Thursday, April 05, 2012

Social Dilemma

Something happened at a Banana Republic a couple of months ago that has been swirling around in my head ever since. I was thrust – THRUST I TELL YOU – into an awkward social situation that could have happened to anyone, and I certainly didn’t handle it as gracefully as I might have.

It went like this.

I was perusing the after-Christmas sales at the Gateway Mall in Utah (Jon, my mom, my dad, my grandma, and my sister Annie were all there. They have nothing to do with the story, but I think they’d like to be included). The girl that let me into my fitting room was in a wheelchair. This is a key element to the story. Do not forget that the girl was in a wheelchair.

The shirt I tried on got the green light from my shopping companions, so I made my way to the register. When the cashier asked if any employee had assisted me with my purchase, I realized with horror that I didn’t know the girl’s name, and the only defining characteristic I could think of was her wheelchair. Obviously I couldn’t say, “The girl in the wheelchair” (or could I have?), so I wildly glanced around the store, willing her to roll into sight so I could point her out to him instead. He recognized the panicked expression on my face and said matter-of-factly, “Must have been Marissa”.

So now, I ask of you. Aside from paying careful attention to her name, what could I have done differently? Are you hyper-vigilant in committing wheelchair peoples’ names to memory in the unlikely event that you’ll be asked to recall it with no warning? How would you have handled the situation? What could SHE have done to help? (“I’m Marissa. MUH-RISSSS-UHHHHH.”)What if it had been her first day on the job, and the cashier wasn’t yet familiar with the uncomfortable reactions to that seemingly benign question? What if he had never saved me by his knowing response???

And in that case, would it really have been THAT BAD to have eventually said that other thing, the first thing that came to my mind? Certainly no worse than Jon’s suggestion of, "It know...the girl.... [wheelchair locomotion gesture, 'yikes' face] "


  1. I love Jon's yikes face.

  2. I think you would have been ok to say "the wheelchair girl." It might not be the most sensitive description but it was her most salient feature at the time, like "the short girl," or "the girl with a purple highlight in her hair," or "the girl with the Spanish accent." I don't know, maybe I'm insensitive.

  3. We lived in a ward for about 8 months when my twins were still pretty young. It didn't surprise me for the first couple of weeks when people would refer to me as the twin's mom, but it did get old after a while. I finally made a fancy lace trimmed name tag and wore it for about a month. Most people learned my name, but people still often refererred to me as either the twin's mom or Josh's mom even though I was the activities chairman and my name and phone number had been on tons of announcements and sign up sheets.

    At the time I thought it was funny, looking back I think it
    is even more hilarious. The most ironic part to me, a member who was in the early stages of alzheimers was the one who most consistently remembered my first name. :-)

  4. My Dad was in and out of a wheelchair throughout his whole life. He wouldn't have been offended if you had said "the guy in the wheelchair". Just one of those things... kinda like having glasses, being short, or having blue eyes. In fact he used to hate it when people would try to look but not stare... or try to get their kids to not look. It's just a freaking chair with wheels and kiddos are interested. He preferred when people just came up and asked him what landed him in the wheelie (his slang term). Anyways, that's just my two cents... well maybe a few more :)

  5. I think Jon's suggestion would have been my go-to. I'm a social nightmare.

  6. I think I would have just said the girl in the wheelchair helped me. it's not like you were saying something bad about her she is in fact in a wheelchair.

  7. hahahaha, the last sentence. Ooo, that got me. haha

  8. I never remember the person's name who helped me. I don't see anything wrong with saying "the person in the wheelchair". It's a defining characterization they have, I'm sure they wouldn't be offended at all if they heard you