Customer Nervous

For someone who spends so much time in a shop, I both disappoint and pride myself on how little I enjoy shopping. Pride because it saves a lot of money and suggests a good work-life balance, and disappointment because many of the things I need are to be found in shops. It’s a necessary evil for me much of the time. I don’t mind grocery shopping, and when it comes to most other things, I’m usually organised enough that there’s no last-minute gift buying or frenzied purchase of other essentials. I completely lose my cool, however, when it comes to the transaction of goods & services to do with physical appearance.

Most of the time, I don’t wear much makeup. This cuts down expenses, getting ready time in the morning, means I look way better in photos of special occasions, and reduces the time I ever have to spend buying cosmetics. This last point is key. I realised I’d have to buy some nice makeup for a wedding a little while ago, and since it was overseas, figured I’d buy it all duty-free, saving myself a little money and killing time at the airport because I always get there obscenely early anyway. I was with my mother, who shares my cosmetic-related aversion and proclivity for punctuality, and since we both had to remove our glasses to sample any kind of eye makeup, it was truly a case of the blind leading the blind. We fumbled along as best we could but realised we weren’t going to be able to do this alone. An employee approached to offer her assistance:

“Can I help you with anything?”
“Yes please. I don’t really know much about makeup, but think I need some foundation.”
“Ok, what kind of coverage do you want?”
“My… face?”

At this her eyes practically rolled out of their sockets. I was prepared to take whatever suggestions she offered but instead she let out a sigh. It was the sound an unimpressed cat might make when a new puppy is brought home. I bought the first thing she deigned to offer me a sample of, and to this day still don’t know what she meant by “coverage.”

“What about some lipstick?”
“Oh yeah, guess I’d better get some. I think I should be able to choose that on my own though, thanks all the same.”
“And do you need lipliner?”
“They’re over here.”

I was even more confused. I didn’t have any, but did that mean I needed it? Is that the kind of thing anyone ever actually needs? I forewent the product on account of it sounding a little too much like dark magic. I ended up with foundation, lipstick, new eyeliner and eyeshadow (the only items I had any familiarity with but have probably been doing wrong for years) and free mascara for my expenditure. I put the lot on my credit card, grabbed my mother (who had cleverly taken a backseat to the proceedings) and rushed to the gate as though we were in some sort of hurry. I messaged Jenn to disperse my stress and unravel the mystery of lipliner. She told me that my decision to forego it was for the best and never to go makeup shopping without her. My relief was palpable, because to go back for lipliner would feel like reentering the gates of hell, and flagrantly gone against her second instruction. I got out of that shop, that airport, that country, as quickly as I could. I reentered the country and airport (but not the shop) a month and a half later, having put off the retraumatisation for as long as I could.

It did teach me a useful lesson in customer service though. I had admitted to the sales assistant up front that I was in unfamiliar territory, and am certain I looked at least half as scared as I felt. Even beneath the currents of perfume samples, she could assuredly smell my fear. What I needed in that moment was a basic makeup kit and some assurance, and while I was satisfied with my purchases in the end, as she looked down her perfectly made up nose, I felt about the size of the free mascara I’ve since used only twice. I already felt like an idiot, in need of help without disapproval. I’m prepared to admit that I was already very sensitive to even the slightest whiff of judgment in that department, but it felt lathered over me like shellac. It got me wondering if that’s how I come across when a customer at the bookshop asks for the latest 50 Shades instalment.

Disappointingly, I think I sometimes do, albeit perhaps to a smaller degree. Not only do I quietly enjoy feeling superior, I also have a very expressive face. My expressions of disapproval are never far away, and because I can’t raise one eyebrow without the other, half my lip curls instead and I fear I go around this world sneering at anything that causes me even the slightest displeasure. I’ve tried really hard to correct this though, and think I’ve been at least moderately successful because I still have a job. Two jobs, in fact, both focused on customer service. Mostly it’s friends and colleagues who bear my accumulated sneers, and because they have a solid sense of self and know it’s nothing personal, they laugh it off as a symptom of my curmudgeonly old soul and general world-weariness. They know me well.

So when a customer approached me in the bookshop and said she needed to buy a present for a kid, but didn’t know much about them or what their age group might be into, I was ready to help. It’s not her job to know what the youths are reading, it’s mine. She followed up with one proviso, however, that completely countered both productivity and intuition: she didn’t want to buy a book. Thankfully I was leading her to the kids’ section at this point, and as she was walking behind me, could not see my face. Even my most pronounced reactive judgment doesn’t reach the back of my head, and I had a couple of seconds to compose a response. How desperately I wanted to inform her that she was in a bookshop, that we sold books, that when someone comes into a bookshop to buy a present, they invariably leave with a book. But who would that have helped? Presumably she knew she was in a bookshop and hoped we were the kind that sold puzzles, board games, crockery and plant seeds. (These are all commodities which can be purchased at a bookshop I used to work at. Yes, even the seeds.) So hey, who was I to be judging her? Obviously I did or I wouldn’t have laughed about it with colleagues later or be writing about it now, but I realised I could do so without calling her out on her faux pas. I would’ve enjoyed a second of smugness as the insult sunk in, and then we both would’ve felt like fools. I’d have offended her and regretted it immediately. I showed her to the craft section instead.

I optimistically expect the makeup I bought to last me a good long while, and when it does run dry I’ll make an identical purchase online. There’s a lot to be said for cutting out the middleman, but my livelihood is as exactly that. I’m not paid for my snide comments, which I happily give away for free. If I weren’t so intimidated by potentially rude makeup salespeople, maybe I’d buy it with slightly greater frequency. I don’t want to put people off buying books, and I have some great book-related conversations with customers. They’re not all as out of their depth with books as I am buying makeup. I certainly don’t want to put myself out of a job because I come across as superior and unaccommodating. I may have to begin my career anew as a makeup sales assistant. And who needs that?


2017: Pretty Good Year

I won’t speak for the rest of the world, which at large has had a crazy old year; but my 2017 was a pretty darn good’un. I made new friends, visited new countries, skied new slopes, quit a job I liked for two jobs I like more, saw people I love marry people they love, played with new puppies, saw some great shows and live music, and of course read some great books. I rarely make new year’s resolutions: if there’s something I want to do (or think I should,) I’ll either do it, or I won’t. 2016 was an exception though, when I decided I wanted to read 100 books that year. I hit this goal with eight to spare, and decided for 2017 I’d just read as and when I wanted to. I didn’t read much in January (busy seeing the world and doing other things) and figured I’d fall far short of my 2016 tally in any case, but finished on 104.

The book I was most excited to read also turned out to be my favourite, so perhaps I’m a little bit biased, but I’m certain I would’ve loved Tin Man even if I’d never heard of Sarah Winman. Coming in second is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This is her debut novel, so I came into it with no expectations, but knew very quickly that this book and I would be friends. My third favourite is The Idiot by Elif Batuman, which was a very pleasing novel to take my time over and get to know – the type of book where while not every sentence contributes to the narrative, I didn’t want to drift away for even a second for fear I’d miss one of the many moving one-liners.

An honourable mention goes to The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which has been around for a while, and I was just late to the party. My non-fiction pick goes to Just Kids by Patti Smith, and I don’t think you need to be a fan of her music to luxuriate in her writing.

There are quite a few books I read either because I felt I should have them on my list at some point (Little Women, a Sherlock Holmes and an Agatha Christie) which is not to say they aren’t worth their classic status. Plenty I read out of what I’d term “professional interest” – typically award winners, or the ones everyone seems to be reading/have read (Big Little Lies, The Girl on the Train, Eat, Pray, Love etc.)

More as an aside, I haven’t listed the times I’ve listened to Harry Potter on audiobook. Really this is because I listen to it in bed to help me drift off, have stopped and started all over the series for several years now, and it’s hard to put a number on the amount of times I’ve covered each book. Having said that, I’ve been gifted a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone translated into Scots, and also have some of the books in German. When I read those, they’ll definitely make the list.

Please let me know what you’ve read and enjoyed this year. As it turns out, even when I don’t set a goal of 100+ books, sometimes these things just happen and I don’t really do much else.

  1. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  2. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  3. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
  4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple
  5. The Drifters – James A. Michener (this one was a reread)
  6. The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
  7. Just Kids – Patti Smith
  8. The World According to Anna – Jostein Gaarder
  9. The Carnivorous Carnival – Lemony Snicket
  10. Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson
  11. Regions of Thick-Ribbed Ice – Helen Garner
  12. M Train – Patti Smith
  13. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  14. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt
  15. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
  16. Tin Man – Sarah Winman
  17. Our Souls at Night – Kent Haruf
  18. Down the Hume – Peter Polites
  19. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
  20. Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  21. The Journey Back from Hell: Memoirs of Concentration Camp Survivors – Anton Gill
  22. Midnight Express – Billy Hayes with William Hoffer
  23. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
  24. The Slippery Slope – Lemony Snicket
  25. Maus – Art Spiegelman
  26. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
  27. All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
  28. The Return – Hisham Matar
  29. The View from the Cheap Seats – Neil Gaiman
  30. Bertie Plays the Blues – Alexander McCall Smith
  31. If I Forget You – T. C. Greene
  32. The Museum of Modern Love – Heather Rose
  33. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells – Andrew Sean Greer
  34. What Belongs to You – Garth Greenwell
  35. The Ruins of Gorland – John Flanagan
  36. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante
  37. The Lost Pages – Marija Pericic
  38. The Girl from Everywhere – Heidi Heilig
  39. The Idiot – Elif Batuman
  40. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
  41. Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami
  42. Carry On – Rainbow Rowell
  43. The Girls – Emma Cline
  44. Woman of Substances – Jenny Valentish
  45. Reckoning – Magda Szubanski
  46. Everywhere I Look – Helen Garner
  47. What W. H. Auden Can Do For You – Alexander McCall Smith
  48. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
  49. The Nothing – Hanif Kureishi
  50. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  51. Flesh Wounds – Richard Glover
  52. A Long Way Home – Saroo Brierley
  53. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy
  54. Out of Orange – Cleary Wolters
  55. Half Wild – Pip Smith
  56. The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce
  57. The Sun is also a Star – Nicola Yoon
  58. The Weight of Him – Ethel Rohan
  59. Go Ask Alice – Anonymous
  60. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  61. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
  62. The Magic Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton (reread)
  63. Spectacles – Sue Perkins
  64. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith
  65. Candy – Luke Davies
  66. Colombiano – Rusty Young
  67. Fight Like a Girl – Clementine Ford
  68. A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters – Julian Barnes
  69. Gut: the Inside Story of our Body’s most Underrated Organ – Giulia Enders
  70. The Last Great Australian Adventurer – Gordon Bass
  71. Hunger: a Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay
  72. Commonwealth – Ann Patchett
  73. Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
  74. The Age of Kali – William Dalrymple
  75. Between a Wolf and a Dog – Georgia Blain
  76. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard (reread)
  77. Note to Self – Connor Franta
  78. More Fool Me – Stephen Fry
  79. Turtles all the Way Down – John Green
  80. Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noel Harari
  81. Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend
  82. Sunshine on Scotland Street – Alexander McCall Smith
  83. How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: on the Importance of Armchair Travel – Pierre Bayard
  84. Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  85. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Mark Manson
  86. His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet
  87. Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet
  88. Holy Cow: an Indian Adventure – Sarah Macdonald (reread)
  89. The Underdog – Markus Zusak
  90. Far from the Tree – Robin Benway
  91. The Bricks that Built the Houses – Kate Tempest
  92. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
  93. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
  94. Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
  95. Going Solo – Roald Dahl
  96. Feel Free – Zadie Smith
  97. Goodbye Christopher Robin – Ann Thwaite
  98. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick
  99. Devotion – Patti Smith
  100. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  101. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
  102. Adventures of a Young Naturalist: the Zoo Quest Expeditions –David Attenborough
  103. The Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
  104. A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman


Oh, and here I am with some of my best friends. We had sold out of Eleanor Oliphant, so last year’s fav stepped in.