By “temporary shoplifting” I mean “walking out of a store with merchandise you have not paid for, then realizing and voluntarily returning to the store to pay for it.” Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but here are some Things Not To Do if you want to avoid the risk that this almost-crime will get the police’s attention before it gets yours:
- When you have decided to buy a shoulder bag, do not hang it on your shoulder while you continue to walk around the store. Especially, do not hang it on the same shoulder as your purse or any other bag you are legitimately carrying. Doing this vastly increases the odds that you will forget about the new bag when you are leaving the store.
- Do not allow your seven-year-old child, even if he is for some reason behaving like a bizarre cross between a self-appointed Office Max tour guide and an over-caffeinated Lady Elaine Fairchilde, to lure you 30 feet away from the checkout desk to look at a bunch of random items and develop iron-clad 17-point arguments explaining why you will not buy them for him, while the other parent pays for all the stuff. Especially if you not only are still carrying an item of merchandise but also never told the other parent that you had decided to buy it.
- When you realize your mistake, do not hesitate. Immediately return to the store to pay for the item. This demonstrates that you were not trying to get away with anything but are merely ditzy. Also, any attempt to delay doing the right thing sets a bad example for your child.
- Do not attempt to hush up your mistake or act defensive. That will only make you look guilty. Instead, apologize and express exasperation with your own inexcusably careless behavior.
- Do not pay for the item with a credit card, debit card, or check, if you can possibly avoid it. You have just demonstrated to the store that you might not be a trustworthy person, so you’re better off paying with cash.
- Do not forget your receipt. If there is any question about it later, you’ll want to be able to prove that you did pay for the item. Besides, what if the zipper goes wrong or something?
I am tempted to add, “Don’t be a suspicious-looking person,” but people don’t have a lot of choice about that! I’m actually not quite sure what it is about my appearance, demographic characteristics, and/or body language that makes strangers assume that I am an innocent sort of person. I identify very much with the scene in Run Lola Run in which Lola has robbed a bank, steps out the door, and freezes in shock at the crowd of police confronting her with guns drawn . . . and then the one with the megaphone shouts something like, “Get out of the way! There’s a dangerous bank robber coming out!” 🙂 Almost all my life* I have benefited from assumptions that I am not doing anything really wrong or, if I am, it must be an honest mistake.
*In ninth grade, I somehow got put on a list of students who were not allowed to go into that one hallway during lunchtime. I don’t know how. But I didn’t want to go there anyway. Take that, fascist Mid-High administration!
Probably I am a beneficiary of White Female Privilege. I’m grateful that I was presumed innocent when I walked back into Office Max with my new bag yesterday. I know that many people of different demographics have had unpleasant experiences with being treated like shoplifters, sometimes even before they have left the store. I really appreciate that the Office Max employees were waiting a few minutes to see if I’d come back. (It’s not that they hadn’t noticed. I asked. They noticed as I was walking out the door. But they didn’t want to embarrass me by yelling after me. If I were a teenager or African-American or something, they might not have cared.) As soon as I started to sit down in the car, swinging my purse into my lap, I realized I was carrying the illicit bag and leaped up, with a hurried explanation to my family, and scurried back into the store. The cashier was so calm and friendly about it that, by the end of the transaction, he seemed to have forgotten what was going on and actually said, “Do you want your receipt?” Yes. Yes I do.
I guess it was a very forgetful day, because when I got home I set the new bag on a chair while we put away the groceries we had bought at another store, and after that I forgot all about having a new bag until I was on my way to work this morning, carrying the old bag. Oh well.