I walked to the snack shop yesterday afternoon before the final conference call of the day. I was third or fourth in line, and the customer at the register appeared to be having trouble with their debit or credit card. It looked like she was only trying to purchase a soda, and the clerk informed her that she thought her card had been declined (the transaction failed twice with a communication error, which another employee claimed indicated a declined purchase). The girl stepped aside, and began calling someone on her cell phone – I presume it was her bank or card company.

The line moved expeditiously forward, and before long I was standing at the register. The girl was still standing to the side, and still on the phone, though she didn’t seem to be speaking to anyone. I asked the clerk if the girl was only trying to buy a soda – which was still sitting on the counter – and when I received an affirmative response I indicated that I would purchase it for her. The clerk looked surprised, but I confirmed my intention to purchase the soda on behalf of the young woman on the phone.

I had hoped that the girl would hear this, so that she would know that she could take her soda and leave, to continue her negotiations with her bank in a more comfortable, and private, environment. To my dismay, as I paid, the girl walked toward the back of the line, leaving the now-paid-for soda on the counter. When my transaction was complete, I walked back to her and said “Excuse me, miss. I purchased that soda for you.”

It was my intention to make it clear to her that she didn’t have to wait around in the snack shop on her cell phone – that she was, in fact, free to leave. She looked at me for a moment, and then said, simply, “Okay.” I responded in kind and walked out.

On the way back to my office, I realized that the girl probably thought I was a big jerk, proudly declaring my good deed in a pompous show, expecting great thanks from her. And realizing that, I really do feel like a jerk, now.

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