29 July 2011

Encounters with Functional Illiteracy – The Burger Joint

Once is an instance.  Twice is a coincidence.  Last night, my lovely wife planted the idea in my head to go get a burger from a non-fast-food burger joint.  After about fifteen minutes of thought, I decided it was indeed a good idea.  The young lady, who, much like the young man at the butcher counter must have been about 18 years old, was working the register.  Like him, she was probably not far removed from a time where basic arithmetic in various classes should have been a common activity.

She took my order; the total was $7.52.  I handed her $8.  She took my money, hit a button on her register, and paused.  She reached below the counter and her hand emerged holding a calculator.  I got curious.  Why the need for a calculator?  She said that she hit the “exact change” button on the register - and implied by grabbing the calculator that she was unable to figure out in her head that the change due was 48 cents.

The young lady punched a few numbers into the calculator and then said, “Eight, right?”  I informed her that I did indeed give her eight dollars.  She replied that she means eight cents; that I am due eight cents in change.  I don’t know what my face said, but my mouth said, “Sure.”  I put the three pennies and one nickel in the tip jar, which was where the 48 cents would have ended up anyway, and walked away a bit bewildered and more than a little sad.

I don’t think that I’m noticing these instances because I’m looking for them.  They just occur and I happen to be there.  And I fear they’re far from anomalies.

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