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Awkward Encounters at the Greeting Card Store

Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper in 'Mama's Family'
Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper in ‘Mama’s Family’

A few days ago I was at my local greeting card store picking up what seemed like stacks of birthday cards because I tend to befriend and befamily* a disproportionate number of Pisces/Aries/Taurus people (those born in March and April, for the non-astrology folks). As I approached the cash register to pay, I kind of hoped that I wouldn’t be helped out by the somewhat eccentric older woman with the Thelma Harper hair and with whom I’d had an off-putting encounter around the Christmas holidays.

As I was packing away the holiday cards I’d just purchased (holiday-neutral, no religious symbols, no mentions of Christmas, baby Jesus or miraculous pregnancies) in the reusable bag I’d dutifully brought with me (you’re welcome, Earth), she wished me a, “Happy Holidays.”

“Thanks, you too!”

“Oh, thank you. You know, last week, I said ‘Merry Christmas’ to a customer. She snapped at me, ‘I am Jewish!’ Sor-REEEE. You don’t have to jump down my throat! Can’t say anything these days without somebody getting offended. Do you celebrate Christmas?”

I nodded.

photo cr: cutiepiecompany, flickr.com
photo cr: cutiepiecompany, flickr.com

“Then MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, young lady.”

I tilted my head in false sympathy for her plight and left.

Erm…okay. I mean, maybe you shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s religion? Maybe the customer is Jewish and in the religious minority in this country and gets tired of people assuming she celebrates Christmas?  I mean, I get annoyed when ignorant dudes approach with me some fake swagger and a “Hey girl, what’s up?” trying to sound hood, but the same dude will greet my white or Asian friend with, “Hi, I’m Joe,” using perfect diction, sounding like they’re ready to give a speech to the President. It just so happens that I also speak Standard American English and am capable of understanding simple words like, ‘Hi, I’m Joe.” So, spare me the blaccent. Assumptions, assumptions. Just assy.

Photo cr: Brian Everett, flickr.com
Photo cr: Brian Everett, flickr.com


A few months later, I stood at the register and who else but eccentric older woman made her way toward me? Three employees in the store and I get her.

“All set? Oh! Let me show you our Easter cards!” She motioned toward the front of the store.

“Oh, no thank you.”

“They’re just right here. I’ll show you.” She started toward the cards.

Her voice was loud enough for me and the rest of the customers in the store to hear.

“Thanks. I don’t celebrate Easter.”

“Ahhhh…” she walked back to the register. The woman standing in line behind me tensed up, shifted her weight. The woman still hadn’t even rung up my purchases; she was too busy badgering me into looking at Easter cards.

I was raised Christian, but don’t consider myself Christian and don’t really make it a point to celebrate Easter. I do celebrate Christmas, but for the secular reasons.

“It’s just, there’s one with an [she lowered her voice to a loud whisper] ‘African-American’ on it. We don’t usually have those, so…”

Why is this happening? For real? I just wanted to buy some damn cards.

On the one hand, given I’ve written about the lack of color representation among greeting card choices, it’s positive there’s a card with a black person on it. But, it’s ONE CARD. What if I didn’t like the card? What if the person on the card was wearing some tacky ass outfit? Or looked ratchet? Or looked like a white person whose skin was painted a horrible brown shade that doesn’t exist in humans? Like I’m not supposed to notice the European features on the chocolate skin. They do that. Thanks for the charity. One card.

Grossest Easter candy | Photo cr: wikipedia
Grossest Easter candy | Photo cr: wikipedia

On the other hand: woman, seriously? Stop being so pushy and sticking your foot all the way in your mouth. It’s kind of ridiculous to single me out because you have one black card. She probably meant well, but c’mon.

“Yeah, not a lot of cards like that. I’ll have to check that out some other time.”

It seemed like it took her ages to ring me up before finally I could bolt from the store. The lone black customer has exited the store, off to do some black stuff. Goodbye.

*made up word