Why “Thank You” Matters – a story from when I worked retail

Between the end of my university job and leaving for Korea, I briefly worked in a CD and DVD store.

After working retail, I have a firm belief that everyone should be forced to either wait tables or work retail at least once in their lives, so that they’ll understand that the people who work those jobs are overworked, underpaid, and (very often) thrown into the deep end and expected to start doing laps of Olympic level butterfly.

And the people you deal with in those jobs? Unbelievable. Working retail or being a waiter seems to be an excuse for someone to treat you like shit. I was only in the store for six or seven weeks, but it was over the holiday period. I dealt with people, and their kids, and all kinds of other bullshit on a daily basis. I have stories that you wouldn’t believe.

But that isn’t one of those stories.

There are a range of stories in those jobs of people being suddenly and unexpectedly kind. There are people who realise that you’re not just a badge and uniform. There’s more to you than taking orders or finding things for them.

This is one of those stories.

It was a few days before Christmas, and a lady came into the store. As was my job, I approached her and asked if I could help. She started to describe the plot of a movie. In the movie, a man’s wife commits suicide after his death. From the afterlife, he decides to brave the journey to find her. She looks at me – looking a tiny bit upset – and asks me if I know it. I immediately reassure her that I do. It’s What Dreams May Come, and the title is a reference to a line from Hamlet. I quote the line to her, and run off to find the DVD for her. We’ve got one. I run around the various racks until I find it.

As I hand it to her, she tears up immediately, and looks at me. And, so rarely for a job in retail, she looks at me. She looks me dead in the eye and says “You don’t know how much this means.”

Her friend’s son (I think. It was a while ago) had committed suicide. This movie, somehow, was going to make everything better. She thanked me, repeatedly, in a way that you don’t get thanked in retail. Profusely, with genuine feeling.

It wasn’t “Thank you, you did your job.” It was “Thank you, you just helped to fix my world.” My job seemed so small, and the pay was really low, and the customers were often shitty… but it suddenly meant the world to me to know that, even though my job was mall and I was tired and people were shitty, what I did could still mean that much to someone.

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