“Can’t You Read the Sign?” #Humans #LookUp

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Rules of Engagement

Posted: 07/9/2017

The Five Man Electrical Band 1971:

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Apparently, not.

I recently entered Staples and was greeted by this 20″ x 30″ sign immediately upon entering:



After walking around the sign, I heard some commotion at the check out line about 20 feet away. Following a minor ruckus, a customer loudly stated, “You should have a sign!,” and stormed out. [Of course I had to get the scoop from the cashier.] She told me that the customer presented a credit card to pay, she apologized, and informed him that their POS was down and for the time being, they could only accept cash. After pleading his case, to no avail, the customer kicked a cardboard display of tape, dropped his verbal parting shot about the need for a sign, and left. And yes, I confirmed that the sign was in place when he entered the store…

There’s no mystery as to why many online sites have shut down comments following their stories. Many lazy, caustic people spew their vitriolic comments based on the headline alone, without reading the article. Despite the fact that ‘Reading is Fundamental,’ we have some serious fundamental problems when it comes to internet etiquette, especially the content of comments. According to RIF, “43% percent of American adults are functionally illiterate.” Many people are more interested in invoking their established ‘worldview’ than engaging in a meaningful, enlightening conversation where they might learn something.

In the spring, Norway’s public broadcaster (NRK) implemented a novel approach in an attempt to mitigate the online debauchery. From TNW:

Comment sections on the internet can be a cesspool of human misery and rarely lead to fruitful conversations. Many news sites have given up on regulating comment sections and simply gotten rid of them, but Norway’s public broadcaster (NRK) has tried to find new ways to elevate the level of discussion in comments.

Nieman Lab reported that NRKbeta, the tech arm of NRK, has introduced a quiz that makes sure that people have read the article before commenting on it. People are required to answer three fairly easy multiple-choice questions about the topic and if they pass they are allowed to comment.

Perhaps comment sections will be able to shake their cesspool-image in the future. Forcing people to actually read what they are ranting about provides a glimmer of hope for a more informed discussion online.


My go-to, neighborhood greasy spoon, the Busy Bee has been cash-only for decades. Despite a small sign in the front window, every day, on multiple occasions, customers pull out plastic to pay and the staff explains that they are cash-only. Tired of explaining why, and where the nearest ATM was, they posted this sign on the front door:


Nothing has changed. Every single day I go to the diner I see someone try to pay with plastic. ‘No one’ reads anything or follows instructions. If you doubt it, ask a bartender or server about their interactions with customers. No matter how detailed you explain something, customers often reply in a nonsensical way, oblivious of what was just communicated to them.

Server: “We only have A and B?”

Customer: “We can’t get C?”

No! No you can’t!! C is NOT A or B!!!!!

Bartender hands beer list to guest. “We’ve got 30 beers on tap on the front of the list, and 80 bottles and cans on the back. I’ll give you a few moments to take a look, unless you’re looking for something specific and I can help guide you?”

Customer: “Can you just tell me what you have for beers?”

And then this happened recently:


Nice example for our people. Let’s not even go there for now…

Lastly, while contemplating the fate of humans who never read anything, I happened upon this sign after working an event in the Seaport in Boston recently:


I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear that the customer from Staples ‘met his maker’ on these tracks…

If you work in a service industry interacting with humans for a living, please share your stories ( join the therapy session) in the comments below. Thank you.

One Response to ““Can’t You Read the Sign?” #Humans #LookUp”

  1. Michael Robertson says:

    I tend bar and we have a drinks and food Happy Hour. Every day, without fail, when I hand someone the menu and state that it is Happy Hour, they say “We’re just here for drinks.”
    I used to explain that we had drink specials as well but I found myself doing it a dozen times a day and when it’s busy, that takes extra time and attention from other guests. I have stopped explaining it to people when it’s busy, which leads to their missing out if they don’t order a HH item.

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