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

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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.

 

Awkward encounters

I seem to have accumulated a lot of entertaining people-related anecdotes lately. I think this is what comes of entering the world of work and serving the public. Or maybe it’s yet another perk of being autistic. I don’t know. On one hand, many of the following incidents did happen before, during, or after work. On the other, my mum has pointed out that I have the sort of aura that people stopping other people in the street immediately pick up on.

For one thing, I’ve always been susceptible to racist jibes from strangers. I’m half British, I’ve lived in this country since I was four. Yet I got it all the time from boys at secondary school. I’ve had various guys shout “ni hao” to me in the street. And then a few months ago, some boys loitering outside said school shouted “Great Wall of China!” at me on my way to work. My sides are splitting just thinking about it.

Then of course, there are people I’ve seen at work. Most of them are anywhere from normal to lovely. But of course, there are always a few who are rude about your job performance, have out-of-control children, or who just aren’t the full ticket. Like the woman who left her new loyalty card on the counter where I couldn’t see it, then came back and got all shirty with me for not rushing after her to return it. Yep. Definitely my fault.

Or the man who kept muttering Bible verses, insults towards the shop, and questions that made no sense, and then asked what was wrong with me when I didn’t follow. And kept talking about me to my colleagues but nothing to my face. Apparently I was the one with the problem. Clearly.

And it’s not just when I’m out and about, either. I was alone one evening and ended up answering the door to a young woman asking to speak to the homeowners. I said they were out, and added that we don’t take calls like this. She then said I was being patronising, and really rude treating her like a cold caller when she was trying to do her job*. In her defence, when I apologised, and explained I was autistic and hadn’t known what to say, she apologised back. Can’t complain.

Still, it’s not all frustration and rudeness. Only this week, I had a woman come into the shop looking for a book for a friend, but she couldn’t remember what it was called. Thinking she was collecting an order, I asked for “her name.” Thinking I meant the author’s name, she said she’d just check her phone. Which left me wondering why she needed to check her friend’s name on her phone…

 

 

*Whatever that was. Turning up out of the blue uninvited, I think.

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.