“Excuse me, do you work here?”
The utterance that strikes terror into the heart of all temporary staff in customer service situations. This is mainly owing to the fact that there are, from my point of view, a number of answers to that question, none of which are strictly true.
For the purposes of descriptive and geographical accuracy, I am indeed working and I am also here. That said, should I answer yes to his question the chain of events that follows will almost certainly result in catastrophic damage to the ontological security of said customer.
The reason for this is that he will then reasonably expect me to be able to tell him about the products I am stacking and where others may be found. We would then be on the road to insanity as I would then be forced to admit that firstly, while I may be working I have no idea what I am doing. My second culpable admission will be, that while I am undoubtedly here, I have no real sense of where here actually is.
The problem with this is, that to say no would be palpably absurd. I am without doubt here so far as the customer is concerned as he can see me. Also, the satanic pact that all temporary staff make with their patrons does not allow for any admission of professional confusion. Confusion is the job of the customer and we are here to unburden them of it.
It is indeed a little known fact that the scanners on store entrances serve a double purpose. Quite apart from the detection of light fingered clientèle, it is rumoured by many in the service sector that they somehow lobotomise the individual in question back to the infantile state that is known as being a customer. Hence the face of competency must be maintained at all times lest they become more nervous than is good for them.
If the above passage is beginning to make the reader’s head hurt, try actually living it on a daily basis.
In light of the above it is therefore unsurprising that my only real answer to his innocent request regarding the ordering of flowers was met by a somewhat pained expression on my part followed by a long, drawn out rendition of that well known classic –
(c) Barry Fentiman, 2011, an extract from my forthcoming novel The Odd Job Man.