Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Condoms and Tampons and Bras, Oh My!

I've had the same two bras for the past year:  a black one, and a white one.  The black one is in especially sad shape because it's the only bra that fit under my work shirt.  So yesterday, I finally went bra shopping with my mom.  My budget led us to a large retailer in the mall, where we spent quite a while rummaging through clearance racks of $6 bras.  Eventually I brought several to the checkout counter and was ready to lay them by the register, when suddenly Mom nudged me, gesturing toward the cashier, and whispered, "That's a guy."

I had, in fact, been aware of this, and untroubled by it.  Except now, the cashier had heard us, and we all struggled to maintain our composure, making this two-minute transaction feel like eternity.

At my retail job, there was one gift shop that contained every potentially embarrassing sundry item.  Condoms and tampons caused customers the most grief--usually the tampons, since the full-time clerk in that shop was a very pleasant older man who seemed to terrify menstruating women.  I was once working in another store at the opposite end of the hallway, when a woman asked if we had tampons.  I told her they were back in the first shop, and she said,  "Well, I saw them in there, but--" (she leaned in and lowered her voice dramatically) "--I didn't want to buy them from that man."

In the end, "that man" relayed a box of tampons to my shop so I could ring them up for her.  I found it touching that I was the only person capable of selling this woman tampons. 

On any given day, cashiers may be yelled at, threatened, or belittled by customers.  Ringing up taboo sundry items is the least of our worries.  Sometimes we barely notice what we're scanning.  Ringing up a pack of condoms never bothered me--it was just another item I had to scan and bag, and another total I had to recite.  I will admit, though, I never could bring myself to say "Have a good night" after selling someone condoms.  I just didn't like to get that invested in the situation.  Even "Come back and see us" seemed a little too judgey.  I'd always just say "Thanks" instead.  But I never felt embarrassed.

For my co-workers and me, these situations only got awkward if the customer was awkward.  Another clerk once told me about a customer who was so edgy while buying condoms from her, he felt obligated to reveal that it was his wedding night, and he and his wife were about to have sex for the first time.   I wonder what response he was expecting.  Good luck?  Go get 'em, tiger?  Or maybe, Congratulations, you've won the celibacy challenge!  Then confetti and streamers would fall from the ceiling.

Gentlemen, the jig is up:  we know about the penises, and we know what they're for.  And ladies, guys know about our periods, and they know about the boobs, too.  A natural, inherent discomfort arises when we acknowledge the existence of these things to the opposite sex, but that's okay.  When you need to buy a condom or a tampon or a bra, it's kind of like ripping off a bandage.  Just keep a straight face and get through it with your dignity intact.


  1. I grew up in a fashion that lead me to believe that there are certain things that you simply don't talk about. Over time I've grown out of least in part. I am by no means a prude, yet in comparison to most of the people I know I would be considered prudish.

    Regardless of this I find that when in a similar situation (whether it be on the purchasing or observing side) I simply don't care. Maybe its the fact that I/they/we are not speaking about the occurrence. Maybe its a case of detachment from those we don't know. One way or another its an interesting conundrum. Though I do believe that, if it were brought up directly, I would find myself feeling just a mite bit prudish.

  2. Another great post!
    It's interesting that your mother obviously shows an avoidance of males when buying female-specific items. Now that I think of it, this is definitely something that my mother would likely do too.
    It's hard to say what I would do..since there really aren't any male specific items. I guess I view the person ringing up my stuff as a part of the store rather than a peer that could potentially judge me for my purchases.
    Well, now that I think of it... I probably would avoid a female clerk when purchasing an item like the latest edition of Playboy to avoid looking like a sexist pig.

  3. "Gentlemen, the jig is up: we know about the penises, and we know what they're for. And ladies, guys know about our periods, and they know about the boobs, too."

    Hilarious! I love it.