Sunday, January 25, 2009

Do you want attitude with that?

I do not love mankind.

That's the first line of a book I really like (The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken). I've always thought of myself as a nice person -- to my family and friends, but also to humanity at large. I let other drivers in front of me, I try not to block the aisle with my grocery cart, I pick things up when pregnant women drop them. I like to be helpful, for its own sake as well as for the "oh, you're so sweet" element, which I do also enjoy. I try not to be overly judgemental. I look for the best in people.

Until they piss me off.

A few years back I realized something sort of unpleasant about myself. I was working at Chapters (no, that's not it, although it was very unpleasant at times). We had just moved to Ottawa and I had just left a job in audio publishing where I was advancing quite quickly due to the fact that the boss was crazy and threw books at people and employees kept objecting to this and leaving. As attractive as this situation must sound, I got married and moved to Ottawa with my husband (which is probably just as well because I realized right before I left that I had approved the wrong label copy for a Jimi Hendrix rockumentary and God knows what they would have done to me). And got a job at Chapters, for my sins. Before the crazy audio publisher I had worked in a charming little independent bookstore in Toronto, but none of the independents were hiring here, and I needed something I could take the bus to, and there were BOOKS there, how bad could it be?

It was quite bad.

At the interview, I said they should hire me because books were my life and I understood the importance of customer service. If someone has three or four errands to run in a day, I said beamingly, whether they get good service or bad service at those three or four places sets the tone for their entire day. Good customer service makes the sun shine and puppies frolic and makes the world go around. Also, I had this newspaper article from when some guy from the Quill & Quire did a secret shopper thing at area bookstores and said I was the best bookseller he met and I was knowledgeable and nice and helpful (see?), and everyone at my store knew it was me but he never asked my name (story of my life). So they hired me, either because of these reasons or because I had a pulse and I looked like they could get a few good months out of me before they squeezed me totally dry and lifeless.

I was in the children's section, so there were fun parts. I did story time, my displays were the most fun, I had unlimited access to Dr. Seuss. And most of the kids were great. The parents, on the other hand.... I know working retail can really suck. I've often wondered why, if someone is having a crappy day, they think, "I know! I'll go make the frozen yogurt girl's life hell! That will really perk me up!". But there's something especially wrong about people being bitchy and mean in a bookstore -- as far as I'm concerned, it's sort of like swearing in church. So when someone came in, I was ready with a smile, and if they were nice they were served like they'd never been served before, because I hadn't had kids yet, I was still smart and I knew a LOT about books. But if they came at me with a "there MUST be a book about left-handed bald men who like boats", or a "well no, she doesn't like the first six books you picked for her, find another one", or a "I will now hold you personally responsible for the fact that the newspapers are a mess and you don't have enough French books", then that was it. Oh, I would still help them, but unenthusiastically, and I held the best book recommendations back, because they clearly didn't deserve them. If I was on cash, I punched in the prices in a very snippy manner.

Okay, this sounds really stupid now that I've set it all out -- big surprise, I'm nice to people who are nice. But really, that's the easy part, right? My friend J. tells a fantastic story about her father-in-law, who went out for a walk around the neighbourhood on New Year's Day and said "Happy New Year" to everyone he met. If someone didn't answer, as he passed them he said "well, go to Hell then!". It's a good story, but it's not really the life philosophy I'm striving for. So I'm trying to be more forgiving (even though people who don't smile back when you put yourself out there and smile at them are, in my book, the meanest people in the world -- unless they've just been diagnosed with cancer or found out their wife is cheating on them or something -- sometimes I forget to allow for that).

More than anything, those people who park their grocery cart in the middle of the aisle and take five minutes browsing the soup, or the ones who cut in front of you in line, or the ones who talk during the movie just confuse me. Do they genuinely enjoy pissing other people off? Are they even more self-absorbed than I am? (that hardly seems possible). Are they just really not very bright? Regardless, I'm working on rising above it all. I will be nice to the un-nice masses. I will dispense kindness to the undeserving.

Hard not to adore me, isn't it?

1 comment:

alison said...

I am too brain-dead from formulating an email to my director vis-a-vis the office situation to let her know the depths of my disappointment without resorting to profanity to comment intelligently on your post.

I've read it, and I appreciated it. And I hope when I was in the Children's section of Chapters (which I am quite seldomly, as we rely heavily on the library) that I was nice to the sales person.