Need assistance with a social interaction

About once a week, I go into a bait shop (bait shops are far cheaper than pet stores) to buy a bunch of wiggly invertebrates for certain purposes. As I’m leaving with my purchase, the clerk invariably wishes me good luck on my fishing ventures; I’m becoming a familiar enough customer that I expect him to start chatting about what lake I’m ice-fishing at, or about how successful last week’s fishing trip was. This worries me.

So, when the guy says “Good fishing!” as I leave, how should I reply?

  1. “Uh, errm, thanks! Bye!”
  2. “Yes. I’m sure the fishes will find your high-quality invertebrates delectable.”
  3. “EEP! I’m caught!” [runs for the exit]
  4. “Fish? Bwahahaha. No. These are provisions for my spider horde.”
  5. [Stare silently. Remove one worm, pop it into my mouth. Chew contemplatively, as if trying to think how to answer]

I usually answer the first way, I’m sorry to say. How should I reply, and how would you? Better suggestions welcome.


  1. says

    You know, you could just talk to the guy. It’s how I found out the clerk at the local corner store is a Sikh from Pakistan who is studying aircraft engine maintenance, and he’s close to finishing his degree. Or the kid at the other corner store I buy beer from is studying music and hoping to be a professional orchestral violinist. Or how the Teller at my bank has a daughter who likes the same cheesy anime I got into about six months ago.
    Chit chat and small talk are quickly becoming a lost art.

  2. says

    You know, you could just talk to the guy. …

    This would be my approach. I’m actually quite nervous in my social interactions with new people, but most don’t notice because I try hard to find a topic of conversation to get people going, and then they’re too involved in the conversation to notice I’m a big weirdo.

    Maybe the same would work for you? After three or four minutes learning about their lives, dropping in “Oh, these? I’m raising a spider horde and I’d rather feed them invertebrate flesh,” might even go unnoticed.

  3. zaledalen says

    What Ray Ceeya said. You might find out that the guy is really interested in what you are doing, loves spiders and keeps hundreds of them as pets. Okay, that’s unlikely. But don’t make the assumption that a clerk is just a brainless drone. They are people too, and as Ray said, some of them are pretty darn interesting. As are you.
    Putting potential words in your mouth. “Uh, actually I don’t go fishing. I’m a biology professor studying spiders at the university and I have to keep them fed.” Then see what kind of reaction you get. If I were a clerk doing my day job so I could write my novel at night, that would have me following you to your classroom.

  4. Ted Reinhart says

    If you’re a regular, they may be wondering if you have a current fishing license since you haven’t bought one at their place. They aren’t thinking of calling DNR on you, just concerned and trying to be helpful. When they learn about your work they might connect you with other customers who have first hand knowledge of boathouses that aren’t vacuumed and have exhibited evidence as winter habitats for spiders.

  5. nomadiq says

    I’d probably do 1 as well, then one day as the questions and familiarity increase, start explaining the story behind 4. I think there’s a good chance the clerk will find the story interesting as well.

  6. DrewN says

    My local bait shop LOVES seeing pictures of the axolotls that are eating their earthworms!
    Not sure about spiders though, humans are weird that way.

  7. says

    Just number 1. There’s absolutely no reason to pretend you’re normal in that respect. Who wants to be normal anyway?

    Funny anecdote: Decades ago, I was together with my wife in Brussels, where she was visiting the natural history museum to take pictures of the specimens hey have in their collection. This was before the digital camera became commonplace, so we had these developed at a local kiosk near the B&B we were staying. Upon delivery of the film, the lady behind the desk gave me the typical indifferent, slightly grumpy kind of treatment. Perhaps my French could have been better too. However, when I came to pick the developed pictures up again, she appeared markedly more wide-eyed and alert. I guess the myriad of pictures of large, indeterminate bones (they were from dinosaur specimens) were a bit off-putting.

  8. azpaul3 says

    Apparently they do not know who you are. The mild mannered angler as cover for the notorious mad scientist raising an army of arachnids.

    If you haven’t learned their names, and they yours, I suggest you change that. Tell them you are a biologist with the university and these wigglers are to feed your experiments. Further details not necessary unless a friendly dialogue ensues.

    You may not realize this, Dr. M, but you do serve in no small way as a conscience for humanity in these spaces. So be your kind of human. Practice what you preach.

  9. says

    <sarcasm> You could give him a Pharyngula business card and offer him the chance to sponsor Pharyngula in return for being named the Official Spider Food Provider. </sarcasm>

    Which, given the (typical but not mandated) political orientation of people who own hunting and wildlife industries, might prove… unfortunate.

  10. says

    I wouldn’t even think twice about telling him what I was using my purchase for. As an almost 61 year old, I am comfortable with myself, and I have realized that people generally respond well to a conversation like this.

  11. anbheal says

    Hmmmm, I have raised large serpents, and the pet stores get wise to it after a while, as you migrate from mice, to rats, to guinea pigs, to rabbits. Some of the clerks just flat-out refuse to sell you a bunny.

    In which case you need to improvise. Hassenpfeffer!

  12. kudayta says

    I’m a big fan of calling everyone “doctor”. Except actual doctors, they get called ‘nurse’. So something like “Why thank you doctor” and then immediately leaving is how I’d handle it.

  13. davidc1 says

    A bit off topic ,but along the same lines ,a man was buying a large amount of dog food and the check out lady said “You Must Have A Lot Of Dogs ?” ,he replied “NO It’s All For Me ,I Like The Taste ” “Really ” she replied ” “But there are side effects ,I Had To Go To Hospital once ” .he said
    “Really she said ,Whatever For ?” “Well ” the man said “I ran out into the road to Sniff a Great Danes Bottom ,And I got Hit By A Bus “

  14. unclefrogy says


    you could try chickens no one would complain about them.
    though the source would not be pet stores which always have a very high markup.
    Like the price of cat fish where a 4″ catfish like a blue catfish cost more then 3 lb. of dressed catfish at the market
    uncle frogy

  15. gijoel says

    “They call me mad, but I’ll show them,” then laugh manically until the cops show up.

  16. Ridana says

    I thought everyone in town already knew what you were up to?

    I’m always guilty, so I know I would’ve confessed the first time he assumed I was fishing. The only time that’s ever been a problem was when I got hit by a car on my bike and immediately assumed all responsibility. :/ Since what you’re doing is legal, I say cheerfully correct him. Or bring your newspaper clippings, so he knows you’re famous for being the local spider man.

  17. Stuart Smith says

    [confused] “Fish?” [pause, and then speaking with certainty. “Ah yes, the fish. The fish are good.”

    Although honestly, 5 is genius, I just couldn’t physically perform those actions. I’m not entirely convinced I could put a worm in my mouth willingly if lives were on the line, let alone for a prank.

  18. random says

    I typically am buying to feed orphan birds, so when I buy stuff from a bait shop its along the lines of “how many worms do you have in stock and can I have them all and when will you have more” which definitely gets conversation happening. So they know me, and know why I’m after 3 dozen boxes of a dozen worms at a time :)

  19. jonmoles says

    You could try saying that you don’t do “Stop and chats” a la Larry David style, but if it had the effect it would on Curb Your Enthusiasm you would probably be banned for life from the store.

  20. steve1 says

    You could change the subject to what to do if you get a hook stuck in your hand. Best answer is cut it off and use it for bait.

  21. christoph says

    Variation on # 5: “The blood is the life, the blood is the life, hee, hee, heeeeeee…”

  22. DanDare says

    “Thanks but would you like to know what I really do with them?” Then be prepared for a chat and find out the clerks interest and other background. Set up further conversation for the next visit. Exhange names.

  23. publicola says

    How about, “Ever since my wife was bitten by a radioactive spider she can’t get enough of these things”. Look kind of exasperated when you say it. I doubt he’ll speak to you again.