It seems strange that only since July 2015 have I been able to empathise with retail staff. I have been in daily contact with them since 1998. They directed me towards the carrots in Asda; solved my ‘pink or blue top dilemma’ in Topshop (the fab sales girl told me to buy both which I did, unwittingly boosting her sales records); gave me too much change- which I obviously didn’t notice until I had left! We’ve had some discrepancies in the past, such as the time when I was scalded by the Starbucks barista *cries*, but hot coffee aside, my modest 17 years have several splendid memories involving shops and their teams.
However life on the other side of the counter is far more complicated than I ever fathomed. With one job at Vue under my belt, I will never EVER leave my popcorn under the seat again. I will never EVER complain about a queue at the checkout. And I will be exceptionally understanding if the 17 year old serving me doesn’t quite know how print up tickets… Or puts cheese ON TOP of the nachos rather than on the side… Or accidentally locks the till rather than giving me my change… Please note none of those RIDICULOUS scenarios ever happened to me as a cinema assistant… Okay, maybe they did…
But my two months there were well spent. I earned my first wages; I kept my parents sane by keeping myself busy; I met some funny, clever, genuinely lovely individuals and learnt how to deal with the not so great aspects of life. Like picking up popcorn, cleaning toilets and handling impatient managers that seemingly forgot that their staff had break entitlement. I also received free movie tickets and discounted Fanta frozen; what more could one dream of?!
And now I have a new supermarket job, as a food service gal, which I love. The other staff, (most of) the customers and the sprightly 6:30 Saturday morning starts are as brilliant as the divine aroma of buttery butter croissants that tempts me throughout my shift. I do, however, have sympathy for the customers I serve sometimes, when I fail to give good information. I frequently feel extremely unprofessional when I am asked a question or a request that completely confounds me. For example, a customer asked for a ‘minute steak’ last week.
“Minute steak?! What does that mean?!” My head panics as I begin to slice a nice hefty hunk of steak for the lady.
“‘Minute steak. That means thin.” She kindly prompts me and I pretend I knew it all along…
I blame the fact I am relatively new to the job and calm my embarrassment knowing that I will learn more as I progress.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my job, especially on the deli because there are always things to do. But the cheese. It haunts me. When I first began training on the deli counter, I was astounded by how little I knew about cheese. As a moderate fan of the cows’ gift to us, I thought I was relatively competent with the cheese world. I knew there was cheddar, goats cheese, Parmesan, ricotta, the blue stuff… But I now know there are about a billion different types of cheddar, cheeses with incomprehensible names, ‘ewes’ cheese and million types of those, French bries, English bries…. Apparently I will get the hang of the cheeses soon. Fingers crossed.
So what have I learnt from my working life so far? Well, firstly I will no longer assume that customer assistants know absolutely everything about the shop. Because if they’re new or just anything like me, they will be as clueless as the next person. I have developed an empathy for other customer assistants, particularly the newbies. But I have also learnt that we do not learn from a single mistake; we have to repeat it at least three times before we can get any better! That’s my theory anyway.