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?

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Ode to Jennie – marriage, madness, and much more

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, glasses and close-up

At a wedding, you hear all manner of speeches. And I never did get to give my “intern of the bride” speech. So here it is.

After 10 months of messing around in a shop together, on Saturday 1st July I got to celebrate the marriage of one of my dearest, craziest friends Jennie, and fellow New Wine course member Jan*. It was fun, it was heartfelt, and it was an event that my colleagues predicted from the moment Jan became the intern at the bookshop where we work. Well, that’s what they say. Jennie hotly denies it.

Anyway. My first memory of Jennie, assistant manager extraordinaire, was at my interview last August, as Jan’s potential successor. Picture it: the bookshop’s back office, papers and packaging everywhere, and me, dutifully answering every question my now-boss was firing at me. Jennie, meanwhile, was sitting to one side silently judging me. If she had a beard, I bet she would have been stroking it.

Weeks later, and the dynamics in our relationship had changed enough to be able to communicate “difficult customer alert!” with just one glance. We bonded over our love of to-do lists, and it wasn’t long before the ones she wrote for me included “squash the world in a garlic press” or “High five yourself and then the nearest apple.” And when our conversations got too weird, we mastered the ability to stop whenever a customer came in, and resume without missing a beat once the shop was empty.

For all Jennie’s quirks, the main reason we’ve become so close is that we never felt under pressure to befriend each other. I mean, we’re super introverts. We don’t thrive under high social demands. Although I did rely on her to show me how things were done, other than that, we happily kept our heads down until we were comfortable enough to talk properly. I’d say that was a major breakthrough.

And somehow, we just connected. I love it when that happens. She has shown infinite patience with me, by the way, no matter how many times I screw up because I thought I knew what to do. Wedding preparation has been stressful for her, but throughout it all, she has remained kind, funny, and brilliant at everything she does.

She has also very generously given me a say in certain aspects of the wedding. I have to say, I think my suggestion of a giant, hollow chocolate orange as a carriage was a stroke of genius, even if she did say I’d be the one pulling it. And her hen do: 9.30am – 5pm, in a Christian bookshop, selling books, eating biscuits, and winding each other up.

And now the wedding has come and gone. Apart from anything, it was fun! It was another bonding experience with the other New Wine interns, and we had a lot of laughs playing air guitar in time to some good old disco music. I feel honoured to have attended, and know that they will have a wonderful, long life together. Jan is friendly and funny, and it has also been a pleasure to get to know him along with the other interns.

Now, in just a few weeks, they are moving to Mattersey, Nottinghamshire. Jan will be going to Bible college. Jennie will have a new job. I’ll be twiddling my thumbs in a shop where no-one sneaks up behind me, then laughs when I scream. Or finds endless good things to say about me no matter how wrong I prove them.

Jennie, thank you for a great year. Keep on doing amazing things in life!

 

 

*Think German, and pronounce the J as a Y. Please. He gets sick of being mistaken for a woman.

 

Life so far: growing up, autism, and 100 blog posts!

Years ago, I often thought about starting a blog. With my big dreams of becoming an author, it sounded like the sort of thing that all the high-flying writers are doing. Of course, it was just a crazy idea I had. Nothing serious. Right?

On receiving Blogging for Dummies for Christmas, I thought I’d at least show my appreciation by doing a quick summary of my world as a trial blog post. Now, four years and 99 posts later, my blog has definitely stood the test of time. It’s my way of reaching out, entertaining, and making my mark.

And this is my 100th post! So I thought I’d offer a much bigger summary of my life up until now.

Starting with Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday 17th March 1993 at 1.13pm. My parents joke about how typical it was of me to come out at lunchtime. To which I say, how many people do YOU know who were born in the middle of the day, week, month, and academic year, on their due date?

People sometimes ask me what I remember about Taiwan. Kind of awkward because my earliest memories include me and my (British) mum hiding from my (Taiwanese) dad after they had been fighting. But hey, I also remember playing with our pets, walking through mountain scenery, and my 4th birthday party. It wasn’t all bad!

Just after said birthday, my pregnant mother and I hastily headed my grandparents’ way – Cam, Gloucestershire. My sister was born. I started school, and was happily oblivious to my teachers telling Mum how weird I was and blaming it on bad parenting. Then we found a council flat.

A year later, while we were on holiday, my now-stepdad made his debut. From then on, he kept turning up on our doorstep. And we on his. This went on for about three years, until he and Mum married, and we invaded his house for good. Did I mention what a cute bridesmaid I was?

Now in Loughborough, I ended up at a school that was actually competent, and hey presto, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. My response to the news? “Oh…can I have a piece of cheese?”

Secondary school pulled my head out of the clouds with a jolt. It was a scary world of social hierarchies, sport, and teachers with varying levels of empathy. I struggled with friendships. I struggled in classes. Most of all, I struggled to accept that autism was nothing to be ashamed of.

But gradually, I got involved with various social groups at church, and I finally started to make friends and open up about my difficulties. Meanwhile, I was studying animal care at Brooksby College. It comprised manhandling animals of every size and species, essays, poo, and overnight lambing. Pretty grim, but I passed with straight distinctions!

Because I wasn’t ready for uni afterwards, I did a couple of years of home study, and realised that my heart was in becoming an author, not a vet nurse. The second year proved eventful when my Grannie died of cancer, and I still regret not visiting more. But it was also the year I started at De Montfort University, studying Creative Writing and Journalism. It was challenging, and falling out with my friend when we tried living together was hard. That said, I learned more about writing than I ever had before, and I don’t regret it for a second.

And now, here I am, coming to the end of my Christian bookshop internship. It’s been a great year, with great people, and I can’t help wishing I had more time left. But few things in life are permanent, and as I reflect on my significant life events, I do wonder what the next one will be.

 

 

How does Asperger’s Syndrome affect me?

To recap: on my last post, I mentioned that, as part of my internship, I am doing a Christian Discipleship course. Which, last week, involved going on a weekend away. I often enjoy these things more than I anticipate, and knowing that this one involved a lot of socialising and outdoor activities, I needed explain to the group leader about how Asperger’s affects me.

Hence my parents persuading me to write this letter. For anyone getting to know me, or someone else with the condition, you might find it insightful. For my fellow aspies out there, feel free to use this as an example or template* when explaining your own needs. Here goes:

Hello,

I’m writing to explain how having Asperger’s Syndrome affects me. Asperger’s is on the mild end of the autistic spectrum, and is less obvious than other forms of autism. I am gentle and articulate, and communicate best through writing. I’m looking forward to getting to know people, and would really like to get the most out of being a part of this community.

My main struggles include social interaction, physical co-ordination, and taking in lots of information from different sources or with a lot of distractions. In a group setting I struggle to keep up with what’s going on. I may either keep asking or lose focus altogether. It helps if someone discreetly updates me on things I need to know, one to one. I am more likely to understand instructions/explanations that are a concise summary of the main points, rather than too much detail. I like being on top of schedules, so I hope I don’t seem pushy if I keep asking what is going to happen

Lively group situations can be overwhelming, and I don’t present myself at my best when I don’t know anyone. I tend to be more at ease and outgoing with a close friend. Once I am used to people, I am co-operative, friendly and motivated. I am better at mingling than I was, but I still sometimes drift towards the edge of the group without trying. I also find it hard to remember names and faces at first – just bear with me when this happens.

Despite this, I do want to connect with people. I try very hard to treat others well and care deeply for my close friends. Contrary to the autism stereotype, I am empathetic and intuitive to people’s emotions. It’s on-the-spot, face-to-face interaction I find harder, not to mention draining! It’s not that I don’t want to be with you personally, it’s just that I often need time to myself.

Being autistic means that I show signs of dyspraxia (impaired physical co-ordination). I’m good at long walking, running and lifting heavy objects, but have more trouble with team games, walking on uneven or unstable terrain and learning directions. My fine motor co-ordination is much better, meaning I am good at using my hands for small, precise tasks.

I know this sounds like a lot, but apart from where specified, I don’t expect anyone to do anything drastically differently. Usually I just want others to understand and be patient. When in the right place (literally and emotionally) I am intelligent, mild mannered, witty and a deep thinker, and I hope that I can make friends and contribute to the fullest.

Hope this helps, and thank you for reading!

Grace

 

 

*but not publicly as if it was your own!

Off to work I go…

You know that weird adjustment phase when you go from being a complete couch potato to suddenly being busy? And you have only a few days’ warning before you have to dive head first into the world of work? And suddenly you are that person behind the till, saying “That’ll be £9.99,” “Would you like a bag with that?” and especially “I’m sorry, I’m still new, I’ll just get my colleague!”

As it happens, I do. Having spent the summer haplessly job hunting, I heard on the Navigators Facebook page about an internship vacancy at a Christian bookshop. Full time retail experience and training – Christian literature themed, at that – complete with a Discipleship course once a week. Right up my street.

So I applied, and was subsequently interviewed. Nothing too scary, just questions about how I work, how I became a Christian, how my Asperger’s affects me, what books do I like. What followed was a period of increasing anxiety. What were my chances? Was I again to be turned down due to my special needs? Would they think that the books I’ve recently read – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Dalai Llama’s Cat – were for sinners? Irrational, I know, but how calm can you realistically stay?

Yet somehow, I was accepted. I was still in Spain, and annoyingly, the day I found out was the day my phone stopped having signal at Grandad‘s house. But my now-manager contacted Mum, who contacted Grandad, and only a few days later, I was off to work.

Working for the first time is an ample situation in which to demonstrate what you are and aren’t yet capable of. For example, I seem to be incapable of not breaking the price gun at least once. But on a positive note, I now know how to take sales. Here’s your receipt, have a nice day!

My Discipleship course so far is proving mildly stressful. The people there are all lovely, and in terms of of spiritual growth, it looks very promising. It’s just that, for all the non-autistic tendencies I have learned, I still don’t present myself at my best in a room full of new people.

Or when I am given an hour to write a five minute talk on a parable. I’m used to writing under pressure, I’m used to Bible studies, I’m used to social situations. Somehow I still panicked. Somehow, with extra time, I managed to complete and perform my talk. My audience was enthusiastic, and whether this was out of genuine admiration or sympathy, I really appreciate their kindness.

And on that note, I’m also raising a glass to all my more experienced colleagues, who have been endlessly patient with me. Hopefully I’ll learn how to get more ink out of the price gun without destroying it.

Job interviews and fears for the future

Lately, I have concluded that, if there is such a thing as a midlife crisis, it starts no later than graduation and finishes the day we die. In other words, life is just one long crisis that we all have to adapt to. Who’s with me? Somehow, I doubt I’m the first person to realise this. And if there’s one thing that is making me face this reality, it is: job hunting.

Actually, my very first job interview was in 2012, at a Christian holiday, conference and retreat center in Devon. As well being a theological learning opportunity, my trial week included making friends from across the world, three square meals a day plus cake, and unlimited access to the sea. I had never felt more at home. And you know what? A week later I got the call saying they couldn’t accept me because I’d need extra help adjusting, didn’t socialise enough* and am too open minded in my beliefs. Not gonna lie, I was heartbroken.

My more recent interview experiences were more bog standard. In fact, all they demonstrate is my tendency to only come tantalisingly close to getting chosen. Last summer I applied for an internship on the marketing team at the Curve theatre in Leicester. Over 30 people applied, only six were interviewed, and I came down to the last two. Gah.

Then last Friday, I had an interview at a skills and employment advice centre in Nottingham for a copywriting position. They were friendly, helpful and impressed by my “passion for writing and making a difference”, but couldn’t accept me due to my lack of previous experience. Were my experiences not obvious on my application?

Realistically, I know this was probably their only way of choosing between me and someone similar but older. But still. Was it worth the two hours (each way) of travelling? Or the resulting blisters on my feet from the smart-but-impractical shoes I save for these occasions? Well, on the bright side, they are keen to have me for work experience after I graduate. Wahey!

Will it ever become easier for young people to find jobs or will it just get harder and harder until all but the most privileged are broke? Clearly I, for example, need more experience before I start working, even though the only relevant experience I can get is work! Can we really stay strong together across divided political or theological opinions without destroying each other over them? Actually, don’t answer that.

If you haven’t already noticed, I do fear for the future at the moment. For myself, for my generation, for humanity as a whole. I may elaborate on this separately, or on the EU referendum, or the Orlando shooting, if ever a 500ish word-long thought strikes me that I feel like sharing with the public.

In the meantime, I’d better get my backside in gear and apply for more jobs that require more experience than I’ve got. And try to keep myself occupied without becoming a couch potato. In other words, hurry up and wait. A phrase coined by a recent graduate, I reckon.

 

 

*Even if I wasn’t autistic and a bit of an introvert to boot, it was a silent retreat week! I still feel like shouting this, if only for the irony.