Sunday, June 9, 2013


By Arthur H. Gunther III

Novelists, short-story writers, even columnists are people observers. They see the nuances of ordinary life  and then explain to the reader, who may very well say, "I know that feeling.” Or, “I’ve done that.” But writers don’t own the franchise alone.
Salespeople are keen people watchers as well, sort of pre-med psychiatry students.

For example, I watched the other day as a couple bought an area rug in a local department store. The salesman, a young fellow, was ensconced in the corner at the usual elegant desk that never sold. He was surrounded by piles of colorful rugs and some hanging on the wall, with prices from $300 to the thousands. The salesman seemed bored, or maybe his job was idling at the moment, in neutral, a survival-must for work that requires stretches of time where not much happens.

He glanced up to see that the couple was moseying by and let them go into the lair without a pounce. It was only after they were in the rug chamber that the friendly fellow, quite polite and easy-mannered, appeared and offered the menu starter: “Anything I can help you with folks?”

The fellow with the lady looked like he could use a beer, but the woman wanted a rug, and this was serious business. In age-old, time-tested body psychology, the man moved ever so quickly and surely away from the lady, whistling to himself as the salesman took his place.

Now the woman and the clerk were the team, and the talk turned to rugs, colors, sizes, prices. It was a common language, this man the rug sales fellow and this woman the buyer. 

It was only after the rather nice lady had decided what she wanted that she looked up, almost without focusing, and laser-beamed on the man who turned out to be her husband and asked, “What do you think about this color?”

The guy knew nothing from rugs, still wanted a beer but did know his colors. So he answered, “It’s red. You wanted red, right?”

The salesman laughed, knowing a man when he saw one, being one himself.

The deal was sealed, with no help from the lady’s mate, thank you. He better never criticize the rug. 

Like I said, a salesperson knows how it works, this people observation business. 

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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