Shopping in another world
One of the reasons Julie is in St. Francisville now is to buy a refrigerator, washer, and dryer for our new rental house. They need to be installed before we move in. My father told her that our family typically buys its appliances from a merchant in a nearby town, because their home repair work is so reliable. Julie and I decided ahead of time that we would try these folks out, but that we would also comparison-shop elsewhere. Which is, of course, completely normal.
Julie just phoned to tell about her experience there. When she told the man behind the counter what she was looking for and when she needed it, he replied that Julie would qualify for some kind of discount because she was buying so many things. Unfortunately, the woman who handles those special sales is out today, the man said, “because her Daddy’s having surgery,” but that the woman could do the arrangements on Tuesday.
The man noticed Julie’s last name, and asked if she was related to Mr. Ray and Miss Dorothy. Yes, she said, they’re my in-laws.
“Your sister-in-law died not too long ago,” he said. “I’m so sorry. She and my wife were good friends. I’ve done all kinds of work with [Ruthie’s husband] Mike.” And then he goes on talking about their connections.
“So here’s what we do,” he told Julie. “We’re not going to be able to get this stuff delivered before you go back to Philadelphia, but you leave the key with Mr. Ray and we’ll have it installed and ready to go before y’all get here.”
Julie hasn’t bought the appliances yet — she’ll have to do that tomorrow — but now she’s more or less obliged to buy them from this place. She can’t really go comparison-shop elsewhere. I mean, she can, but it would be thought rude. If she did this, I doubt it would be held against her, but it would be noticed. What she realized, though, is that she might pay a little more for appliances at this particular store, but her money is not just buying goods; it’s buying a relationship.
“This is the man who’s going to be fixing our appliances if they break,” she said to me. We are not just customers to him. We’re Mr. Ray and Miss Dorothy’s people. We’re Mike Leming’s people. We’re related to Ruthie, Who Died.
“It’s amazing how many doors open up down here when you just mention the family name,” Julie said. It’s not that my family is privileged; it’s that people know them, and so much depends on personal relationships.
This is a different world for us as consumers. Julie said in Philly, she would have heard the guy at the store say she couldn’t have what she wanted exactly when she wanted it, and would have walked out and gone to a merchant who could meet those demands. “It’s funny how conditioned we are to have all our demands met exactly as we want them,” Julie said. “We’re going to have to unlearn that.”
From her tone, I gather that she didn’t think this was such a bad thing. Neither do I.