WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - ALEX BURNS

AT first you think it will be glam­orous. The ex­cite­ment of work­ing in a pres­ti­gious shop like John Lewis; get­ting a name badge on the first day and, of course, the 25% dis­count. But in the run-up to Christmas I be­gan to progress into a per­ma­nently flus­tered ver­sion of my for­mer self.

My typ­i­cal mode of trans­port be­came jog­ging more of­ten than walk­ing – in order to try to sat­isfy the con­stant stream of cus­tomers need­ing help. If one cus­tomer asked you to get them some­thing, you would be sure to have an­other four stop you on your way. You have to keep ev­ery­thing they say in your head, then try to bal­ance it all in your arms while ne­go­ti­at­ing your way back from the stock room. I have dropped shoe boxes more times than I care to re­mem­ber – one fall­ing right on to the foot of a cus­tomer.

Most cus­tomers are fine but some seem to un­dergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde trans­for­ma­tion as soon as they be­gin their Christmas shop­ping. While they are prob­a­bly per­fectly pleas­ant in nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the start of De­cem­ber seems to bring a panic into their eyes and a tight set to their mouth. I have served on the tills and watched the ir­ri­ta­tion grow among those in a long queue: the foot tap­ping, the sigh­ing and the fre­quent dirty looks in your di­rec­tion. It’s hard to strike a bal­ance be­tween giv­ing good cus­tomer ser­vice and hur­ry­ing along those at the till so you can get to the next per­son.

Only once did I come close to cry­ing. It was the Satur­day be­fore Christmas, and a well-to-do lady came in look­ing for Ugg boots. When I po­litely told her we had none left in the size she wanted, she started scream­ing at me, telling me the store was a dis­grace and she couldn’t be­lieve I was al­lowed to work there. All the cus­tomers turned to look and I had to go and stand in the back to pull my­self to­gether. I tried to tell my­self it was noth­ing per­sonal, but it was hard to be im­per­vi­ous while her eyes were bulging and she was jab­bing her fin­ger in my face.

Some­times I think shop­pers for­get they are deal­ing with ac­tual peo­ple and treat them as an ex­ten­sion of the com­pany – and an easy tar­get for them to take their frus­tra­tions out on. I know it is stress that causes peo­ple to act that way but it would be nice if they could try to spread a bit of fes­tive cheer. As a shop­per my­self, I have seen that re­tail work­ers can

also be rude, but if some­one is nice to me I al­ways try to be friendly in re­turn.

That’s not to say there weren’t good points. Work­ing at Christmas you were at least kept busy: it was bet­ter than dur­ing the sum­mer when the shop was de­serted and the days would drag. Even among all the pan­ick­ing, there was a buzz in the air around Christmas time that could be in­fec­tious. But above all, it was my col­leagues that kept me go­ing: shar­ing a joke, of­fer­ing en­cour­age­ment and pro­vid­ing a sense of team spirit. They could make even the worst days bet­ter.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JAMIE SIMP­SON

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