Petty theft and white lies

I’m fairly confident that many readers will think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill on this, and perhaps I am.  But I think it’s small transgressions which are part of the larger moral problem, maybe.  Anyone of even questionable character can refrain from stealing large valuable things.  But it takes someone of decent character to control themselves from stealing things with little to no value, simply because it’s wrong.  So before I delve into my story I’ll provide a little background on myself and this kind of scenario.

I have always been a stickler when it comes to pilfering.  It just bugs me and has even permanently changed the way I view certain people who engage in this kind of petty thievery.  For example, I get the urge to confront shoppers in the grocery store for eating grapes or some other item for which they will inevitably consume without purchasing.  Granted it amounts to but a pittance, but it’s the principle of the matter.  This is just one of those incidents, sort of.

My youngest daughter loves fruit, apples in particular.  While at the grocery store early yesterday evening she was being especially sweet so my wife decided treat her to an apple.  One of the great things about the store we go to is upon weighing your produce, it prints out a price tag sticker.  So we weigh the apple and get the price tag for a mere 78¢ and make our way to the checkout.

Here’s where the unsuspecting cashier ruined my faith in humanity.

During the checkout process I hand the young man the price tag sticker, and he looks a bit confused.  I explained, “Oh, it’s for the apple my daughter’s eating.”  With this, he says, “Pfft, just an apple, that’s no big deal.”  It was his cavalier attitude that really got under my skin.  With a shoulder shrug and a hand wave, he ruined my night.  “No thanks, we’d like to pay for it”.

The first offense was the implication that not paying for an apple is acceptable, and that I should have thought it was OK.  I realize that “it’s just an apple”, but that’s still stealing, isn’t it?  What does that say about what he thinks of us, that we ought to think it’s normal to steal?  That’s kind of offensive if you think about it.  It’s almost as if he was saying, “I don’t need that sticker, we put those apples out for people like you to steal anyway.”

Now I’d like to ask: What does that say about him?  As a person I think it’s safe to assume he’d have stolen the fruit as evidenced by his lofty surprise that we actually wanted to pay for our merchandise.  But also as an employee: His employer trusts him to protect against unpaid groceries.  They also trust him not to steal and they trust him to not be complicit in patrons stealing either.  I mean, the apple just wasn’t his to give away!

Of course when you reduce the incident to a clerk’s attempt to aid shoplifting it sounds pretty bad.  My thing is why doesn’t something like this bother more people?  In my opinion he should have been asking us where the price sticker was.  But this lax attitude is so pervasive, I’ll bet the three of us could have all been eating apples or bananas and it would go unchallenged.  Why isn’t stealing even an inexpensive piece of fruit looked down upon?  Have we as a society trained ourselves to minimize such acts?  Why don’t employees feel a greater loyalty to their employers?

I didn’t say anything, but I really wanted to.


  1. Wow, my sentiments exactly!! I would have let that cashier have a piece of my mind..

  2. You’re right of course. It’s also a 78 cent apple, but you rightfully point out that the value of the item isn’t relevant. A good measured response is to call over the manager and ask him if cashiers are within their authority to fail to check out some items. That might be the case. In which case, the apple would be his to give away as a power delegated to him.

    By virtue of his lofty position, maybe he can give out free apples to kids. There is such a thing as a free gift or a discount based on a manager’s discretion. If not, then you ‘fix’ the very localized issue by reinforcing store policy (and ethics).

    As for theft, he was giving a gift that wasn’t his, which is theft. But chances are the clerk was being nice or maybe lazy at worst. Remember, he got nothing out of this, so it’s hard to call it theft (especially since you know that you and the clerk aren’t in cahoots). You/your daughter got a free apple out of it, but you tried to pay and got the ok from a rep of the store to move on. So you’re off the hook. It’s hard to declare the clerk to be a thief in the strictest definition, but it could apply from the manager’s perspective. I think it’s charitable to see this as being nice with something that doesn’t belong to him. Or being lazy with his duties. Either way, the best way to keep faith in humanity is to call over the manager on the spot to clear up the situation.

    Interesting dilemma.

  3. Thank goodness you walked away while I was sneaking those grapes…lol…just kidding honey :)

  4. Oh, Jason, you’re right, the checkout clerks could be instructed to not confront issues like that for fear of embarassing or offending customers. That’s a problem in and of itself, but to your point: the clerk could have been authorized to let the apple co uncharged. I do know that some grocery stores encourage or at least don’t frown upon and allow the deli workers to use their discression for offering children a slice of cheese.

  5. This could have been avoided by actually paying for the product before eating it. Just my opinion.

  6. It might have been best to lean over and quietly ask the clerk if he had the authority to do what he did, seeing as how it wasn’t his to give, explaining at the same time that you intend to pay regardless. No need to make a scene. Or, you could inquire of management if that is their policy without implicating any specific clerk in explaining that the practice goes on.

    Just a couple of ideas…

    • Just to be clear, I didn’t make a scene and I wasn’t rude, I just said politely that we would be paying for the apple. I had no desire to complain to a manager or put the kid on the spot. I know he was just being friendly to a customer.

      Its just a peeve of mine is all.

  7. Good article.

  8. I had a recent discussion with someone about this, and they accused me of being legalistic because I think eating grapes, or say, candy from a sundae shop buffet before paying, is stealing. Thoughts?

    • Well, if you paid for the buffet then it doesn’t really matter if you eat some before filling your plate, while you’re filling your plate, or afterwards. Unless you are paying by weight, then they can’t weigh what you’ve eaten.

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