Retail Rambles

There is nothing I can talk more about, or even complain about, than annoying customers at work. I’ve talked previously about how everyone should be forced to work in retail at some point, simply because it would hopefully eradicate the vast majority of rudeness customers seem to possess. Today, however, I want to just ramble about a few things in the day of a life of working in retail. Luckily I just work weekends, so I have a solid five days in between each couple of days where I have to deal with people that think that I’m there to serve them (which, technically, I am, but that in no means makes them my superior).

I’ve worked in a bookshop for almost a year and a half now, and I worked as a hostess and in a pub before this. Without doubt working at the bookshop is by far my favourite, and if there were only nice customers I’d have so little to complain about that I’d probably have to shut down this blog. However, there are always awful customers – people who don’t seem to realise that they will be the subject of conversation in the staff room, and every time they come back we will warn each other and most likely not be that helpful. It gets even better if the customer thinks that they’re so in the right, that they’ll demand to talk to a ‘manager’, thinking that we’ll get a telling off, when actually we’ll get our manager who will be more concerned about whether we, the employees, are alright. I had one incident where a customer gave me their surname in order for me to find a book they had ordered in, and when I couldn’t find it they said “Are you really that incompetent?”. It turned out that they had a combined surname, something like Dean-Smith, so of course it was shelved under ‘D’ and not ‘S’, as they had told me their surname was Smith. Overhearing, my manager grew so angry that, once I had found this lady’s books, he took over the transaction and told her off, not letting someone treat me badly.

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Some customers also have this strange thought that they could do my job so much better, that they are above me in intelligence as well as status. (Seriously, whoever came up with ‘the customer is always right’ clearly never worked a day in retail in their life). I had a man last Sunday knock over a huge Christmas display of all the packs of Christmas cards. I went over to see what had happened, only to see this chap just standing there among the carnage. Sighing, I bent down and started to pick everything up, and he didn’t speak until I was literally on my knees trying to gather everything around his feet (he didn’t move out of the way or even try to help). Instead of apologising, he said “Well what do you expect to happen when you display them like that?”. I then went to put everything back the way it was, to which he started telling me how I should stack them – a way in which meant you couldn’t actually see the product. I told him this, and the fact that we hadn’t had anyone have any problems with it so far, to which he continued to tell me how the proper way to do it was. I’ve had someone tell me that I rolled wrapping paper the wrong way, only to have the person buying said paper tell me that they didn’t care. This lady then told me ‘she was only trying to help’, which is so insulting I don’t even want to get into it. Never, I repeat never should you tell someone who is working how to do something if you are the customer. Just let them get on with it, and if they are doing a certain job wrong it’s down to their managers or co-workers to point it out, not you.

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It’s gotten to a point where I can sense exactly what a customer is going to complain about. An easy one is on a Sunday, where the Sunday Trading Hours law means that we can only sell for 6 hours – and we state very clearly that we open at 12 for half an hour browsing time, then start selling at 12.30. We even have signs on the door and every single till point, but still you will have customers get enraged at you -even when you say ‘it’s the law, I can’t sell it’. Responses to this have included: “stop being stupid you little girl and get on the till”, “that’s just ridiculous I’m just buying ___”, and more. A lot of people have this habit of mumbling insults and profanities, but mumbling not in a ‘to-self’ way, but loud enough that you can hear every single thing. Why people think it’s ok to be rude to an employee at a shop in this way I’ll never know.

A favourite phrase of mine that customers use is ‘can you check in the back’. Honestly, it’s just fantastic and you get to just play along. Customers think ‘the back’ is this huge, cavernous space filled with all the products you have out in display, whereas really it’s a small cupboard in which we have some Christmas stock and mothers/fathers day, valentines, and easter cards. Still, you say “of course I’ll go check in the back” and you toddle off into the cupboard and have a bit of a sit down for a couple of minutes.

But really, the reason for this ranting is not just to get it off my chest. It’s because it’s gotten to the point where I expect rudeness, and any customers who are actually nice are very unexpected surprises. We have to take on this mindset of pre-empting how a conversation can go and what a customer will complain about, going through various scenarios and trying to figure out what phrases to use which will cause the least amount of problems. For example I only say ‘yes, we should have that in stock’ rather than say how many we have in stock, because more often than not if we only find 2 out of 3 copies, the customer will demand to see the other one and complain incessantly that we can’t find it.

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But let’s end on a nice note. There are several reasons why I love my job – the copious amount of books, the odd broken chocolate item I get to eat, the cafe where I can get free tea and hot chocolate – but the thing that makes me love my job, the reason why I feel sad whenever I think of the day I’ll finally leave my job, are the people I work with. Having great work colleagues makes any job ten times better, from having someone positive to motivate you, to having someone you can rant with about customers. Nothing is better than going to work and having your colleagues ask you about your week and certain events you mentioned in passing a month ago, or having someone leave you a note so when you start your shift you have a ridiculous drawing of a reindeer wishing you good luck.

So, yes, a lot of customers can be arseholes, and there are very few customers who are kind and respectful to you. But what makes it all worthwhile are the people you meet and befriend at work, who are there ready to support you and keep your spirits high – especially in the Christmas season, where jolly goes out the window and enraged unprepared shoppers storm in looking for a book ‘with a blue cover’.

 

It’s a Sad World

Politics makes me sad. The news makes me sad. The world makes me sad.

Most days I want to just unplug the tv, turn off my phone, and just read a book, pretending that everything is ok. It seems every time I look at the news there’s been another rape, another terrorist attack, another earthquake, another racist attack, another misogynistic arsehole, another injustice, another another another. I’ve only lived 20 years and I’ve had enough with it all.

I created a series on here called ‘On Being Happy’, in an attempt to have an outlet for something positive. If the news doesn’t cover anything good in the world, I might as well create a source for something happy. Yes, the world is better than it used to be, but it’s still not great. What with Brexit this year and now Trump, it feels like we’ve gone backwards. How have campaigns that are fuelled by hate come so far? Why are people with racist, homophobic, and sexist tendencies been given the opportunity to do so much damage? Why are so many people blind to the truth? Brexit was fuelled by the hate for migrants, when really we shouldn’t be hating the people fleeing their homes but those who are the cause for them to flee in fear. Trump took this to a new level. It’s things like this that give people justification for hate crime, as we’ve seen with the rise of racist attacks. Anyone who isn’t a white heterosexual male has cause for concern and real fear.

I hate that when I hear about another bombing or tsunami or mass death that I feel almost numb to it, simply because we’ve had so many in the past months and year. If you try to really dedicate your energy and emotions to them all, there’s just no end to the torment – and I’m not even a victim of these things. Sure, if we’re using the examples previously raised, I’m affected by Brexit as I wanted to stay in the EU, but at the end of the day I’m a white female who only has to worry about sexist attacks – and the amount that I deal with pale in comparison to a woman who is black, or a man who isn’t a Christian, or someone who isn’t heterosexual. How have we allowed a time where so many people live in constant fear and grief, scared to leave their homes because it’s highly likely they could be targeted.

There’s not much I can do to help, but one thing I can do very easily is speak out. This blog has been my platform for my thoughts and feelings and musings for years now, and it would be wrong to pretend that everything is fine, because it isn’t. Who would I be, if I just sat back and pretended it wasn’t happening? What would that make me, if I did turn off my tv, ignore the notifications on my phone, and act that the world isn’t going downhill – just because I can.

It would make me into the one of the many people who sit back and do nothing. Who vote out of fear and prejudice. Who claim not to be racist, but don’t see racism as a deal breaker. Who dislike campaigns such as ‘Black lives matter’, because they’re white and aren’t ‘included’ – who instead of supporting their friends and community, they choose to hate it and see it as an attack to themselves. Who can’t look past their own worries, and try to help others.

So, this is me trying to do something – and it won’t end here. This is me using a platform I have to voice something that not everyone listens to. Yes, there’s not much I can do to change the way the world is, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing I can do.

One thing remains true: although there is sadness and dejection, there is always hope and kindness. Those don’t go away. Not everyone has got what they wanted this year, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up and accept this. We can go on fighting, campaigning, and talking to one another, but not fuelled by hate. I choose kindness.

Guide to University: Discussion

Not much of a guide, but rather an encouragement to people who are at university or people thinking about going to university. What I want to talk about is talking itself, which isn’t particularly articulate, but bear with me. (On a side note, it definitely is ‘bear with me’ and not ‘bare with me’, as one is asking for patience whilst the other is an invitation to undress. You’re welcome)

One of the things I loved about school, in terms of learning, were the moments in class where we had those huge discussions and debates. Now I’m not talking about a classroom of 15 year olds shouting over each other whilst the teacher lets out a sigh of defeat that the ‘friendly debate’ has descended into an all out war. No, I’m talking about those moments in class – usually they were in my later years, when I was doing A levels at 17/18 years old – where a topic would begin and we would all throw in our own ideas. As a humanities student especially, there’s nothing better than having a group of people explaining their own interpretations (because we all know that ‘the curtains were blue’ can mean several different things, not all of which we think of ourselves). Even having a group of people to help your own idea, as you throw it into the middle and watch as they all add bits to it, helping it grow – it’s literally like the metaphor of planting a seed in someone’s mind, only here it’s your other classmates that water it and add different fertilisers and whatever else you like.

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When I first started university, my lectures tried to bring in this element of discussion but, more often than not, it would fizzle out. Seminars were better, but again to start with I didn’t really throw myself into them. The thing I found really difficult about it was the fact that I no longer felt like an equal. In school I had been with the same group of people for seven years, besides the occasional people who joined the school later on. I knew them, felt comfortable around them and, most importantly, felt equal to them. Yes we were all from different backgrounds with varied privileges and different stories to tell, but we all took the same class, were all at the same level in our education. University was a completely different ball game. Here were people who had studied different things in school, some who went to private school or were several years older with another degree, having a head start that I couldn’t even process. It’s far easier to sit back and let those who knew, or thought they knew, better battle out their ideas.

I’m in my final year now, and it feels like I’ve only just rediscovered the joy of discussion. There are moments where I feel brilliant, having long discussions with my dissertation supervisor as we build up ideas, each of us throwing in new thoughts and material to use. Despite the vast gap in our knowledge (I do not have a PHD or a masters or even a degree yet, nor have I written countless papers and am a professor of my subject), it doesn’t feel like I am inferior. There are ideas and thoughts that I have, interpretations and links that I’ve made that they have not. And that is what I love about humanities – the creativity, the perspectives, the idea that it is unlikely to have the exact same conclusion as someone else.

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Equally, there are moments where I feel pretty inferior but just push that aside and jump in regardless. In my English classes especially, I’m at the point where I specialise more in Classical Studies and the knowledge and skill set that goes with it. This term I’m taking a class on sonnets, picked because I’ve never studied poetry at university and I wanted to. Everyone else knows the fancy language and the special ways in which to write about poetry in a formal, intelligent way. My first seminar, I joked about a point which in my Classics class would have been laughed at and accepted, whereas in English everyone just looked at me with a sort of blankness. Still, once I can get past the people who use a thesaurus for every word they use, I can contribute in a way they cannot. When we hit that sweet spot and are having a discussion of what certain words mean or how a certain sonnet can be interpreted a certain way, I’m reminded why I’m there.

At university, you’re there for the people as much as the learning. Yes, the lecturers are brilliant and learning new things from them is fantastic, but you need those classmates, those other people from different backgrounds who have different outlooks and perspectives to help you grow, and you just try to do the same for them. At the end of the day, it isn’t about who knows the most or can write the best essay in the world; it’s about those moments where everyone comes together, swap ideas, and just simply talk.