It's bad enough during the rest of the year, but at holiday time the rudeness and ignorance of shoppers become even worse. I and many other cashiers get very tired of reading articles on how rude we are to customers - it's past time for customers to look in the mirror.

They deal with maybe three or four cashiers a day; each of us deals with possibly 100 to 150 customers. These people make it impossible.We greet them with a hi or hello; they don't answer. We thank them; they don't utter a word. We cannot eat or chew gum, but they pop and crack - even blow bubbles - in our faces. We are expected to put change in their hands, but they throw money all over the counter, so we have to chase coins and unroll bills.

If we are out of something, it's our fault, and they are mean and sarcastic about it. If we don't take cards in cash-only aisles, or numerous items in eight-items-or-less lines, they say, "Oh, yes you can, because there's nobody behind me" or "I only have 15 items." If we do, people immediately line up behind them and start screaming at us for doing it.

If we make a mistake, they go out of their way to tell the manager, but if we give extra help, they never tell or write the manager.

I realize there are a lot of impolite cashiers, but most of us really try.

GENTLE READER - And Miss Manners blesses you for doing so. Whether or not you see immediate results, you are setting a standard of courtesy that is being observed by hundreds of people.

Now, Miss Manners knows you don't consider this as wonderful an opportunity as you might. She knows that you would just as soon be able to slam these people back for their rudeness. She knows she is beginning to sound like Santa Claus, knowing when you are good and would rather be bad.

But those who deal with the public have an obligation to be restrained under difficult circumstances. In addition to backing your plea that customers take a good look at themselves, Miss Manners requests that managers take a good look at the customers, so they will know when to commend their staffs for heroic manners under fire.

DEAR MISS MANNERS - I ordered a dinner of soup and salad at a restaurant, and the waitress brought the salad first. When I asked for the soup first, the answer was "Madam, you have to eat your salad first."

I couldn't do anything but laugh. She called the manager, who of course said it was no problem to serve the soup first. But where did the restaurant custom originate of serving salad first?

GENTLE READER - Wait a minute. "Madam, you have to eat your salad first"? And if you don't finish it, you don't get any dessert? Miss Manners thinks she knows where that attitude originated, and it wasn't in a restaurant.

The reason restaurants serve salad before the main course, whereas private service places the salad after it, is that restaurants need time to cook your food after you arrive and tell them what you want (which you're not supposed to do at a private home), and they don't want you to get cranky waiting.

But they are not supposed to serve the salad before the soup. And they are not entitled to get cranky themselves when you refuse to eat the salad first.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions other than through this column.