Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Taken Aback

What does it say about our culture when a pure act of simple honesty draws stares and elicits derisive comments? How low have we sunk?

On Sunday--a mere 12 hours after our Grand Opening had finally concluded--we found ourselves on the road to L.A. for the 2007 Spring Flower & Gift Show at the LA Mart. Ably hosted, the Mart offers an amazing array of vendors and goods for everybody from local florists to large design firms and wholesale buyers from all kinds of chains.

The showroom that elicits the most sideways glances and interesting commentary is undoubtedly Katherine's (as a quick glance at the product lines will make clear). Nothing in our experiences over the course of the day, however, drew anywhere near the kind of reaction (from us or anyone else) than my wife's aforementioned act of simple honesty at lunch.

Already tired from just 3 hours and only 2-floors of shopping, we traipsed back down to Barkley's deli on the main floor for lunch. Two of our five grabbed a table outside while the rest of us ordered.

The menu was quite full of intriguing options but what caught most of our attention were the nicely priced lunch specials. Feeding five on the road is not an inexpensive venture and we liked the idea of keeping it simple, quick and, yes, cheap. After all was added up, my wife paid out the $21.00 and followed us out to the table.

In the course of picking up our offerings, our friend and floor manager mentioned to my wife that she couldn't make the charges add up based on the menu pricing. Sure enough, she was right. By our calculation, we should have paid $28.00 for lunch and not $21.

When we ordered the line had been long; when my wife went back to the counter it took less than half-a-minute to get to the register and make the dastardly statement: "I think you under-charged us. We owe you $7.00."

The looks of incredulity from the clerks were surpassed only by the dumbfounded expressions on the faces of customers now in line behind her. One couple, in the middle of a conversation stopped on a dime while the gentleman turned to stare, apparently incapable of understanding what he'd just heard.

Meanwhile the clerks, thankful for being saved the consequences of a short till at the end of the shift, thanked my wife and collected their shortfall while my wife and I and our companions shook our head over the commotion we'd just created, figuratively if not literally, by such a simple act.

So I'm left wondering exactly what such a simple thing means. At a gathering of professionals, am I to believe that most or at least many of the business people there think it's okay to short a payment? Is that acceptable in their firms? In their homes?

It is a simple but large question that I leave behind then: what does it say about us when such a simple act can draw such reactions?

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