A calculated confrontation

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Don’t cause a scene.
These were the unspoken words I grew up with. Cultured women don’t lose their decorum and tell shop keepers what they think of them. They maintain their dignity and they leave. They remain in control.
Not this time.
There was absolutely no forewarning. Nothing spectacular that led to the demise of the said decorum. It was simply a case of returning things and a string of very unhelpful shop assistants.
And here, perhaps is a little sage advice. Never return two things in one day – especially if you don’t have the receipt docket with you.
The first return, or rather request for the replacement of a certain snapped wash line toggle, was to a major national hardware shop. This hardware shop prides itself on its customer service and has a variety of jolly assistants starring in its television ads. With homely, cheery smiles, they tell the public about the wonderful store and lull viewers into such a sense of false security, they can almost imagine these cheerful souls as being very close neighbours. I’m sure they would lend you their camper trailer if you asked nicely. They’re that convincing.
Anyway, I went to the local warm and cheery homeware store and explained that the very expensive wash line I had purchased just one month before had a snapped toggle – I showed my evidence – one snapped toggle and the line that went with it.
The amicable faces on my television set were nowhere to be seen. Instead, I was confronted by Attila the Hun.
She listened with a bored expression, barely suppressing a yawn and then unhelpfully said: ‘Oh no, you’ve got to go to the supplier yourself and see if they have spares, we don’t keep any parts here.’
‘But it’s got a ten year warranty…and…and…where would that be?’ I enquired, deflated.
She muttered a suburb I’d never heard of.
‘That sounds miles away,’ I retorted.
And then she gave me her best ‘stupid lazy woman’ look and said, ‘It’s a couple of kilometres from here, hardly miles away.’
‘Oh’, I said and left with tail between my legs. One failed attempt.
My next return happened to be around the corner in the same delightful industrial area, to the bookstore recommended for school supplies by every school within a 50 mile radius. In short, they had rather a monopoly when it came to supplying books and stationary.
I had ordered an English book for my son but he now informed me he no longer needed it. I would request a refund. He also had a faulty maths and science calculator purchased soon after Christmas together with all his other books at the same store.
‘The number 8 and 9 don’t work – please change it,’ he asked.
Again, no dreaded receipt – long thrown out with the book contact, post-Christmas paper and discarded Lego boxes. Surely the store manager would understand. Perhaps he would display a little post Christmas cheer and grace. Apparently not.
When I told the girl at the counter I would like to replace the calculator without a docket ‘seeing as I’ve just bought all my other books here and am such a loyal customer – and so is the entire school of 1500 for that matter!’ she was unmoved.
‘I’m sorry, but I’ll have to check with the manager,’ she said.
‘Sorry, he says no receipt, no replacement,’ she said on her return. And this is when I started to hyperventilate. Unravel, actually.
‘Could I speak to the manager please,’ I asked in a tight little voice.
He came over.
‘Sorry, I can’t replace it, that’s our policy,’ said Mr Politically Correct.
Perhaps it was his pale, mean little piggy eyes, the slight smirk around his unforgiving mouth or the ungracious attitude that I had encountered one too many times that day, but I snapped.
I snapped for all the nearly new irons that had mysteriously stopped working a year after use, the camping lantern that glowed then died two days after its warranty expired, the novelty wind up camping radio that never delivered a single news report, the whipper snipper, the high pressure hose nozzle that fell apart, oh I could go on and on…it was for all those episodes, and for all those of my friends, my family, the nation! Today I would speak my mind and stand up for all the little people!
‘I’m afraid you’re going to have to replace it,’ I stood my ground, adding for good measure, ‘and I’m not leaving your shop until you do!’
‘I challenge you to find a single shop that would replace an item such as this without a receipt,’ he continued to argue, a little smirk still playing around his horrid little mouth.
‘But I have bought my entire stock of books from you, the entire school has bought their entire stock from you, surely you can replace one calculator??’ I countered.
Again the smirk.
‘How do I know you haven’t had this for a year – I’m not to know you haven’t been using it already,’ he accused.
‘Are …you…calling…me…a ….liar??’ I asked slowly, carefully, relishing my little defiant act. I was causing a scene, a real scene.
‘No, I’m not suggesting that – I’m just saying it’s not our policy to replace calculators without a receipt,’ he said firmly.
I repeated myself slowly, as if explaining a rather simple concept to a deviant.
‘The numbers 8 and 9 are not working. This is a brand new calculator bought at this exact shop. I am not leaving until you replace it!’
Perhaps it was this mad woman causing a scene in his shop. Perhaps he really did believe she would never leave. Perhaps it was the overly bright eyes that stared menacingly at him. But he said yes, he’d replace it.
And then he actually did. He did what I asked. Just like that.
‘Thank you very much!’ I said, marching out victoriously, losing momentum slightly with the suction slow shutting door. A hearty slam would have been a fitting ending.
It was only when I got to my car that I realised I had flounced out without the credit receipt for my unwanted book order. How clever now? There was no way I could return and demand a credit after my little altercation.
When in crisis, always phone an understanding friend – preferably one who has similarly and spectacularly lost the plot.
‘Vanessa,’ I wailed, ‘you won’t believe what I’ve just done…’ And I related the entire story – feeling slightly remorseful.
‘Do you think I should go back and apologise – take him muffins or something?’ The polite me asked.
‘You’re mad,’ she said, ‘He owes you an apology for calling you a liar! Don’t worry, I’ll get your refund for you,’ she said without fuss.
And she did.

Copyright © 2009 by Lois Nicholls

Filed under: Columns


Lois Nicholls is an Australian freelance journalist. She is also the author of "Aussie, Actually," which captures her heartfelt experiences as a South African migrant living in Australia. Her second book, "Bye-bye Bikini", published in August 2018, is a series of frank and humorous essays navigating everyday life from the perspective of a fifty-something former newspaper and magazine journalist. Her first children's book, "What Dog is That?" available in hardcopy from was published in May 2019. Her books on Amazon: