At one of my favorite hamburger establishments this afternoon, there were only a few customers and four people behind the counter, all of whom looked to me like they were from Mexico or Central America. One of the workers came to the cash register and took my order. It went relatively smoothly, although his English wasn’t great and I’d never seen him handle the register before. He’s one of the people who usually does the cooking.
The price was $6.19, so I gave him a $20 bill. He handed me the receipt, which showed that my change was supposed to be $13.81. Presumably the cash register said the same thing.
Anyway, the guy seemed to be having trouble figuring out how much change to give me. He kept taking bills out and putting them back. At one point, he had a $10 bill and some ones in his hand, which was encouraging, but he put the $10 back in the register and took out a $5. Then he picked out some coins and handed me my change.
Since he’d only given me $7.45 or so, I told him it was wrong and showed him the receipt that said $13.81. I told him he needed to give me a 10 and three ones and 81 cents. While he thought about this for a while, I asked the other three people behind the counter if any of them could do arithmetic or make change. We all smiled at each other. Apparently the answer was “No”.
I next suggested that maybe he could get the manager to come out and help. He must have thought this was a good idea, so he went in the back room. He returned shortly and looked at my change again, which was lying on the counter. Then he went in the back again.
This time he came out, smiled and handed me a penny.
I would have gotten impatient if I’d been in a hurry or there had been other customers waiting. But I wasn’t and there weren’t and he was clearly trying to do the right thing.
So I told him again what he should give me and suggested that he really should get the manager to come out front. Which he finally did.
The manager apologized and gave me the correct change and said: “I’m training him” (really?).
I said “O.k., thanks” and the rest of my visit was uneventful.
As I’m sitting there eating, I’m wondering what it must be like to come to America, not speaking the language very well and not being too clear about arithmetic or American money. Then being able to find a job, while hoping to get a better job some day. It takes a certain amount of bravery, and some optimism, possibly combined with desperation. It’s not something I’d want to do.
I also wondered about the manager who said he was training this employee. Was he really training him? Did he just assume that the guy could make change? Was this the first time he’d ever had to deal with cash? Had other customers used credit cards? Was I his first customer? Did the manager have a pressing engagement somewhere in the back and tell his crew to handle the register while he was gone? And this guy was the bravest or most confident or most reckless among them?
The food was fine and I didn’t ask.