First, the story:
This one is about a friend of mine, who used to work in my store. She worked in the home section, and sometimes got stuck in Luggage, so let's call her TravelPro. A few years ago during the holiday season, TravelPro ended up at a satellite register set up in the kitchen gadgetry section. It was busy, and she had a line, and was trying to be polite and professional, despite the fact that the crusty at the front of said line was hassling her about coupons. Now, if something is on sale, and then you have a coupon, more power to you. But you can't stack more than one coupon.
System will only accept one per transaction. Most sales people will look at your coupons and figure out which one will get you the best deal, which TravelPro was doing. This little Asian lady was having none of it. She insisted TravelPro take more than one. My friend pointed out that she was already getting great deals because her items were on sale, and her coupon was making them even better. The transaction finished, and the customer walked away muttering and angry. TravelPro begin ringing up the next customer.
Now, the set-up here is important: the satellite register has no back. It's just a desk and a till, and is not backed up by a wall or anything. However, maybe 10 feet behind it was a table covered in random clearance items. Beyond that, the door to the parking lot. You can see where this is going...
The angry customer goes to the table to peruse the clearance items while my friend cheerfully greets and checks out her line. A few moments later, TravelPro hears "ptooie!"… and now she's got spit in her hair. This woman FUCKING SPIT on her. She then yelled "HA!" and bolted out the door before anyone could grab her.
Ever the professional, TravelPro turns tearfully to her line and asks if she might have a moment to wipe the spittle from her hair with some tissue paper at the register. But the custies in her line won't hear of it: one of them tracks down a manager (no mean feat during the holiday rush), and insists that TravelPro be allowed to go to the bathroom to wash her hair. The stunned manager took over her post so my friend could run to the bathroom.
Notice that I described the customer as "Asian"? I did that because TravelPro described her that way. The funny thing is, it happens all the time. We rarely describe a customer to a coworker unless it's specific to the story... or unless it's one of those "you know what I mean" camaraderie things. Now, TravelPro isn't racist. I'm not either.
None of my coworkers is racist. And outside of work, none of us describes people in this way. The only thought you've had about your Korean neighbor is that his dinner always smells better than yours, and that he once held the door open for you when your hands were full.
Yet, when we talk about annoying customers and coupons, that customer always seems to be a tiny Asian woman who yells at you in broken English about discounts. What the hell is it about retail that makes us "racist at work"?
One of my coworkers is Indian, and can't stand helping Indian customers. Why?
"They return EVERYTHING," she insists. "Why should I sell them something when they're just going to bring it back?"
When questioned further, she told me that retail works differently in India: you bought it, it's yours. No such thing as a return. She says they return things because they can.
Even my Asian coworkers will do this: "Ugh, Asians. Always with the coupons."
And when describing the conversation, the customer is always given a horrible, generic Asian accent, "You have discount? You have coupon?"
I have a two-part theory: the first part involves stereotyping. Stereotypes aren't built on nothing. They come from some tiny kernel of truth, then get exaggerated and stretched to fit a whole group of people.
For example: "All gay men have a fabulous sense of fashion." Yeah, no. I know some gay guys who can't dress for shit. Some Asians have a thing for coupons and discounts. Some do not. But they all get painted by that same brush, like fashionable gay guys and women drivers.
Part two is guesswork. In many a country, retail prices are set in stone, and the only way they're changing is if something gets marked down, is on sale, or a coupon applies. This is probably frustrating for people who come from countries where the price always involves bartering. The price they're given is too high to begin with, and both the seller and purchaser know it. They barter to a more reasonable price. So when shopping here, the demand for discounts and coupons comes into play. The price tag must be the starting point, and the coupon must be the bartering tool.
In a slightly related/unrelated story, I was approached early on in my retail career by an young Eastern-European man with a high-end jacket. He told me that it was $160 on sale, but that he wanted to pay "around $70". I told him that none of our coupons at the time could get him there, and this guy tried flirting with me, and asked if he could use my employee discount. Now, I'm not cute, and I have "player-radar", so I could see that the flirting was this guy's bartering tool. My point being, it's not just "Asians" who ask for discounts. It's anybody, including the whitest people you know. It just seems like people who come from "bartering-type" countries are the ones that come up most in conversations.
I could be totally wrong, though... maybe I'm just looking for an answer as to why otherwise non-racist people make those remarks at work.