Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Saw a comic in the newspaper about a mythical food called Type-Os as a knockoff of Alpha-Bits cereal. This post is about Type and Oh.

This week I went shopping with a friend for a Large Purcha$e. I don't think either of us believed I'd be particularly useful or supportive. I think she just didn't want to go alone.

Which is okay. I didn't have to go, but I didn't have anything better to do, either.

This friend reminds me a bit of my old neighbor crossed with a Sex In the City character. In a good way. She's cute, smart, knows what she likes, has expensive taste and ambition. A little materialistic, maybe. Maybe a little shallow, maybe a little sheltered, I can't be sure because she's very worldly in some ways. Anyway, she's fairly entertaining. We'll call her Carranda.

We show up at the place and Carranda admits to me that she's nervous. The guy we're dealing with reminds me of a friend of a friend, someone who always annoyed me because he's a smartypants. We'll call him Snob. You know the type, he's usually the smartest person in the room in his social and professional circles. In fact, he thinks he's a freakin' genius.

Snob's the one who, upon learning that I was going to teach a class, immediately began lecturing me on how to conduct the homework policies and exams. He's never taught anything, and he only knows about the one college he attended, which wasn't challenging at all for him, and which he didn't like. So naturally, he wanted to make sure I wouldn't teach like that.

I had a hard time controlling my rage and telling him I appreciated his input and no, I wasn't planning to do any of the idiotic things he was complaining about.

Anyway so Salesguy starts using all the tricks on Carranda, who is smart enough to see through it. But she was torn enough about her purchase to patiently let him go on saying things like:

"You're a smart girl, you know..."

"I gotta be honest, I can't give it to you for less than... I wish I could but..."

"Let me go talk to my manager."

You know, the usual bullshit. Calling her "girl" instead of woman is supposed to be flattering, I guess, and it gets her feeling young and helpless. Then listing all the positives of the product, reiterating the pitch about why it's the best and so special, etc.

Saying you're honest raises all my red flags, because only dishonest people ever say that.

And of course the manager is fictional. There is no manager.

Anyway I asked some questions, because I was getting annoyed and Carranda was floundering. I wasn't sure if she needed more time to think or what, but I figured I would distract the guy.

Salesguy didn't like that.

I started thinking about why this type of guy is so uncomfortable with someone like me. This guy was clearly good at reading people. He had my friend pegged in a matter of moments. He even told her she would have buyer's remorse no matter what she chose to do.

Now, I thought that was crap. I told her: "If you get the right thing, you won't think twice about it. You'll just be glad you got it. In fact, you might wonder why you didn't get it sooner!"

But she said: "No, he's right. I will. No matter what. That's just the kind of person I am."

So he had figured out exactly where all her buttons are. And how to push them.

Personally, I wasn't buying any of it, but I wasn't his target. His sales techniques seemed ham-handed to me, as the Observer. Even if he had sized her up correctly and pushed some of the right buttons, it was obvious when he was trying the different techniques of Persuasion, such as Flattery, Guilt, Scarcity, etc.

And I had the feeling he was quite baffled by me.

As one of my other friends put it, "They're surprised by the contrast between how you look and what comes out of your mouth. I don't think you'd have a problem if you didn't look cute and harmless. Or if you were a guy."

And it's true, I look pretty unthreatening. But my questions really got his hackles up. And I wasn't being aggressive about it, I was just puzzled because I could tell there were inconsistencies (LIES!) in his stories and rationales. I hate that, I can smell it ten miles away. So I ask. As simply and calmly as I can.

Even though I knew that in this case it didn't matter why. All that mattered, really, was whether Carranda was sure she wanted to buy this thing. And she wasn't sure at all.

Of course, I couldn't help thinking it over afterward. That's just the type of person I am.

Maybe there are two kinds of people in life. Most people cope with the fear of meeting new people by learning to categorize. It's simpler. Almost makes strangers seem familiar, so you know how to handle them. What to say, how to react, how to interpret. We all do this to some extent.

Some do it instantly and refuse to budge from their initial impression.

But there are those of us who go in with fewer expectations. We just observe. We adjust quickly and take note of exceptions. And we most appreciate those people who don't fit the categories. We like to collect characters full of contradictions.

My friend, for instance. I don't know her that well, but I have been enjoying getting to know her. I refuse to jump to conclusions about who she is, although I can make observations and correlate those with my existing database on other types of people, and honestly say I've never met anyone quite like her.

The Salesguy Type usually doesn't like me. Or maybe he would if it were to his advantage, but I won't give him a chance because I don't like his approach. And maybe he can tell that.

I actually am sort of friends with Snob, because although we've argued on more than one occasion about his stubborn sexism, I think he genuinely wants me to like him. That's the thing about this type. He wants to be smart, but he's ultimately a big softie, and he's lonely. In Snob's case, he's lonely because while he wants to be smart, he isn't yet wise. He hasn't learned to open his mind to the possibility that deep down, he's rationalizing his sexism and relying on it as a form of denial.

I suspect that Salesguy does the same, based on his experience in his job, where he deals with people all the time. It's most efficient to try to size people up right away, and rely on Types to choose an approach when your job is to manipulate them as much and as quickly as possible. And sexism is one of the easiest tricks to fall back on. Most women go along with it out of habit, or because sometimes you just have to pick your battles.

In a happy end to this story, Carranda ended up walking away from the deal with Salesguy and getting something else at a different place.

I hope she doesn't end up having buyer's remorse. Because that's just the type of person I am.

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At 12:11 PM, Blogger GMP said...

Really liked the post!

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Kea said...

I used to look unthreatening, too. Now I guess I glare too much at people right from the start. Anyway, I don't have to worry about going shopping these days, although more food would be nice.

Most of my male friends have been sexist, which is inevitable given my age and (outdoorsy) background. One does have to forgive a lot, which is why it bloody pisses me off when some dood tells me to lighten up and be nice ... as if has a fucking clue how to be genuinely thoughtful himself.

At 4:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never understood the salespeople resorting to sexism though, or why that would even work. Salespeople still DO it, I'm just surprised when they think it would work a lot better than being basically courteous. Unless they happen to be the only vendor of $Purchase$ in a 100-mile radius, the purchaser is generally the one with all the power in the relationship. If their regular tactics don't work, they could always fall back on, "How may I help you ma'am?" and "yes ma'am right away" but they don't. Over and over again they don't.

It does vary according to geography. People often tell me that everything is the same everywhere, this is just life and How Things Are, therefore I shouldn't get too angry about [sexist incident du jour], but in fact it does appear to be significantly diluted on the US coasts and in certain European countries. It's just hard for folks to think that this particular place (say, small town in Midwest USA), right here, where they grew up and where they made a home, is a goddam shithole full of idiot pigs. It implicates them as complicit in the fuckery, so they resort to "everyone else does it too."

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

re: geography, I think it only varies in degree. I've never found a place where it was completely absent, despite going out of my way to try to live in the places where the expectations might be higher.

I agree on the rationale of "everyone else does it too." Oh, boy. Yes, they do.


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