With Valentine's Day around the corner, this is the question that is naturally on every book lover's mind: When I go into my local bookstore, am I allowed to start flirting with the staff?
Longer version: As long as you're not stupid about it. Aim to amuse yourself and others, not to get yourself banned from the bookstore. Please review these examples of what not to do if you are in any way uncertain as to what constitutes inappropriate behavior.
1. If someone encourages you to get a room, you're doing it wrong. Listen to Miss Manners:
"The tone should be 'Ah, had I but met you earlier -- had I but known that someone like you existed,' as opposed to 'How about giving it a whirl and seeing if it works?'"Which is not to say that the bookseller is necessarily averse to giving it a whirl, at some future point.
2. Buy something. The ideal time to begin the flirting process is when you hand over your item to check out. You've got a solid thirty seconds or so to make an impact, more if you do a good job and the bookseller isn't swamped.
3. Be aware of your surroundings. If there's a line behind you, your chance for flirtation is over as soon as you've collected your change. The bookseller's going to ignore you and move on to the next person waiting to give her money, because that's why she's there. (Hint: If there's already a line, spend a few minutes wandering the store. There's often a herd tendency around the cash wrap area, with everyone deciding to check out at once, followed by a five-minute lull.)
(Corollary: If you're attempting to flirt shortly before Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, or major school vacations, it's probably not worth trying. The bookseller may be too swamped to even realize your intent, and even if she does, she'll be too overwhelmed to manage an appropriate reply until ten minutes after you've left the store. It's a missed opportunity for everyone.)
4. Talk about books. Not only is this appropriate to your surroundings, it also gives both you and the bookseller an easy starting point. You both like books. You both know books. Surely you can find a way to talk via books.
5. Be funny. This is banter, not Don Juan's greatest hits. Funny is charming, especially when it involves books.
6. Watch for signals. If the bookseller looks ready to end the conversation, let it go. Don't make her resort to "Sorry, I've got to go organize books in the back room" to get away from her. It's always easier for you to walk away than it is for the bookseller. (Assuming you've already paid. Don't forget that step.)
7. That means positive signals too. If the flirtation is going well, there may well be an option to extend it. If you mention that being single leaves a lot of time for reading, and the bookseller's response doesn't include "Well, somehow my husband finds time for it" or "I've got to go organize books in the back room," that may well be a positive signal.
8. Take a number. Remember Point 1? Don't push things too far in this first round. If you think the flirtation has a chance of moving on to bigger and better things, ask for the chance to try for it later on. As in "Hey, maybe we could get together sometime and see what 90s sci fi we've both read. Can I give you a call?" Which gives the bookseller an easy way to say "No, I really only want to talk to you when there's a substantial wooden barrier between us," or else "Sure, but texting me's the best way to get a response. Here's the number."
At that point, you're on your own.