Unexpected Surprise

Sometimes, my work in helping to develop content for Living Abroad offers unexpected benefits in my home country.
One late November afternoon last year, I went to a brand new store at my local shopping mall. UNIQLO, headquartered in Yamaguchi, Japan, has added a number of stores in the United States in recent years — including several in Connecticut.
That day, there was a senior clerk training the new store’s employees. While their name tags were only in English, hers was in English and Japanese.

When shoppers in northeastern United States cities pay for our goods, we want speedy transactions…especially during the holiday shopping season. We expect to be asked, “Receipt in the bag okay?”  We expect to be handed everything at once, quickly.

But instead, the senior trainer clerk carefully folded and smoothed out our sweaters and scarves. She wrapped them in tissue paper, and slid them into their bags. She presented credit cards and then receipts to customers using both hands, making sure that the print faced outward. Finally, she handed them their wrapped purchases.

I knew from working with Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center that this is very common practice in Japan. I learned soon after that UNIQLO employees around the world are trained to do this.  But it was interesting to watch shoppers ahead of me in line react to the change in our usual routine. Some barely noticed, because they were chatting on the phone while they paid. Others were visibly annoyed by the extra time these steps took — they snatched their receipts and their bags, and darted back out into the mall without a word.

However, the woman right in front of me in line put her phone in her pocket when it was her turn at the cash register. She waited patiently as her sweater was wrapped. She accepted her credit card and then her receipt with both hands, thanked the clerk with a slight nod both times. Then, she accepted her shopping bag in the same manner. In those two minutes, I watched the lead clerk’s smile change from courteous to genuine.
A change in smile is a difficult to explain, but easy to see. I remembered it a few times as I braved the rest of the shopping mall…and caught myself smiling, too.
Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, International Product Manager, Living Abroad