Thursday, August 16, 2018

Can millennials count to twenty-five?

Sometimes I just get so tired. I don't want to diss millennials too much, because, after all, they are The Future. We're in their hands, or we will be, and there's nothing much we can do about it.

But if they work retail, shouldn't they be expected to - uh, ah, er - know something about money?

I think what may be happening is that they are shown how to scan a bar code, at which point their training is "done". This is called "buying something". The payment is a tap on a machine, so they don't need to worry about that either.

Money confounds them. They don't know what it is.

Being pensioners and fairly poor, we're the type to count out change for things, just so we keep track of what we are actually spending. All this has gone by the boards, like writing in cursive and learning to tell time from a clock face. (Both have been scrapped and are no longer taught in schools.) It's much more OK to jam a card in a machine, or (better yet) tap it, then sort of forget about the total while you shove the item in plastic and hurry on.

The concept of spending money - actual cash money - isn't real any more. Bank balances. Loans. Debt. What are they? It's all a sort of grey oblivion, until one day it catches up with you and you realize you are living so far beyond your means that you can't scrape up enough to pay the rent.

So. Today I had two pretty vivid examples of millennials who couldn't count. I mean, AT ALL. One was a young man, a very pleasant young man from another culture, so he's excused or partially-excused, but why on earth, during his training, did he never have to handle any money, let alone learn to make change? I guess Walmart just assumes no one pays any attention any more. It just "goes on a card", and you're finished. 

Typical of the older, poorer generation, I set a small item in front of him and put down a handful of assorted cash. There was a five dollar bill, a few toonies and a loonie, and a lot of new-looking quarters. (I only mention this because I wondered if this was why he found it so perplexing.) He looked at the  five, sort of put it to one side, hefted the toonies and loonie and began to poke his fingers into them (to count them, I assume). Then the quarters. There were  at least eight of them. He picked up one quarter. He sort of squinted at it, held it up to his eye, turned it this way and that. Flipped it over to look at the other side. Then he put that quarter to one side. Then he picked up the next quarter, inspected it carefully, turned it this way and that, and - 

On and on, each time, for eight quarters.

Of course, I (and everyone else in line) wondered if Walmart had a new policy of scrutinizing quarters, the way you would a fifty or even a twenty. Maybe shiny new quarters were counterfeit! Maybe I had a mint in my basement and feverishly turned out quarters all night long so I could fool Walmart and get my garden hose for free. But this just seemed surreal. He kept pushing the quarters around the counter like little silver curling stones. Finally he picked one up and held it by its edges for the longest time.

"Are these worth twenty-five cents?" he asked me. I assured him they were. 

Was this nickel confusion? Not likely. Every nickel in Canada has a beaver on it. They aren't the same size as quarters. They're thicker and smaller in diameter. But I doubt if he knew what a nickel looked like anyway. When he gave me my change, I just took it and left. Didn't even bother to look.

But that wasn't the end of it!

An hour or so later I went to a craft store to buy some different-colored sheets of felt for a project. They had gorgeous felt in the place, every sort of rich colour, so I picked out a lot of it. The price was two sheets for $1.25, clearly marked with a sticker on each sheet.

I bought sixteen sheets, which I assumed would be eight times $1.25. The cashier, young and sweet and (until I rang the bell) glued to her phone, dutifully began to ring up one sheet after another, after another, after another. The total was absurdly high. I realized she had charged me sixteen times $1.25.  I insisted it wasn't right and that the price was on the label, but the label was covering the bar code, so she had to actually ring it in rather than scan it. So she was completely confused.

Two for $1.25 was just too complex a concept to master. It HAD to be $1.25 each. That's what things cost, didn't they? One item, one price?

I knew she was upset because I was challenging her reality. I was nice about it, but I insisted I wouldn't pay double what the item actually cost. I had to lay out two sheets of felt and say, "These cost $1.25." Then lay out two more sheets of felt and say, "These cost $1.25." Finally she got it, more or less. We worked it out, but I still think she thought she was being nice about it to get rid of me.  

All she knew how to do was scan bar codes. That's what a clerk does now. Some of those self-checkout things allow you to use cash, but I've heard they're on the way out.

So I will be forced to card-tap, and no longer deal with a living, breathing, mistake-making millennial person. I wonder why that upsets me so much?