Too young or too old?

Last night I was in a store and the woman asked what I was looking for, and if she could help me. I gave her my usual response: “I am just looking.” Unless I cannot find what I think I should be able to find, or I need a different size, I am a leave-me-alone kind of shopper. She then proceeded to ask me if I had any kids and if I was back-to-school shopping. I was a bit shocked about the question (the age for the store would be a tween store). Did she really think I was that old?

While it is completely numerically possible for me to have a tween, and even a kid in college (yikes). I believe it is the first time that I have ever been asked if I was back-to-school shopping for children I do not have. Maybe I was a bit more shocked because just mere weeks ago I was carded while out with work colleagues. When the woman saw how old I was I could see she was shocked. I then asked her how old she thought I was, and she said under 30.

While I should be flattered by her subtracting 6+ years from my life, the entire age thing baffles me. How can one individual think I look much younger than I am, and another potentially assume I have a tween. I know I am stretching the store comment a bit (and I know I had crazy bags under my eyes after a long day and week), but I am perplexed. After getting carded, I could not get over it. Those with me told me it is a compliment and I can see what they mean, but does it also mean that I act younger than I should?

Or, should I just shut up and be grateful that the waitress took years off my life and know that years from now I will look back and want someone to do that for me again?

One thought on “Too young or too old?

  1. As i always like to say, check your assumptions! People are always a function of their environment and understanding their behavior always requires context (what’s going on in their life) which, ironically, is impossible in today’s day and age of big towns and bigger cities. To truly know the context of people’s lives, the magic number of a “town” is ~120 people or where we can know everyone. Anything over (I believe) ~120 develops indirect relationships where you may know “of” someone but not know them.

    I learned this early on with the notion of displaced anger within a hierarchy – how something as simple as me getting chewed out which resulted in me thinking that my superior really hates me but, in fact, it’s because she was chewed out by her boss because he was chewed out by his because the leader was chewed out by the spouse because the spouse slept badly because the spouse had one too many glasses of wine and has a slight hangover…

    Here’s how I look at your situation:

    (i) this is peak school buying time and the sales person was taking a calculated risk to continue the conversation (for a commission or for boredom is irrelevant) with a person who browsing. They may be there to help with school sales and may not even linked tween store with consumer child age. i believe the sales rep only recognized that you most likely was not the target demographic of the store which, 9x out of 10 means that you are a parent and buying for child.

    (ii) Regarding carding, it is the policy of many alcohol serving establishments to card everyone irrespective of how they look because the financial risk of serving under age with a subsequent accident is too high and it also provides them an out if their employees ignore a company policy. In the past, too many people who “looked of age” were not of age and subsequently got into an accident (car or poising or fight or other) which caused an investigation which either resulted in almost losing or losing their means of survival not to mention the inevitable law suit.

    (i) is definitely a heuristic and (ii) is anti-heuristic – either way, they involve generalizations. When we are tired, bored, lethargic, or dormant, we tend to rely on heuristics almost all the time because our “thinking” side of the brain is lazy and will always defer to our reactive or heuristic side. Thinking must be spooled up. I learned this from a number of books but the coolest one is “How Doctors Think” by Jerome Groopman because it showed me how to spool up a doctor when they are treating me – when I have real skin in the game (or maybe a pancreas, or my lungs).

    Rarely the way people react to us is a direct result of our actions. That’s why I try to have a policy of leaving home at home and leaving work at work and place a Chinese wall in the middle. I also try to not lose my temper with my kids when they are simply asking a question while I am working on something (either professionally or personally). I am not always successful but at least I try.

    If a comment bothers you, my recommendation is to ask the person whey they think that? or even better, spool up their brain before they engage you. I tend to ask people (like sales people or waiters / waitresses) what they think I should be looking at. You’re the expert, tell me what I need to know. Most will then stop and then ask what you like – ahhhh spooled up.


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