Customers versus shop assistants

A while back, I found a quote on Facebook, which – to paraphrase – went something like this. When a shop assistant goes home, and someone asks how their day at work was, you, as a customer, are part of the answer.

I’m coming to the end of my Christian bookshop internship, and I have seen all manner of customers. Different ages, races, walks of life, you name it. Many interactions I have with them are fairly bog standard. Hello, can I help with anything? I’ll have a look…they’re right there/no we don’t have that in stock. That’ll be pounds, do you need a free carrier bag? Thank you, have a nice day!

And some people know exactly how to brighten someone’s day. Some regulars actually give us chocolate. Or a bottle of juice each. Some even need a listening ear. They’re ill. Lonely. Disillusioned. They see the shop as a safe place to vent, and I always feel honoured to have gained someone’s trust.

But of course, some drive you crazy. They expect all shop assistants to know everything. They take it very personally when something they swear we had 10 years ago is unavailable. Before opening time, they might be waiting outside the unopened door, then getting huffy with us for not opening, because they need to get back to where they’ve parked illegally. Or they come waltzing in straight past the opening times stuck at face level, one minute before closing time, and ask when we close. Before spending ages browsing.

Another thing that frustrates me is when people ask for a very specific item, but can’t give me a title, author, or publisher. A Moroccan leather Bible? Tempting to say “Damn, sold the last one five minutes ago.” A Church of England booklet on the rite of confirmation? Said customer was very cross with me for not finding this, when they’d come “all the way from London” and we’d “never let them down until now!”

Yes, some people can be downright unpleasant. We recently had someone ask us to change a £20, and make it quick, thank you very much. We were reluctant; having done so earlier had left us short of change, and we needed to preserve what was left for real customers. The person asked if we would give them change if they bought something, and got angry when they realised we had enough for that. They were more cross with my poor colleague, who was trying to explain to them, and even said so to “reassure” me. You know how it is when you feel more angry when someone messes with your friend than with you? I do!

This, by the way, was hours after my other colleague, who speaks English as a second language, got yelled at by someone for struggling to understand them and not speaking clearly enough. And about a week after I listened to a customer’s complaints about life and compliments on my job performance, only to learn they had been banned for making sexual innuendos.

To finish, I would like to thank every customer who shows nothing but respect, good manners, and the occasional treat (!!!). And to the minority? Kindly remember that shop staff are not God, or computers. We just want to survive the working day, and get home to our families. Don’t you?

“Things Not To Say To An Autistic Person”- my reaction

If I had a pound for every time I read or hear the statements below, I wouldn’t be job searching…

Today I thought I’d take a different approach to usual and have a look at a video: BBC3’s “Things Not To Say To An Autistic Person” available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d69tTXOvRq4. It’s part of a series in which people in a social minority share with each other – and the viewers – what sort of things they constantly hear from people. And after watching the one about autism, I thought why not share my thoughts? So here are the statements covered.

“But you don’t look autistic!”

Can you tell me what an autistic person looks like? I’ll have a go. Human sized. Hair, mostly on the head. Two eyes. One mouth and nose. Four limbs, but only two are used for walking. I can’t really give much more detail, though, because no two autistic people are alike…

Autism isn’t a physical condition. In fact it’s not even one condition, and I’m well aware that those on the severe end of the spectrum may present as being obviously different. But it’s only their behaviour that shows it.

“What’s your special ability?”

The assumption that people like me have a special ability is, to be fair, loosely based on truth. It also implies that people on the spectrum have superhero alter egos. Which isn’t the case, because frankly, life’s not fair.

It is common for autistic people to have an above-average IQ, and an intense, detailed fascination with their area of expertise. I mean, not every five year old would know a polymorphic snake when they saw one. And yes, assuming someone is gifted is better than assuming that they’re dumb. But blatantly assuming anything can sound annoying, and anyway, it’s not always as simple as autistic people having one super-talent and struggling with everything else. Autistic obsessions may be rigid while they last, but they can change and overlap.

“Everyone’s a little bit autistic”

Nothing wrong with this statement exactly, but does everyone who coughs have a little bit of asthma?

“Autistic people don’t feel empathy

Let me stop you there. Many autistic people aren’t as expressive as neurotypicals. We don’t always know how to respond to people during immediate, face-to-face interaction, and yet somehow, we over-empathise. If someone I’m with is unhappy, it’s like the air is thick with it.

“You could be normal if you tried”

I don’t try. I just am. For me. Don’t even get me started on healing

“How would you describe autism?”

A hard question, but not necessarily an inappropriate one. Having Asperger’s, i.e. at the mild end of the spectrum, I’d say poor co-ordination, difficulty reading people, a mix of detailed and innovative, and overall a bummer, but also perfectly normal. Well, “normal.” If you want a lengthier description, you’ve got one right here.

“What is the best thing about autism?”

To be honest, it’s a nuisance. But hey, I can joke about lacking empathy or humour in a way that would be insulting coming from anyone else. I have life experiences, and an understanding of the world, that are apparently different from neurotypicals’. Plus, if I didn’t have it, I might not be writing this blog.

There you have it. Personally, I wouldn’t put a ban on those last two points, but other than that, please try to remember the issues touched upon. And while you’re at it, watch the video, and tell me what you think. How can one deal with these statements? Could they be replaced with something more appropriate?

Getting healed?!

A few weeks ago, a customer came into the shop, and, as customers often do, asked me a lot of questions at once that I was struggling to make sense of. When trying to get him to clarify what he wanted, I told him I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and sometimes communication is confusing for me. But alas, there is hope, fellow Aspies. Because according to this man…I could ask God to heal me!

My reaction, as a Christian, is this. I believe in praying. I believe that people can be healed. I also believe that, just because God can heal, it doesn’t mean that He should, or will. I have to say, though, I wish my immediate response had been that eloquent. What I actually did was falteringly explain that autism is not an illness to be cured, but rather a difference in the brain, and that implying otherwise can hurt. He got it in the end, and surrounding colleagues and customers were impressed. So clearly I did something right.

But then I thought to myself, no matter how many times I hear how important it is to embrace our differences, I do get frustrated. I do wish I didn’t need extra help. I’m often fed up with my struggles, yet I couldn’t help feeling offended at the notion that I should change. Am I just acting like a special snowflake?

I don’t know. But not every struggle is a problem that needs to be “cured”.

I recently had an interesting message exchange with a friend who, as we were chatting, was watching a documentary about children on medication for conditions like autism and ADHD. She asked me how I felt about that. Now, I respect people’s decisions here. It’s up to the individual. If medication proves more beneficial than not, then good for them. But I’m wary of people who treat Asperger’s as an illness, when it’s not caused by germs, or hormones, or bodily harm. So I gave her the following analogy.

Imagine a group of people, all from the same country, faced with someone from another country and who speaks a different language. Chances are, they are lonely. They want to communicate, but they find their limited vocabulary very frustrating. They might wish they were the same as everyone else, but should everyone be praying that they suddenly become British? Or American, or the nationality of your choice…

No. Of course not. It’s up to them to learn English (or whatever), and it’s up to the others to be patient with them. And it will always be their second language. But with enough learning and patience, they may speak fluently, and become a popular, respected group member. And they can bring to the table a language and a culture that everyone else barely knows about.

Do you get what I’m saying? In a similar way, learning differences can be a bummer. But they don’t have to stop you from flourishing. The trick is working through it, seeking support when you need it, and finding a way forward.

 

The pet lovers’ dreaded debate part 3: double standards

What bothers you about people’s attitudes towards animals? There are a million answers to this. Farms. Unethical breeding. Negligence. The internet is full of protests about these issues, and because they are bigger and more serious than what I’m blogging about, I should probably cover them myself one day. But for now, I’m coming back to an old pet hate (pun fully intended): cat prejudice and double standards.

First, hear me when I say this. I love cats. I relate to them. I mean, I don’t automatically bond with people I don’t know. And I don’t think they are better than dogs, because who are we to call one species “better” when, in the human world, most of us stand for equal rights?

People claim that cats control us. Plenty of cats do try to persuade you to feed them when they’re hungry just by staring at you and following you into the kitchen. But so do dogs. The reason we have to train dogs is so that they know who’s in charge. Do you see? Any pet can wrap you around its paw, if you spoil it. If you stick to a strict feeding schedule and don’t give in to your pet’s every whim, then they are not controlling you.

Also, believe it or not, cats are capable of being trained; it’s just that teamwork isn’t in their nature. Why judge them for this? I hated group projects at uni myself! If you reward a dog for learning something new, it will react as if it has successfully pleased its pack leader. If you reward a cat, it will react as it would to a successful hunt – it used its brain and got a tasty treat as a result.

Then there is scent marking. Dogs and cats do this in similar ways; one of them being physical contact. A dog will jump up at you, a cat will rub against you, and in doing so, both are claiming you as their own. Why do humans hug? For the same primitive reason. It helps secure a connection. People find this thought endearing in dogs, and like the idea that the dog is excited to see them. Why does a cat do it? Ask any cat hater, and they will claim cats are trying to own you, want to trip you, or are impatient to be fed.

If a dog bites a human, people will (correctly) insist it isn’t the dog’s fault, it’s the owner’s fault for training it wrongly (or not at all) or the other person’s fault for ignoring its body language. The same happens with a cat? Apparently cats are just nasty. People are quick to defend a dog’s flaws that were caused by human influence (or lack of), or biological nature, or are an unfair generalisation. And rightly so. Because these are vulnerable animals we are talking about. And cats are no different here.

Cats are not living for world domination, and to think so would be anthropomorphising them unrealistically based on cat prejudice hyped up by fiction. If any creature lives for world domination, it’s the homo sapiens. Cats simply live to survive as comfortably as possible. Don’t we all?

Any more thoughts on this issue? I may have covered them here or here. Or possibly even here, for cat/Asperger comparisons. Otherwise, fire away!

Bouncer’s usually the one to initiate our after-work catch up!

 

When I was 19

Guest article on depression by one of my closest friends:

‘When I was 19 years old, I made a friend called Kevin.

We first met as I was walking home. He called my name, a curious voice amongst the grey surroundings. When I turned, he made no move, but stood observing a little distance away.

He returned a few days later. This time there was a knock at the door, a light tapping that only I could hear. But there were no introductions. We spent the day sitting together in my living room, peacefully occupied with our own thoughts.

Our acquaintance continued for several weeks. We got to know each other: he learnt about my friends and family; I learnt that he disliked leaving my side.

It was curious how my friends never spoke to him. They noted his presence; I saw them watch him from afar. They asked after me, and still made plans. And although Kevin was never invited, he was always there, at every event and every party. As time passed he was with me more often than not – a distraction from priorities, who took me away from my friends to sit with him alone.

He showed me an island of his, a small, vicious crag of rock isolated by roaring wind and towering sea. We went for day trips, some sick lovers’ retreat; he revelled in the lonely violence of the place. He took me more and more, and it wasn’t until I looked up and saw my friends waving to me from the shore that I realised I had not returned for weeks. And even as I begged, he would not let me leave.

The mainland looked so beautiful from the island; I ached to go home. I recalled the sunlit meadows, misted forests, still water beneath a sky on fire. But as time went on, the memories dwindled. I could see the sun rising above the clifftops, but could not remember how it felt to sit beneath its rays. I could see the wind breathing across the grasslands, but could not remember how it felt across my face. Worst of all, I could see my friends waving, but could not remember how to wave back.

Time passed. I stopped living and simply existed. Kevin was always by my side; he didn’t leave once. We barely spoke. It’s no wonder he became bored of my presence, searching for more ways to entertain.

There are several ways of causing hurt; he used all of them.

I never really considered that I would ever hate to live. Now, my old life on the island was what filled my dreams. I wouldn’t have to go home; I wouldn’t have to see my friends. I could stay, on the island, with him forever. If only he would stop, I would gladly give up everything. Sleep only delayed the pain; and eventually every breath was sharp and every thought was scarred.

I thought that if I hurt myself, he would leave me alone. He was willing to wait. But even this caused a greater sorrow, spiralling like electricity across the mainland. A web of pain was forming, glowing nodes of orange, pulsing light surrounding me, my house, my friends’ houses. Every muscle I moved sent ripples far and wide.

Things had reached a climax when one day, I realised that Kevin was not directly by my side. A few days later, we were again apart. And a few days after that, and after that – and one day I felt a touch of warmth flit across my face; I turned and saw the island across the water.

Nowadays, I hardly see him. We meet occasionally as the months pass by, as I wander through a life worth living; and the clouds are sparse beneath the glorious sunshine.’

 

The good side of Asperger’s

A lot of people these days try to put a positive spin on being a bit different. I realise that I covered this a couple of posts ago. Because I wanted to make it clear that it’s ok to acknowledge the negatives. But my personality makes me the sort of person who, if I’m not careful, gets weighed down by the bad stuff. I think the aforementioned post, and many other (written and verbal) rants from me have shown this.

So just for once, I thought I’d look at my Asperger’s with a brighter outlook. DISCLAIMER: I don’t mean to brag – while some of the following is what people say about me, this is focusing on AS as a whole, not an individual’s personal strengths. Enough rambling!

Firstly, while people do exaggerate about this, it is true that Aspies are more prone to above-average intelligence than most. And many have skills that are less common in neurotypicals. Some might have a great sense of pitch. Others may be gifted artists. As for our special subjects? Well if you want to know more about cats, or Myers-Briggs personality functions, or anything about the mind, you know where I am.

Then there’s understanding people. Being on the spectrum means you may struggle with this. But for me, at least, it’s on-the-spot social interaction that’s tricky. Once you’re aware of this, you may spend a lot of time trying to make sense of the social world. And you know what? A slightly “outside” viewpoint can lead to a different, and maybe even deeper, understanding of people.

Also, AS people are known for being unwavering and just a little stubborn at times. Making decisions isn’t easy. Going back on them is twice as hard. But I’ll say this. If you have this tendency, chances are, you’re reliable. You keep to a predictable way of doing things. If I’m doing something new and significant, I will carefully plan. Or try to. As for breaking rules? They’re probably there for a reason, and unless they’re not going to work, I’m not breaking them just because I can.

And lastly, this one goes out to everyone in a minority. It might not be a walk in the park, but you have the potential to reach out to people like you and help them feel less alone. Think about it – you could be a role model! Everyone finds it comforting when they find someone they can relate to, and I’m no exception. Sometimes we “token minorities” have to stick together. So why are you still reading this post? Go out there, make someone’s day, and shine!

Easter musings

It’s Easter Sunday, and the immediate family members are busy socialising after a slap-up roast. I, on the other hand, am doing what I do best: hiding in my room hunched over a computer, thinking I should be more productive. And of course, eating chocolate. Because that’s what Easter’s about. Right?

I’ve been trying to think of possible Easter-y things to say on my blog, and for a while, I was on the brink of not bothering. Not because I can’t be bothered with Easter, but because I couldn’t think of anything to say that hasn’t already been said on the internet a gazillion times. After a little reflection, I do actually have a couple of thoughts to mull over. So I’m making this post a quickie.

As a Christian myself, the idea of being able to be Christians despite our imperfections because Jesus was crucified has often puzzled me. Crucifixion sounds like a brutal way to go. And all people, back then and today, are imperfect. But what is the connection between these two facts? I was thinking about this a while back, and realised: the physical consequences of the events of the Easter story aren’t important. Rather, it’s the idea of absolute good surrendering to absolute evil and still winning.

I’ll be honest; reading this back makes me realise there is still so much I don’t understand. But then I pretty much live in that realisation. Besides, whatever your personal beliefs, no-one can claim to have all the answers about big topics like this.

And then this gem from Mum, who I made famous (practically) a couple of blog posts ago. To complete today’s dinner, she made a simnel cake. What’s a simnel cake? This is*:

Image result for simnel cake

The marzipan balls, by the way, represent each of Jesus’s disciples. While there were 12, most simnel cakes miss out a ball for Judas, who betrayed Jesus. Mum, a firm believer in social justice, has included a 12th ball on hers. Firstly, because Judas was guilty for what he did. Come on, he hanged himself! Secondly, it was supposed to happen. And lastly, as Christians, and as decent human beings, forgiveness is key. Especially when it’s been over 2,000 years.

So those are my two thoughts for the day. Working in a Christian bookshop, there’s plenty of inspiration around me for a blog post like this. Then again, between tidying greetings cards, keeping the Easter egg stack symmetrical, and saying “Yes, we do have palm crosses…can I take your surname please?” to the fifth person on the phone that day, remembering to latch onto it isn’t easy.

 

 

*(DISCLAIMER – neither the cake, nor the photo, are ours. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/topdrawersausage/4492925419)