In one form or another I have always worked in Customer Service. I know, what a lucky person I am. How fantastically pleased am I that I spent five years in further education? The only thing I needed to be taught, is that contrary to popular opinion, customers are usually always wrong.
I think most people at some time or other has worked in customer service, whether that's behind a bar, a shop counter or a cinema box office. We have all had the pleasure of the odd, the rude and the down right daft.
This week I have already had a couple insisting to me that there was a vegetarian cook book available about cooking corn. This was one of those enquiries that the moment it hit my ears I knew would draw a big, massive blank. I mean, what the hell can you do with corn apart from boil or barbecue it?! I could have written that down on a post-it for them, saved them £12.99. But no matter how much I "ummmed" and "errrred" they weren't budging, so I humoured them, typing "corn" into the system for the first, and hopefully, last time. Nothing came up. Deep breath:
"No, like I say, nothing has come up. I think it will be a case of looking through the vegetarian books to see if there is a section on corn, but there aren't any books JUST ABOUT CORN YOU FREAKING LOOP HOLES!"
Then came the words every Bookseller dreads, "but I've seen one":
"My friend's got a copy, she was showing me it the other day...had a packet of corn on the cover and everything"
Then the penny dropped. Dear oh dear did the penny drop.
"Do you mean Quorn?"
I would love to say that this situation ended in a freeze frame of us all bent backwards tearing the sky open with our laughter. I'd love to tell you that we all bonded immediately, that we are now all firm friends, that I'm joining them in Kent for the summer. But the truth is, nonsense like this happens almost every day. Moments of crashing, fist biting stupidity that leave you fearing for the future of our species. It's just not that funny anymore.
What makes it worse? The customers' reactions. Most customers will not laugh a mistake off or apologise. Embarrassment will force them into a corner where they will not even admit they are wrong. The response I got to my Quorn question was a very haughty: "Oh is that what it's called, it's not for me...I'm not a vegetarian" the last word spat out like a soggy piece of soya. I don't know what it is that happens to people when they pass through the doors of a shop. I'm beginning to wonder if our alarm barriers emit invisible, personality altering waves which, upon passing through them, turn decent human beings into terrors.
Now, not EVERYONE leaves me scratching my head in bemusement obviously. But sadly the normal and the nice tend not to dent my psyche as much as the crashingly bizarre. I can still remember being completely berated about 4 years ago for approaching a customer with my hands in my cardigan pockets. They went ballistic at me. It didn't matter that I had walked up to them all smiles offering them all the help they could need, all they noticed were my nestled hands. It was almost as if they check the whereabouts of people's hands before deciding whether the person is worth talking to. They reacted to me like I had gone up to them and smeared poo all over their hair, rubbed it into their scalps and leant over them to take a good hard sniff. This was the moment I knew this line of work would test me to an inch of my sanity.
This person wouldn't have come up to me in the street to point out how disgusted they were at my hand/pocket ratio. But once through the doors of a shop, and those demonising barriers - "zap!" the ability to be reasonable left them.
As you are reading this you are obviously lovely, but please remember when shopping that the person serving you is still a human being and deserves to be treated as respectfully as you would expect to be. They will probably have a million other things to do aside from serving you and more than likely will have been on their feet for a stupid amount of time. I will go "that extra mile" for customers who come in and behave in a pleasant, non-mental way. But the minute an eye is rolled, a chest is puffed, a finger is drummed my heart sinks. I do not want to see the day where I have to say to someone: "look, calm the hell down, they are only books." That would be rubbish, because books are wonderful.
One more thing....if you are the only person standing in a "queue" at an empty till point, listening to tills ringing out downstairs, chances are you need to go downstairs.