A Christmas Story

‘Twas six more sleeps before Santa arrived, to distribute all the material objects that seem to make children so happy. The shopping centers were filled with frantic folk, doing the last of their Christmas shopping, and buying up as much toilet paper as they could. Another Covid cluster, growing by the day, had people nervous and on edge.

For some, work is over for the year, granting them two weeks off to enjoy the season and their families. For those in retail, though, shit is just about to hit the fan. The last few days, with extended opening hours and more and more stressed customers, was less amusing than a boil in the butt crack. You see, while Christmas is magical and blessed for some people, for those behind the register, it’s a nightmare. Retail sucks what little magic is left from the soul, and leaves one feeling both exhausted and resentful.

This year was no exception. With the news of the fresh cluster and borders being slammed shut, she knew she would not get her one Christmas wish. For all she wanted this year was to see her family, to hug her parents and rekindle her love of the occasion.

Each and every day, she would hear customers’ plans for Christmas. Most of them were grumbles about seeing family and having to cook, or grumbles for going to so-and-so’s for Christmas day. Very few people seem to appreciate their family; for them, Christmas is about giving and receiving gifts, and eating a big meal. Whatever happened to the true – non-religious version – spirit of Christmas?

She found herself pondering daily. Is retail really worth it? Is slogging one’s guts out for the company’s shareholders really that rewarding, when the only day we get off is Christmas day? Where’s our magical Christmas?

Thankfully, not all customers were horrible. There in Western Sydney, she was used to serving people from different cultures and religious backgrounds. With a smile, she remembered fondly a conversation she had with a customer a few years back.

“My family and I moved here from India a few years ago. While we still celebrate our cultural holidays and traditions, I make it a rule in my household to also celebrate Australian holidays and traditions. This is our home now, so we must become a part of the community. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Meanwhile, an older couple, perhaps in their seventies, walked into the store. She watched as the man gazed around in arrogant wonder, before glancing at her behind the register.

“It’s so good to hear Christmas carols playing in a store!” This man looked as though he wanted a pat on the back.

“To be honest, the same three albums on loop are tedious after a day or two. The same songs every few hours. I wish could blend them with some other music.” She sighed.

“No, it’s good to hear the carols. Every other store is too afraid to offend anyone!!” He proclaimed.

She stared at him.

She looked across at the Muslim lady wearing a full covering, humming along to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.

She looked at the Indian family picking out Secret Santa gifts.

She looked at the Bangladesh lady struggling to read a sign to determine what on earth the item was in her hands.

She looked back at the arrogant old white man before her, and stared at him blankly.

With a start of realisation, he turned around in a huff and dragged his wife from the store. Like, seriously?!

Before she could even shake her head at the stupidity of the man, the Bangladeshi lady approached the counter. She could not speak English, but made hand gestures to indicate that she wanted to know if the item was for boy or girl.

“This one for boy, it’s a lunch box. $24.95, after discount, $19.95.” She tried the explain.

The woman stared, the words clearly meaningless. Her eyes reflected her confusion, the dimness of misunderstanding within.

“Buy this one. Ten dollar. Better gift for boy,” she offered instead, pointing at a more appropriate gift. She could see that the woman was still confused, but smiled and nodded.

The woman paid and managed a thank-you.

There. Was it really so hard to be nice to people from other countries?

The next person in line looked purposefully at the other woman leaving, then plonked their items on the counter.

“How did you know that gift was more appropriate than the one she brought up to the counter?” They asked curiously. “I don’t mean this in a racist way, but I couldn’t understand her at all.”

“Mate. I have been in retail for 18 years. This is a kid’s store, so:

“A. She’s here for a kid’s gift. This brand is well known all over the world, even in her country. So she knows she’s in the right store.

“B. When you have been doing this job as long as I have, you learn the international sign language that indicates boy, girl, roughly how old they are, and so on. She was shopping for six year old boy for his birthday, but wasn’t sure if that lunchbox was right. She thought it was a pencil case, so I suggested a more suitable option.

“C. She may not speak English, but we were still able to communicate. Just because we don’t speak the same language, it doesn’t mean she’s stupid and can be taken advantage of. I treated her just as I would treat any other customer.”

“You can really tell all of that just by a few hand gestures?” The customer looked awed.

“Yep. Just like I can see that you are buying for a boy and girl, presumably around 5 or 6 years of age.”

“Oh wow, you’re good!”

“In that case, I have these balls here on special for $4 each. They are so much fun, you should get them one each. They’ll love playing with them.” Her eyes glinted mischievously.

“Oh ok, sure thing.”

The customer paid for their goods, and she packed them in two separate bags and handed them over with the receipt. The customer was oblivious to her sly upsell technique; anyone who works retail knows about KPIs an such.

“There you go. Have a Merry Christmas, and make sure you spread the kindness around. The world needs as much kindness as possible right now. Bye bye.”

As the customer left, she leant on her elbows on the counter and stared out of the doorway. Sure, Christmas sucked for her, but she would not be grumpy about it and spread bitterness amongst her customers. She knew that her own attitude, and the way she treats others, has the potential to make or break someone’s day. The least she could do was serve them with a smile, and give them the best experience possible. Maybe, just maybe, she could be the magic that gives someone a very special, merry, Christmas.

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