By Shelly Goehring, MBA 2013
I was standing in line with a basket of a few groceries. When it came my turn, the cashier scanned my items and I handed her my card. It was a VISA debit card that I had already used several times in Brazil. I told her, “Credit, por favor.”
A line had formed behind me and the store was increasingly crowded.
The cashier looked at my card and saw that it had “debit” written across the front. She pointed this out to me and said a few things in Portuguese. I could not understand her, but generally ask for my VISA debit card to be run as credit. So far, this had not been a problem in Brazil. I pointed out the VISA sign and repeated, “Credit, por favor.”
She shook her head “no” and said many things in Portuguese that I still could not understand. I again pointed to the VISA sign. She pointed to the word debit and I again pointed to the VISA sign. Then she called the manager over.
At this point, the woman behind me in line started to crowd me. I heard her sigh. I could feel the restlessness among others in the line without even having to look. And then I got an image of being in a grocery store line in my home neighborhood of Dorchester. I could see an immigrant who has poor English skills trying to explain something to the cashier, and the cashier not being able to understand. I felt myself getting anxious for having to wait because a customer who could not communicate appropriately.
Suddenly I felt an overwhelming sense of empathy that I had not previously experienced. I had often times been the impatient person in line behind someone without proficient English language skills in the United States. Yet I had never really tried to understand what it feels like to be the one struggling to communicate with a host of strangers frustrated at your back.
I snapped back to the present and told the cashier, “Debit, por favor.” She ran my card, bagged my groceries and I quickly moved on.
The cashier assumed I was wrong and I did not have the language skills to explain otherwise. I can only imagine how often this happens to immigrants in the United States. And there is nothing like a little old-fashioned humility to make us more sensitive to the experiences of others!
Shelly is an evening MBA student at Babson, graduating in May. This reflection is from a recent Babson Elective Abroad to Brazil. She works in the non-profit sector, currently focusing on expanding affordable housing options in the Greater Boston region. Her past work has been in small business development and urban commercial revitalization. Originally from California, Shelly has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, Davis in Sociology and Political Science, as well as a Master’s Degree from Eastern University in Urban Economic Development.