I hope you all had as amazing a Christmas as I did. I was lucky enough to score a few days off and spent them at my parents' house, overindulging in food and booze, visiting with friends and family. Holiday visits always feel too short, but this one had an especially cruel cut-off time. The condition of my few days off was that I return to work on Boxing Day and, as such, required that I fly back here on Christmas Night. It was night proper, though, so I had plenty of lazy present opening in the morning, and we had tucked into Christmas Dinner the night before, as a favour to me, but I still looked out the airplane window wistfully as I flew over large stretches of snowy prairie landscape, dotted with cozy looking farmhouses, their lights still on, where families were undoubtedly gathered. I nurtured my self-pity all the way home as I handed cab fare plus tip over to a grateful driver who wished me a Merry Christmas, and I realized that, bummed as I was about working on Boxing Day, I sat in an airport, ate a hamburger, flew 40 000 feet in the air, and cabbed it home all because other people were working on Christmas Day, and who the fuck was I to whine?
Dream: Always be grateful for the workers.
Goal: Achievable. If you've heard this before, it may have been from last Christmas, or the Christmas before that. Maybe I ought to dedicate Christmas blogs to a more deserving group (war veterans, for instance, or the spouses of dieters). But I think we forget too easily that the minimum wage worker takes maximum shit, and this time of year is the soul-sucking worst.
Don't read that 2011 Christmas blog too carefully, or you'll see that I was about to leave the retail world behind for an office job. I couldn't have foreseen in December a "company restructuring" in July that would leave me and the bulk of my colleagues jobless. Nor could I have predicted that the market for cushy internet writing jobs is pretty small indeed and I might not land the same position twice. But somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew I might be leaving one sort of till for awhile, but the register wasn't going to close for me completely.
Plan: Offer tips on how to be a good customer just in case some of you lose the job you've got and end up working till, making lattes, folding sweaters or otherwise being a worker in places where smiles are free, but happiness is hard to come by. Tips like:
1) Tip. Always tip, and generously. I can't stand bad tippers or people who disagree with the practice on principle. "Why should I pay someone to do their job? It's their job!" Yes, fine. But what if it was your job? Do you think the un-tipped server makes a salary good enough for your life? Could you live on minimum wage and stand on your feet all night? Could you put up with leering drunks and wailing children at your workplace and be nice to them? And you tip someone because they are doing something you are just plain too lazy to do yourself. You eat in a restaurant because you can't be bothered to cook food to shovel into your fat face. You take a cab because you can't be troubled to drive around. You get your nails done because you're too good to cut your own fucking nails. If you can't be bothered to toss a few bucks on top of your bill, that says more about you than your waitress.
2) If you can't tip with money, tip with words. If an employee at a store does something for you, like checking in the back, grabbing something off the shelf, double-bagging a heavy item, you'd be amazed at how much good karma results when you say, "Hey thanks for that. I appreciate it." An employee collects such offhanded praise like lint to a roller. The best workers are meant to function invisibly, from a corporate perspective. Be drones, follow policy, move product, bring in money. So when a customer acknowledges and appreciates extra effort, it often means more to a worker than sales tallies at the end of the day. To that end, it's worth finding out if the stores you visit pay on employees on a commission basis. Personally, I'm grateful I've never worked under that structure. While customers might see commission as a way to encourage employees to work harder, employees end up only seeing bottom lines and end up too pushy, aggressive, and stressed, and who does that benefit? So please realize that it's no skin off an employees ass if you buy the pair of shoes or not, so if they find out if a store closer to your house carries the same item, or offers to wrap them up in a giftbox for you, realize that they're extending a courtesy, and just. say. thanks.
3) Don't be an asshole. You might think this is the same as points two and one, but it is not. There's a big difference between not offering a tip or thank you for a service and being an asshole and it boils down to this: do you realize that the employees working at a store, cafe, restaurant, whatever, are people, just like you? That this is their job? That they don't live in the stockroom, tucked away in a box from the time after a store closes until it opens again? If you don't realize that employees are people, you are an asshole. And there are a lot of you. People who don't get off their cellphone or take out their earbuds when buying something. People who don't hand over cash or plastic to a person, but drop it on the counter to be collected. People who yell at the guy in the uniform not because of anything that he did, but because they are having a bad day and there's no paper towel left on the shelf and someone's gotta be yelled at so it might as well be this creature.
I've been a retail employee longer than I've held any other job title. I hope I don't do it forever, but I've done it long enough that I know how to keep it in perspective. It's my job, it's not my work, it's my paycheque, not my career. But my secret shame is that I can be pretty good at it, and take pride in it sometimes. Tonight I sold a girl a dress for a New Year's party. I saw her give herself a once-over in the three way mirror we have near the fitting rooms. It was a slinky, sparkly, capital P party-dress, suddenly in this woman's price range thanks to a big Boxing Week promotion. She may have been a little self-conscious about her bare arms and cleavage, but the little tilt of the head she gave her reflection indicated to me that she knew how much of a knockout she was in this dress. She turned to me, a little giddy. "Isn't it a little..." she shrugged expansively, as if trying to talk herself out of it. I told her I thought it was perfect. She bought it. I'm glad.
Now's the time of year when people start saying we ought to keep the spirit of Christmas with us all through the year. These are the same people who buy Zen candles and say serenity prayers and carry yoga mats over their shoulder while yelling at the dry cleaner or the pizza man. But I know what they mean. The love we feel over the holidays shouldn't only last as long as turkey bloat and shouldn't solely be confined to the family. Let's sneak a little Christmas to the flight attendant, cab driver, drugstore cashier, book-shelver, burger-flipper, and sweater-folder. Let's thank Pedro and Mike and Kris and Melissa and Vi and Tamara and Heather and Roger and Arvind and Shannon and Jodi and Bradley and Janine and Tracy and Jennifer and Tom and Chris and Sydney and Nateesha and Marie and Steven and Johnny and everyone who opens and closes and accepts cash, debit and credit and has a nice day and makes the world go round.