Retail Employment Teaches Valuable Life Lessons

There is a benefit to growing up in this costly world of “iPods” and “hip-hops”; Mom and Pop certainly weren’t dishing out the dollah bills, so those of us who hail from low-income or even modest two chandelier households had to develop fiscal independence early on. Unfortunately, for today’s modern teen, the search for a part-time job rarely results in an exciting career as a dragon tamer, but rather a foray into mall or fast food horror.

Despite this dreary reality, we dove into the rat race, dollar signs in our eyes. We tenderly donned hairnets, misspelled nametags, and oversized novelty polos; We earned paycheques that, though insulting, were our very own. Those six dollars an hour have been spent long ago, but anyone who has wasted their youth behind a cash register wearing flammable pants has actually gained something much more important than any monetary reward. A deep sense of compassion overwhelms those of us who have suffered through the difficulties of trying to scrub the smell of onion rings off our skin. Though we have hopefully risen out of these employment slums as twenty-somethings with our eyes on the academic prize, we empathize with the youngsters, bright eyed and bushy tailed, who are still paying their dues. And then, there are those who don’t. There are morons out there, shopping at the Gap with their six screaming toddlers, ordering Mama burgers-but-hold-the-bun. Lots and lots of morons. People who call for the termination of anyone who dares mess up their selection of dipping sauces, who think it’s okay to carry on their cell phone conversation while placing an order on the drive-thru, who scream in your face if you ask them to please not bring their dog into a food production facility, sir.

The problem here seems perfectly clear to me – if you’ve never been a barista, you don’t know how obnoxious it is when someone orders an extra-extra-extra hot coffee and then complains to your manager when you tell him that’s an illegal temperature to serve drinks at. Walking a mile in slip-resistant shoes seems like an important step in the dickhead elimination process. If everyone had to work in a terrible, vaguely humiliating, simultaneously tedious and stressful job for little pay or praise, we would all treat each other a little bit better. Customers would understand the plight of the beleaguered cashier, or at least acknowledge that she’s a real person, and maybe the interaction would be that much more pleasant.

If you somehow have managed to slip through the cracks and have never had the pleasure of working with The Public, here are some easy to remember things that will help servers and sales clerks alike not want to punch the human race in the neck. Don’t come in two minutes before closing. Don’t bang on the door if you come two minutes after closing. Don’t block the door with your foot as the poor scared employee is trying to leave for the night. Please, please don’t haggle, and please don’t assume you can trick the employee into giving you a deal you saw on a sign outside that doesn’t exist. It may sound wacky, but even if you didn’t eat discounted milkshakes for dinner every day of eleventh grade, try and imagine you did. Or next time you’re at a clothing store, think to yourself, “How would I feel if someone asked me a question about t-shirt sizes and then wandered away while I was mid-sentence, pretending not to see her child peeing on my display?“ It’s a neat trick that will help you remember that working jobs like these isn’t always as glamorous as the media makes it out to be. Be nice. I know sometimes it’s hard not to be an asshole; just as bills, bills, bills turned generations of teens into productive members of society with solid work ethics and hearts of gold, other factors go into the production of insensitive jerks. I say, it’s never too late for enforced part-time labour. Let’s build some empathy, and maybe solve that pesky unemployment problem while we’re at it.

Stacey McLachlan

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