, the child IS being educated . . . and he’s learning that being an asinine bully is the way to go.
    3. There were no rules of engagement because bullies make them up out of their stunted imaginations as they go along.
    4. Finally and most importantly . . . you have enormous courage.

    Quinn, I’m rather afraid that the USA does not fare well in my eyes when it gives us sitcoms where the humour relies on put-downs and shows like “Funniest Home Movies” (I mean really?) but fortunately I have some very dear friends in the USA who, like you, are intelligent, generous, loving and warm-hearted people so I know that these cretinous individuals are in the minority.

  37. That is disgusting behaviour by all of them. But I think especially by the checkout person. I think you were incredibly brave to go back and tell her what she did hurt. Do you feel strong enough to go back and tell the store manager the same thing? Because he seriously needs to do some work with that woman! Why is it that ‘having a sense of humour’ means you’re happy to belittle and harass other people? And I think you’re totally right – it’s been my experience too that bullies are usually frightened cowards. Big hugs – well done you, for sticking up for you! ❤

    • I stood in the other line for 20 minutes, so I had time to calm down. But you are right, it was the checker’s job to manage the situation and she did a poor job of handling it. It took me a while to figure that out. I also should have asked not to be videoed, which is also my right.

  38. That child is not being educated! At his age hè should learn about what can and cannot be done. He has the perfect age to learn all the basic rules. Those parents are going to have a lot of problems with him later in life.. At least you can find out for yourself why you felt the way you felt and reacted.
    You see, no ‘sense of humor’ from this side of the Ocean either..

    You were very polite when you decided to go to the other line.

    Interesting development in our civilization and society: approaching life as if it is a show on tv or pc… Very intimidating too.

    • I kept trying to find some sort of grip on understanding the whole thing. I was trying hard not to react, because I was so. . . unused to this kind of behavior. I didn’t understand it and kept trying to minimize it.

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