“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.

7 Responses 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.

  2. lee wolf says:

    The “Please Wait to be Seated” sign at my restaurant is apparently invisible for every other customer.

  3. jo says:

    Anytime you book anything with us you have to tick a box that says you read our cancellation policy (whose details are also on our FAQ page, on the receipt you are emailed, on the reminder the system generates) and yet every single week we get calls from someone who has a death int he family, a severe illness, is in an emergency room, had to race out of town to save the world. They all want a make-up due to their circumstances. And I gently try to explain that like their tickets to Beyonce or the Dead they won’t come back for a make-up tour if you have to miss the show. And I laughed at the bartender comments because we get that every day. I’d like to book an event on X, what times do you have? We have X, Y and Z. Do you have Q? No, we have X,Y and Z. So no Q? Absolutely NO ONE reads anymore, and just like the man at Staples they exclaim how you should have ‘let them know’ – When they don’t set up a mailbox, listen to voicemails, or supply a valid working email address I’m not really sure what they want from us. *sigh*

  4. Stuart Goldman says:

    Aw, you left out the CARS ONLY signs on Storrow and Memorial drives.

  5. Dan N says:

    There’s a challenge when people at work deal with people not at work. I don’t have the same mental focus while not at work. That doesn’t give me the right to act rude, but businesses present so many signs/messages for a variety of reasons that I actively ignore them because it’s otherwise overwhelming. While at work, I’m paid to be focused, but businesses expect too much to want customers to meet a level of intelligence.

    When/if businesses are annoyed by my cluelessness (assuming I’m not being rude) it’s usually an indication I’m in the wrong store. Offer discounts to those paying attention and see if people up their game.

  6. Cortni says:

    Many years ago at a bakery our POS also went down due to an error on the part of Verizon (talk about a POS). Anyhow, we posted signs that we could not accept credit or debit cards and many of our customers understood, complied, and were happy to return for their items after a quick trip to the ATM across the way. However, one gem of a woman (not a lady at all) insisted on berating the staff for the faulty technology and loudly informed us that “People don’t read signs!” She was one of those who felt she could belittle the lowly bakery staff and insisted she knew that business could not be run that way- little did she know the staff behind the counter had an MBA from Georgetown. Suffice to say she left with no cupcakes.

  7. JLL says:

    I work at a very busy walk-in medical clinic. We have a pretty simple procedure to follow when registering with reception, Upon entering the clinic, there is a VERY large sign asking patients to take a number, have a seat and watch for your number to appear on LED sign. There is a second VERY large sign closer to the reception desk asking patient to please be seated until their number appears on the LED sign. You literally have to duck under the first sign and walk AROUND the second sign, yet about every 3 patients charge directly to reception desk, sometimes even interrupting the receptionist (helping a patient) or standing DIRECTLY behind the current patient being served (which is a privacy issue) When we politely ask patient to take a number, sit down, or read the signs, they become offended and haughty. I have even seen patients read the signs and totally disregard them, almost as if the signs don’t apply to them. It can be very frustrating. Since having this job, I make sure that when I’m out in public I read all signs when patronizing an establishment.

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