I saunter up to the bank teller the other day, and before I reach her, she calls out, “How may I assist you?” Which strikes me as formal and a little stiff, which—I know, I know—should not in itself annoy. But she does this every time. Mostly I’m annoyed because I’m approaching with a check made out to me and a deposit/withdrawal slip that I’ve dutifully filled out. In a second she will lay eyes on this slip, which will clearly tell the story on how she can assist me.
“This is all I’ll need today,” I tell her. But I know she has not heard.
She presses a few keys, unlocks that mysterious hidden drawer, and begins to pull out cash. She’s assisting me! She turns to me and counts out bills, then coins. But before she plops down the coins, she says, “And last but not least…” I’m thinking, last AND least. This is one case in which the coins ARE less. This same person who is so concerned about the distinction between may/can, suddenly wants to be chummy. But I ain’t buying. Though I don’t say anything.
Here’s the clincher. She has assisted me. She has been excessively polite. As I’m gathering my bills and coins and receipt, she asks, “Is there anything else I may assist you with?” Why, yes, what a capital idea. Let me return to the counter near the entrance for another deposit slip because that would be the most efficient way for me to conduct business, one transaction at a time.
“No, that’s it.”
“Have a wonderful day,” she tells me.
“Thanks,” I growl.