I’ve been living the bookstore life since my twentieth, when I left my old art supply store job for a bookstore job, juggling my Comparative Literature bachelor all at the same time. So yes, throughout these years I’ve made some clumsy mistakes and said or asked some funny things. Not on purpose, if I might say so, but still more than once I have managed to annoy, embarrass and maybe even hurt a customer. So here’s a trip down memory lane, me presenting a list to all of you wonderful readers of something that I like to call some book selling mishaps made by me.
- Once a customer bought several male oriented (this is code for erotic) magazines, which also consisted of two identical Playboys. Me, trying to be the motivated and dedicated employee my bookstore job demanded me to be, asked what I always ask a customer when they want to pay – although, this time, with a poker face: “Are there any gifts?” The answer was a firm no.
- Another similar situation only occurred about a week ago, when a mother, together with her two teenage sons wanted to buy a cookbook and a magazine. Me, while scanning the cookbook, asked the woman if there were any gifts, only then realizing that the second thing I scanned was a Playboy. Mother and sons looked rather uncomfortably at me while answering my question, again, with a firm no.
- I also once accidentally hit a customer in the groin with a map of the world (I guess you can spot a pattern here). Although this might sound kind of weird: it was one of these huge maps that you hang on the wall for decoration or inspiration that comes in one of those large tubes. While trying to scan the monstrosity, I gently pushed the tube a bit further away from the counter, not realizing that it was on groin-level. Luckily for me, his girlfriend could laugh about it, and so did he kind of, and I muttered an embarrassed ‘oops, sorry.’
- This one also happened quite recently and involves Robert Harris’s bestselling crime novel An Officer and a Spy, which apparently is about the Dreyfus Affair. A customer asked me for that book about the Dreyfus Affair. Me, having no idea which book she was talking about, assumed she wanted some kind of political work, so I told her that were we to have it, the book would be in the political section, at the same time explaining where exactly that section is (it’s a big store). I thought I was being nice and helpful, but she just looked kind of strange at me and said, obviously very annoyed, that it is supposed to be a thriller. This I like to call a great example of how, as a bookseller, you are suppose to know every little detail of every book and every genre, and magically are supposed to have read everything, and by this I literally mean every single book. So yes, this mishap shows that my expertise is definitely not in the crime/thriller section, but I do the best I can, I swear.
- This last example has a moral: Don’t go to work while being sick, it will never end well. A few years ago, when the bookstore wanted to promote its website, we had to hand out these little cards with which customers would get free shipping. While handing these cards out we also had to do a ‘smooth’ sales pitch. And me, trying to be goody-two-shoes and all loyal – still in my innocent early twenties I’d like to add – handed a card to two young male customers while also doing my sales pitch. One of the males, trying to be flirty asked me: “Will you be delivering the books then?” At which I, naively, said (why Maritza, why?!) “Why yes, but only in the middle of the night.” A few moments later the actual meaning (not the meaning I had in my head, which I will explain to you in a bit) of what I had just said kicked in and it did immediately for my colleagues and the customer. My colleagues did what anyone would do in a situation like this: they laughed their ass off.Although I know how this might sound, it wasn’t anything like it (at least for me) at all, I swear! To be fair, that day I had a really bad cold, the one that makes your eyes tear up, gives you a runny nose and an impeccable American accent were you to speak English. In other words, I had the flu. Somehow I didn’t think I was ill enough to call in sick, so I just decided to go to work anyway: Worst. Decision. Ever. Anyway, when I told the customer that I would only deliver his books in the middle of the night what I actually meant was how annoying it would be if someone would deliver something to someone at that time of the day, because who wants to be woken up while being asleep, am I right or am I right? I guess my stream-of-consciousness made sense for me at that particular moment, but yeah, in real life: not so much. On a positive note: I’m pretty sure I made a lasting impression.
Maritza Dubravac is our new columnist, writing about her bookstore life. Besides organizing the YA book club with us, she’s a mean cook and bakes the free tasties for those evenings. She also writes for Books & Bubbles, Hebban.nl about books and sometimes dabbles in food writing at Nadelunch.com.