This weekend I was at one of the very many big-box stores around here, and I heard about an interesting thing: an employee had been corrected for referring to someone who entered the store to browse and ostensibly purchase merchandise as a "customer."
The preferred term in retail establishments these days, apparently, is "guest." And workers at some of these stores can get in trouble for forgetting that.
I remember when restaurants first started using the term "guests" to refer to customers; it seemed quite strange to me then, but I suppose in a vague way it makes some sort of odd sense. Like a guest in one's home, a "guest" in a restaurant comes to relax and eat food and enjoy conversation. It is a decided stretch to apply this term to those who enter even fast-food restaurants, but one could sort of see where it had come from.
But stores? Big-box stores, clothing stores, electronics stores, grocery stores, hardware stores?
I have news for these merchants: when I enter your establishments, I am not your guest. Because:
--if I were your guest, you would be violating all of the principles of good hosting to try to sell me things. Sure, naive or gauche or desperate people may invite guests to their home on the pretense of a good time to be had by all, only to reveal that they are now selling cosmetics or pots and pans or multilevel marketing of vitamins or something, in the hopes that their guests will enter into some commercial transaction; but the etiquette violation of doing so is clear. If you want people to come to your house so you can give them a commercial presentation, you invite them on those terms, but you don't try to pretend that you are simply hosting a dinner party or something until after the "guests" actually arrive, because that will be rude. Similarly, if you are a store or a business, you don't get to pretend that your "guests" have entered your establishment for polite social reasons and that if you are lucky some purchases will be made. When I come to your store to shop for things that you sell, I am not a guest.
--if I were your guest, you would be overwhelmingly concerned with my comfort. Generally speaking when we invite guests to our homes, we clean the house, clear the clutter, play only quiet music if we play music at all, and so on (yes, there are occasional exceptions). But when I enter your store, dear merchant, it is clear that you are after something other than the comfort of those who enter. The loud, droning music, the flickering fluorescent lights, all the soothing ambiance of an airport on the day before Thanksgiving, the cleanliness of a subway bathroom--these are what I've come to expect in your stores. Not only that, but you frequently move items to make me walk to the back of your store, in the hopes that I have no willpower and will load my shopping cart with impulse items on the way there and back again. Hosts don't try these sorts of things on their guests, and so I am not a guest.
--if I were your guest, you would respect my time with you. You would be helpful, friendly, cheerful, and kind. You would not shrug when I asked you questions or be surly when I was getting ready to leave, and you would probably see me to the door or walk me to the car without being asked. Instead, you value your time more than mine, and will make me wait in long lines even when plenty of store employees are available to open additional registers. Since no host treats his guest in this way, I am not your guest.
--if I were your guest, you would not shove your political activism down my throat. Hosts know that the topics of religion and politics can be the ruin of otherwise friendly parties, and even when those topics arise naturally, will often be as diplomatic as possible for the sake of their guests' comfort. You, however, have never met a left-wing, liberal political activist cause you did not like, from gay "marriage" to extreme environmentalism (which is hypocritical of you, considering how very much bigger your "carbon footprint" is than mine) and everything in between. It apparently never concerns you that you are labeling roughly half of your so-called "guests" as bigoted troglodytes for not agreeing with you on the Trendy Leftist Liberal Cause of the day--and as a real host would never be so unbelievably rude, you are certainly not my host, and I am not your guest.
So enough with this "guest" nonsense, and enough, especially, for punishing your poor, long-suffering, badly-paid, and downright exploited employees for failing to use this utterly ridiculous and incorrect term to describe me.
I am your customer.
And, whatever a guest may be, the customer is always right.