It was a time when I was struggling with my OCD, and as this felt like enough trouble, I lightheartedly let go of social norms. I wore my hair mid-length (under a baseball hat; I am male), as the illness made it fairly difficult to groom it. I suppose my appearance, as well as my behavior, made me look kinda out of this world (although never displayed any overtly OCD behavior in front of the clerks in question).

I had recently gotten into the habit of shopping for meals at the meal stand at the local supermarket. The clerks at that stand were usually the same 2 women, maybe 30 years my senior. One of them (or maybe both) looked like they're stuck with a crappy life and are thus bitter, though they behaved normal on the surface.

Every day I went to that stand and said "Hi :) this-and-this meal, in a plastic bag please". I'm not sure how this sounds to english ears, but I said it in my native language, and it sounded fairly normal to me. In my language I didn't need to use the word "plastic"; it was implied.

The meals in that place are supposed to be taken home. The clerks put them in a flimsy, leaking plastic box for you, so if you don't take precautions, a big fraction of the time the meal (or at least its grease) gets smeared all over your other purchases as you carry it home. That's the reason I had taken to requesting my meal box to be put in one of the (small, free, tied) bags they usually use for sausages. I have no idea how common my request was, but I do know other clerks put the box into such a bag for me without me even having to ask.

On maybe the 10th or 15th day, I had only gotten to saying "this-and-this meal" and the older woman turned to the other, did an ugly grin and said in a hushed, mocking voice "...in a plastic bag please". The other woman joined her in her hushed mocking. I pretended I had not heard her, but I felt hurt.

Now, since I was not well mentally, I felt that if I came to that stand again, I would get intrusive thoughts about how they mocked me, and I would feel very awkward, since we both would know that they don't respect me.

I never went there again for maybe 3-4 years.

Now I'm glad to say my OCD is hardly present anymore, so I shop there again with little negative feelings.

But now I'm afraid that if something similar happens (in the 5 years since that incident, nothing of this magnitude has), I'll feel pressured and will again suppress all of my possible reactions, leading to bad feelings and future awkwardness.

Ideally, I'd like to learn some "social hack" to utilize in such situations, that lets me both maintain my dignity and not ruin my relationship with the rude person. So I don't want to report the rudeness to the store manager.

More recently (1 year ago) I had a similar incident in a gym, which I can describe on request. It ended badly for me.

To answer Anne Daunted's comment on my previous posting of this:

You want to know how to best respond when you order your meal in a plastic bag again and the clerk says to their colleague in a mocking way "... in a plastic bag please ..."? And you want to be polite? Else it's too broad.

I was aiming for a broader interpretation of the question, but since that's too broad, yes, your interpretation is acceptable. :)


Exactly, I see you remember your customers habits, I couldn‘t have expressed this better myself!

...could be an option that puts the clerk‘s behavior into a frame of achievement.

In communication, we cannot know the sender’s intention (but guess it), but surely its effects.

So if the clerk’s intention was to mock you, this response is counter-intuitive because it responds to “mocking” with “praising achievement”.

The praiser is by definition at or above eye-level to the praised, so it is responding at or above eye level to feeling mocked.

Edit: to return the mock, you could...

Completely wrong, Madam! ( pause and keep looking at them to let it sink in ) .... Two plastic bags today! (smile)


There are several ways of dealing with this:

  1. Consider if your perception is correct. It is unusual for adults to openly mock each other, especially in professional situations such as when goods or services are being provided. That's not to say adults don't mock, but usually they do it when the subject of the mocking is no longer present so as to avoid potential repercussions. Consider whether it is possibly an attempt to share a joke with you, possibly poorly executed. In the past I have found that by re-evaluating situations I have perceived to be negative and hence troubling to me, trying to take a more objective point of view that I have been able to take more positive or at least more neutral point of view and that the situations become less troubling. This is in fact a technique from cognitive behavioral therapy. In your situation I feel that your OCD may make you more sensitive to potential reactions to your quirks/perceived quirks (and everyone has quirks).

  2. Ignore it. People can be assholes, asking for your meal to be placed in a plastic bag is hardly particularly heinous or even unusual. As per 1) if they were mocking you their behavior is more outside of social norms than your own and it may or may not be a misunderstanding anyway. Often putting the incident out of your mind is a good option for one-off or occasional interactions as any effort expended on doing anything else is not worth the potential benefit.I have found a bit of effort not dwelling on situations that may've bothered me previously is actually a highly effective way of dealing with such situations when they are isolated situations as you have to be clear on what you want to achieve, if it is to change what has happened already, that is not possible.

  3. Call them out directly. If you don't like someones behavior a quick, but forceful "I don't appreciate that comment, could you please not speak to me like that" or something similar will let them know you do not like it. It is difficult for someone to continue with their behavior once called out as continuing will be a clear escalation. It is however important to be polite (otherwise you may escalate the situation yourself), to do it as the behavior occurs (if someone knows they are going to earn an instant reproach they are unlikely to continue with the behavior) and forceful (there should not be an option in your reply for the behavior to continue). The possible pitfalls are the it may provoke an escalation (that seems unlikely in this situation though, but if that occurs move on to the next option) or that it may make future interactions more awkward. But you are perfectly within your rights to point out behavior towards you that you do not like and if awkwardness occurs it should just be seen as the (acceptable) cost of asserting yourself. Being assertive is usually the most effective way of dealing with unwanted behavior. I say this from experience of managing people which involves managing peoples behaviors, which is best done quickly, firmly and with a clear sense of what the next step will be.

  4. Call them out to their superiors. As mentioned this is unprofessional behavior and would not be tolerated by any competent manager. However this is probably an escalation of the situation as the potential consequences to the clerks is likely much greater than the effect of the comments on you. From personal experience I did this once when a clerk in a supermarket I went in semi-regularly was consistently disrespectful with his behavior towards me, e.g. he called me "boy" on several occasions, which in England is either an insult or a colloquial familiar way of addressing someone (either way though inappropriate in the context). I must admit I did feel a bit bad afterwards as only afterwards I considered that the guy was not English and may not have fully understood the implications of his chosen form of address and I would not recommend this option without first trying option 3)

  5. Use humour as this will often change the entire complexion of the interaction and it allows for the possibility that it is a misunderstanding. The difficulty with this option is that it is a skill that takes practice and the outcome is very much dependent on the other person (e.g. if someone is just an asshole it is not likely to work). Personally I have found this option to be hit-and-miss as if I am genuinely annoyed I find it difficult to see humour, however I have seen other people use this option to tackle difficult situations effectively.


"Is there a problem?"

Asking those doing the mocking a question puts it on them to defend what they're doing. It calls them out, but not so strongly to make you come off like a jerk. It quietly reasserts the customer-employee relationship. It can be applied to many different, but similar situations.

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