Tim Minchin is famous for saying that he can tell everything he needs to know about someone from how they treat the people less powerful than them: waiters, baristas, and salespeople.
“I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with — agents and producers — based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.”
As someone working in retail this holiday season, I cannot state how true this is.
Christmas, despite what the cheery songs and soppy movies would have you believe, is a bloody stressful time. There are present to buy, cards to send, food to prepare, people to host. Budgets are tight, and tensions are high. So really, it’s no wonder that people get so frustrated this time of year. Not exactly Christmasy, but it’s true.
I’ve lost count of the number of times a customer has been rude to me or one of my colleagues this week (and yes, it’s only Thursday). From people telling us to “fuck off”, snatching clothing items from us, blaming us for “ruining *insert child’s name here*’s Christmas”, behaving as though we’re some sort of sub-human species, or being aggressive (or passive aggressive) and impatient, it’s been a long week. And, more often than not, it ends with someone upstairs crying.
Of course there are plenty of nice customers, and it’s easy to say that the behaviour of a few idiots shouldn’t impact you, that it means nothing and you should just keep on going. But sometimes it just isn’t that easy.
I always wonder how the customers would feel if I spoke that way to their son or daughter. How they would feel if it was their child crying in the staffroom, or crying when they got home, or hyperventilating over the thought of going to work. Would they be ok with it? I doubt it.
I’m sure no one reading this would treat anyone the way some customers have treated my colleagues and I. But maybe it will serve as a good reminder. You may be stressed about Christmas, annoyed at your family or friends, and irritated that it took ages to find a car park and queue up to buy your items. But before you take it all out on the person serving you, remember that they’re probably having an even worse festive season than you are.