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All Set? July 6, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Logic, Other.

This morning I went to a popular chain retailer of home improvement stuff to purchase, among other things, clips to attach a new kitchen sink (don’t ask).  I was greeted by several employees with the same phrase, which has become unbiquitous over the last year or so.  That phrase: All set?

You might think I’m getting old and cranky, but I’ve been cranky as long as I can remember.  I find this incredibly annoying, and I’m wondering if it originated here in Massachusetts.  It fits so neatly with the prevailing attitude here.  It seems as if its intent is to offer help.  But it is really much more non-committal than that.  To gain help–or, recognizing that I will be spending considerable time this evening making my own sink clips from scraps of metal, to gain the possibility of help–one has to admit that one is not set.  To gain assistance one must answer in the negative.  “No.  I’m not all set.”  Then one has to ask for help, since none has, technically, been offered. 

I have toyed with different responses to this non-committal, non-offer of what turns out to be non-help.  Mostly, service being what it is today (mostly self-service) one hears it most at the checkout.  All set?  And I want to respond “Yeah, I’m set, unless you want some sort of payment for this stuff I’m going to be removing from your store.” 

The worst thing about the phrase is that it is so hard to answer positively, which is something I’m actually working on.  How can one frame a positive response?  “Yeah, I’m just trying to catch your eye because I think you’re really hot,” perhaps.  Or maybe “yeah, I’m all set, but your hair has slipped a little and no longer covers your lobotomy scar.” How about “absolutely, all set to hear from you that the only kind of sink clips you guys stock are for the exact brand of sinks that you sell. I have braced myself.”

I’m going west on a trip in a couple of weeks, so I’ll find out if it happens in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.  But I’m curious about how prevalent this question is.  Do people do this in Florida?  Arkansas?  New Jersey?


1. strugglingwriter - July 6, 2007

I haven’t noticed “all set” in Pennsylvania, but I will look for it now and probably be annoyed by it.

2. Steve - July 6, 2007

Haven’t observed this in south Florida, but then, most clerks here don’t speak to their customers at all unless forced to, or they’re begging for their lives during armed robberies.

That noted, I’ll keep an ear out.

3. caveblogem - July 6, 2007

Well, it’s good to hear that this hasn’t made it to Pennsylvania or south Florida yet. I was amazed at the clerks here even before this particular phrase hit town. Apparently the managers of stores tell them to ask the customers how they are doing, but don’t go so far as to tell them that when the customer says “great. How are you?” that they should make some attempt to answer. They just say “how are you today?” and move on, completely ignore you.

4. zandperl - July 6, 2007

I haven’t noticed it in NY, NYC, AZ, or PA, and only recently started noticing it in MA, so I had thought it was a time-based phenomenon, not location.

5. Travis - July 6, 2007

I think that this phrase is part of the continuing degradation of basic customer service in this country. I have heard it on occasion here in the pacific northwest.

Another phrase that bothers me is “Are you finding everything you need?” I’m wandering about the store, peering down aisles, with nothing in my hands but my list of items I need to find…does it LOOK like I’ve found everything I need?????

Whaever happened to the simple, “May I help you?” It shows a willingness on the part of the employee to be of assistance, and presents an opportunity to exchange information. I tell you what I’m looking for, and you help me find it. Everyone is happy.

Ooops. Apologies for the rant.

6. silverneurotic - July 6, 2007

We use it in NJ.

7. Oscarandre - July 8, 2007

I am pleased to say that it has yet to arrive in Western Australia but I will be listening carefully…

8. caveblogem - July 9, 2007

So, according to zandperl and silverneurotic it seems to be a phenomenon affecting coastal states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England, but bypassing New York. New Yorkers’ mpatience with logical absurdity? Or is it a matter of time? We shall see.

Travis, that “are you finding everything you need” thing is pretty annoying, too. Same sort of question, isn’t it? I was at the pharmacy yesterday and got “all set?” from a pharmacist as I walked up to the counter. How could I possibly be all set in such a circumstance? Even if somebody else was already helping me I still would not be all set. No apology necessary for the rant. Part of the valuable service that blogs provide.

Oscarandre, what about the equivalent sort of non-helpful question that Travis mentions? My current theory is that the prevalence of teenagers in U.S. service industry has fostered this sort of pose. It’s as if they want to keep their jobs, but don’t want to appear subservient.

9. klparish - July 9, 2007

One of the best things about living in Alabama. =)

Customer service =
“Y’all need some help with that?”

10. caveblogem - July 9, 2007

I couldn’t possibly live in the South, I would melt with the heat and humidity. I can barely stand the summers in Massachusetts. But I wish that people here were anywhere near as polite and hospitable. My wife sold books down in Alabama one summer to make enough money to do an exchange year in Europe. The stories she tells are amazing. People making unsolicited offers of their cars and bicycles, inviting her to stay with them for free. People inviting her in for lunch while they listened to her sales pitch. Unreal.

Contrast Massachusetts: Despite being new to the university, it was several months before anyone invited us into their home. Even then, all invitations for the first few years came from people who had come from abroad or from the South.

11. Kaitlyn - July 9, 2007


It’s not everywhere here in Cali, but my writing group had a raucous good time the other night ranting about like phrases we all cringe at. Mine are the fake-Aussie ones that have crept onto our shores via surf culture: “no worries”, for one. Yikes. I agree that “all set” is annoying, because they’re not actually offering help or assistance. I find more and more that silence reflects back the speaker’s inanity on themselves…just a polite and direct look to communicate that you heard them, but no comment. Might be worth a try, although it is a question, so you run the risk of it being repeated, in which case it wouldn’t be worth it! Let me know if you need any California or Western recommendations…I know a few great spots out here in wilds.

12. caveblogem - July 9, 2007

Kaitlyn, Good to hear that it is not yet completely pervasive in California. And I probably should ignore anything service people say as a matter of policy. You can pretty much count on them defying logic. And thanks for the offer of suggestions for neat places to visit in CA and the west. I’m going to be limiting my travels (with the exceptions of Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, Buena Vista, and a couple other spots) to my old stomping ground in the Sierra Foothills: Folsom, CA, where I grew up, and visiting my brother in the Denver, CO area.

13. dayngr - July 10, 2007

I’ve heard that elsewhere in the South but never in South Florida – probaby because no one here speaks English.

14. Steve - July 18, 2007

Just back from a week in Philadelphia and south Jersey….we’re in a store (sex toys, lingerie, etc.) and make a purchase. Walk to the front counter to pay and the kid says,
“All set?”

Actually, under those circumstances it makes sense. Maybe we weren’t ready to check out but just wanted to leave the item with him while we kept browsing (so we WEREN’T “all set” yet).

Just another datum of research.

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