F*ckYouVeryMuch, or Why Retail Jobs Blow

“Do you have that book? You know, it was reviewed on NPR a few weeks ago. I think it has a blue cover. Not dark blue, more of a sky blue. There’s an image on the cover of an, um, elephant? Or maybe it’s not an elephant, maybe it’s something that looks like an elephant…I’m not sure what it’s about, but it sounded interesting. Do you have it?”

I love my job. I am thrilled to have a job. I’m around books! What could be better? I like helping people. I like shelving, sorting, organizing, and setting up for events. I enjoy meeting writers, avid readers, the occasional insane person, and most of all I love my coworkers. And, I’m around books!

There is one thing, however, that totally perplexes me about working in retail. It is the strange thing that comes over some people when they enter a retail environment. It’s as if they are suddenly on stage and performing A Display Of Obnoxious Behavior in Three Acts.

I’ll start with Ms. Loud Cell Phone Talker. She is the one who walks around the bookstore chatting away on her cell phone. She appears not to care that other people are browsing quietly. She appears not to see other people around her at all. She is likely to be discussing her children. Or how bad the strawberries tastedĀ this year. This is the person who won’t put down the cell phone to complete her transaction. She continues a long inane discussion with whomever is on the other end of the line while throwing bills and change at me. Then, just as I hand her the bag she hangs up the phone and begins to ask a succession of complicated questions, completely unaware of the group of customers linedĀ up behind her.

Next up is Mr. I Am Much Smarter Than You/Mr. Stump the Bookseller. He’s the one who comes up to the counter with a smug look and says, “I bet you haven’t heard of that book by Yale University Press about explorers of the Nile?” He’s the one who then launches into a dissertation about Lake Tanganyika and the kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro and how your little bookstore couldn’t possibly have such a book. When questioned, he won’t know the author of the book. He will think it was published sometime in the last five years.

Then there’s Mrs. You’ve Disappointed Me Already. She comes up to the counter with a chip on her shoulder before you’ve even made eye contact. She has lost her coupon and believes it is your fault that she can’t be responsible for her own shit. She demands, loudly, that you make an exception for her because she is a very loyal customer and comes in every Saturday and has for the last twenty-one years. She insists that you are holding a book for her, but it will not be there. She will claim that some incompetent person put it back on the shelf.

Let’s not forget The Annoying Parent. He is the guy who allows his child to come behind the counter and play with scissors. He is the one who allows his child to pull twenty-five books off the shelf and leaves them scattered around the children’s section. He may say, “Thelonius, please don’t dooooo thaaaat,” in a whiny voice, but won’t move from his chair to stop the child from running up and down the aisles of the bookstore while yelling, “Fart booger booger booger poop fart booger booger poop!”

And finally, the always special, Mrs. You Are My Servant While I Am In This Store. She is the one who comes up to the counter with demands. She wants you to escort her around the store for twenty minutes of “suggestions.” Only she doesn’t really want your suggestions, she wants to shoot down your suggestions. She is the one who never makes eye contact, never says please or thank you, and inspires you to imagine a name tag that says: Hello, I Am Not A Robot.

So, as the holidays approach, I invite you to share your customer service tale of woe, and if you don’t have a tale to share, just remember, be nice to the people across the counter. F*ckYouVeryMuch and have a great day!

9 thoughts on “F*ckYouVeryMuch, or Why Retail Jobs Blow

  1. HA. The Reader.

    I want you to recommend a book. I read the Times Book Review and the NYRB cover to cover. Every novel on every publisher’s frontlist for the season I have either read or already decided why I would hate it. Why are the only books you have the ones I already know about? I want you to recommend a book I don’t know about. That’s why I come here. A book you’ve read yourself, and absolutely loved. A book that you think is one of the best of the year, and that you’re positive I will adore just as much. That I’ve never heard of. I have read every book you’ve ever read, and every book in the front half of the store.

    I thought you could help me. See you next week.

  2. I used to think how excrutiating it was to listen to customer tales of woe on the phone. Enduring the level of courage that customers gained that allowed them to scream obscenities that they would (hopefully) never utter if they were faced with a person at a counter. However… tucked into a call center does allow one to make faces at customers.
    I need to stop by your bookstore one of these days. I won’t wait until I need a book with an elephant on the cover…or was it an anteater. I dunno…but you for sure will, right?!

  3. I am going to be a triple, nay, quadruple threat tomorrow – talking on my cell phone about my bookstore servants who have NO IDEA about what books will fulfill my great yet obscure sliver of knowledge of 18th century English painting whilst letting my teens run amok pulling books off of every shelf in arms reach yelling ROMNEY ROMNEY ROMNEY (they hate me so they are republicans. sorry)

    see you tomorrow!

    • If you walked into the bookstore tomorrow I would do a happy dance, Katie. Possibly one resembling a rendition of the villagers in Fiddler On the Roof!

  4. Jen, Mrs. Loud Cell Phone Talker was just in! Having such a lengthy and highly personal conversation that another customer asked if we had a “no cell phone” rule. Loudly. Of course, Mrs. LCPT didn’t get the hint, though. Five minutes after, Thelonius and papa came in. It’s been a good night!

  5. I can sympathize. I’ve done my time in retail, too. I worked in a Goodwill. I had to deal with shop lifters (yes, from a charity thrift store) and people who think thrift store=flea market and they try and haggle with you when the signs all over the store clearly say “All Items Priced as Marked”. Then there were the people who claimed they got an unmarked item from a mythical “50 cent bin” and then when they would get huffy because I wasn’t fooled by them and told them so. And then there were the people who let their kids ride the bikes all over the store. Aye carumba. I don’t miss those days. I preferred working in the back on the busy days just to avoid these people.

    • Kathy, Working in retail is a real eye-opener! You meet amazing, wonderful people and also total scumbags. I think everyone should do a year in retail before they are out of college. It’s a great learning tool. :-)

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