Secrets of a French Checkout Operative
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Partner, Fine
There are some people that many of us take
for granted and never even notice. We either ignore them or use them as
a target on which we can vent the frustrations of the day. Amongst these,
frequently, are checkout staff. Checkout staff who many of us only greet,
let alone thank, on the rarest of occasions.
But one of that category has decided to vent her own frustrations. Anna Sam,
who worked in a French supermarket for almost a decade, has written a book
about her experiences with customers and employers alike. Since its appearance
in France last year, Les Tribulations d’une Caissière (The Tribulations of a Checkout Girl) has been
reprinted 19 times and sold 100,000 copies, according to a report in The Times. The film rights have also been acquired,
a musical comedy based on it is planned and a comic-strip version is to
appear this year. English is not one of the ten languages into which it
has been translated.
Ms. Sam claims that despite smiling at shoppers,
she received "little besides insults and disdain in return. She witnessed
behavior ranging from the loathsome to the lustful
– queue-jumping, cheating, thieving, moaning and sometimes a quick
fondle between the meat and the cheese counter." Self-important managers
watched from behind a one-way mirror.
Described by the paper as "the voice
of the voiceless, and the witty observer of a place that seems to bring
out the worst in us all," Ms. Sam often said "bonjour" 250
times a day but received few responses. She needed authorization to go
to the toilet from managers who kept her waiting. When greeting families
at the cash register, parents warned their children, "If you don’t
work hard at school, you’ll end up like that lady."
A blog to let off
steam eventually led to the book. Her advice is now sought by politicians,
retailers and even a cash register manufacturer developing a training course
for his products’ use. But her main advice to retailers is that both managers
and checkout staff would benefit from training in how to deal with people
as well as products. "You can’t educate shoppers to behave better
but you can train employees to handle them," she said.
Discussion questions: How would you rate
working conditions for retail cashiers and sales associates? Are retailers
doing enough to teach managers and checkout staff how to deal with people?