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There’s an increase in strangers with word limits who work in customer service departments. You’ve met them. Their jobs are in customer service, but they’re not the least bit interested in customers.

You’ve been through the drill with them. They’ve cashed you out in the checkout line without exchanging a word or displaying an expression. They’re paid to exchange some kind words, like “have a good day,” but they don’t. Why? Because no one is watching them.

The other day I met one of these types. He wasn’t the worst I’ve ever come across in the “Word Limit Spectrum Disorder,” but he was definitely in the category. I entered a lamp store and heard a man say “You can put the lamp there.” I was relieved that someone told me where to put the lamp, so I thought we were off to a good start, but I soon realized that these six words maxed out this gentleman’s word limit. “You can put the lamp there” was all he had to say.

I watched him as he wound up my lamp cord. It was clear that, for him, the lamp cord had to be perfectly wound or nothing else would happen. So I waited patiently. I could have sworn I heard the ticking of a clock. Then there was a pause that seemed to turn into an eternity. He looked at my lamp and I looked at him. Finally, I asked, “What do we do next?”

“Well,” he said slowly, “you want a lamp shade? Right?”

“Yes,” I said and before I could say anything else, he disappeared into a back room.

A few minutes later, he came out with a shade so close to the one I had, it was almost uncanny. He took the old shade off my lamp and put the new one on without a word. He took the charge card that I held out to him without a word. He handed me a receipt without a word. I was wishing that the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams would suddenly start playing full blast in the background, but it didn’t.

I picked up my lamp. The new lampshade was wrapped in a swirl of protective cellophane. I carried it down the hall and opened the door carefully, balancing the lamp so I didn’t smash the new shade. I heard the sound of the plastic wrapping on the shade crunch as it brushed across my shoulder.

The man of few words could have:

  1. asked “Can I carry it for you?”
  2. said “Thank you for coming.”
  3. said “Have a nice day.”
  4. all of the above.

He did none of these things. Good thing, I thought, that I don’t buy lamp shades too often.

Boy, did he miss out, I thought. This man’s self -imposed word limit cut off all possibilities and opportunities for connecting with new people. Boy, does he miss out—every single day.