"You work at Sainsbury's? Oh right. Easy, eh?"
There are a lot of things in this big, old world that frustrate me. You could call it a personality defect, but the fact of the matter is that I am incredibly easy to wind up. Drivers that don't indicate, slow walkers, loud eaters, heavy breathers, even adverts on the radio manage to make my blood pressure rise.
If you have worked in the retail industry, then you will be aware that it is a role that requires a high quota of patience. If you haven't worked in retail industry, then settle down comfortably, because I am about to tell you why.
To begin with, I will give you a little bit of background history in case you haven't read my previous posts. I've worked in retail since I was 17; two years in a bakery and two years in a supermarket alongside my studies. While I know this doesn't exactly make me a retail veteran, it did open my eyes to something important.
Working in retail is not easy.
I discovered throughout university that there seemed to be a misconception that a job in a supermarket wasn't... wait for it... a real job. I once had a customer ask me when I was going to 'get my life together and get a proper job'. As I've said, I have not been blessed with the gift of patience. I handed over her four slices of corned beef and attempted to wish her a pleasant day, but I couldn't stop the steam coming out of my ears.
It's not exactly uncommon for university students to work part-time along their degree, especially as the average living cost for students outside of London is a whopping £12,056 per academic year. This cost is increasing every year, and if your parents aren't forking out four-hundred-quid a month for you, then part-time employment becomes more appealing than malnutrition. However, as a young, well young-ish, person, I seemed to receive more than my fair share of impolite, patronizing comments.
I will tell you now, if I had a pound for every time I had to bite my tongue or hold back a tear, I would be relaxing on a private beach in Bora Bora and not writing this post. The retail environment brings out a dark side of the general public. Would you snap your fingers to get the attention of a business man or woman in a suit? Unless you're exceptionally rude, I doubt it. I have had customers whistle down the counter to get my attention, something I would classify as unacceptable behaviour.
The mantra 'the customer is always right' belongs in the book of Satan, as far as I'm aware.
Retail work is incredibly challenging. There are often physical demands, long hours, irregular shift patterns, mind-numbing daily jobs, short-staffing, dwindling morale, bad-mannered customers, a low-wage, few benefits and very little gratitude. It is one of the few fields of work that requires you to smile when a stranger speaks to you like a clump of dirt in the shower drain. It's a stressful and demanding environment and excludes many 'job perks' you get with other industries.
I once had a customer shout at me for not having any barbeque chicken wings in stock, which sounds comical now, but was actually self-esteem injuring. It wasn't my fault, I have no power when it comes to the availability, quality or price of anything, but as the messenger, I am shot. There are no consequences for a customer being rude, but if an employee responds in the same fashion, then it's off with their head.
Okay, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but you understand my point. While I have some good memories with my colleagues and regular customers, it wasn't uncommon to finish a shift with a pounding headache and a sense of worthlessness.
So, next time you feel the urge to complain that the deli girl is taking too long to slice your chicken breast, just remember she might be having a bad day. Or a bad week. Or a bad month, who knows? Working full-time in a Tesco, Asda, New Look or Clintons is no less of a 'real job' than the lawyers or doctors of the world. If you wouldn't speak down to your dentist, then don't do it to your checkout assistant.