“I’m looking for this book, it has a green cover, do you know which one I mean?”
(Or my first month working in a bookshop)
A few weeks ago, I started working in a major bookshop in the city centre of Hamburg. So far, I love my new job a lot but it’s also wild. So, let me tell you a bit about it.
Apparently, before working there, I’ve been to this bookshop too often and one of my now-colleagues started recognising me whenever I came in. Then one day, he asked me if I needed a job and I applied. They invited me for an interview, the assistant manager liked me, and I got the job, which is awesome. I was asked to come by one day before my official first day, the manager and I talked about some organisational stuff, and she showed me around the rooms for the employees. When she was done, she led me to a table filled with books and told me that they are free for us to take. I looked at the books and there were a couple of English ARCs (advanced reader copies), which are copies of books that are not yet published. So, in terms of my first day there, it couldn’t have gotten any better.
My actual first day at work went well. Quite a few of my co-workers were there, so I was able to ask many questions even after a patient trainee showed me around. It was great to start off easy, especially since I was pretty much thrown in the deep end with this job. There still are so many parts about it that I have not yet learnt. Since then, my days there are a mixture of realising that I can do some things now and feeling like I know nothing. It is a bit terrifying to wonder whether you will be able to help a customer with their request or be terribly incompetent every time they approach you. I love/hate it because it stresses me out quite a bit, but I don’t think my job would be half as interesting if I could easily answer every question I get.
As a rather introverted person, customer contact is not always easy. I have not yet encountered a lot of awful people, thank goodness. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one really mean lady. Luckily, my co-worker kindly took over talking to her because I was overwhelmed. However, the amount of weird, sometimes unsolvable questions you get in a day surprised me. From the man who asked me about the wonderful coffee machine we used to have five years ago to the person who ordered a book on how to grow back body parts by thinking of a certain number sequence (I am not kidding!), I feel like I have already heard it all in the month I have worked there so far. Additionally, it seems as if customers think of booksellers as some sort of magical search engine that works better than Google, Yahoo, Bing, and what have you combined. Here’s a short overview of the most ridiculous questions I have received so far.
- The classic: “I’m looking for a book. It has a green cover. I do not know the title or author.”
- “I would like to buy this book…I think it’s about a maid.” (Good thing they meant The Handmaid’s Tale, otherwise I would have had absolutely no clue!)
- “You had these small books once. Do you know which ones I mean?” (This is literally what the person said. Nothing else. Completely seriously. I still have no idea which ones she was talking about.)
Even though sometimes these as well as other returning questions such as “do you have any more children’s books?” (the answer is yes, by the way. They are upstairs.) can get annoying and difficult to deal with in a polite manner, they are funny stories to tell and what keeps my job interesting. I work in the English books section, which includes the counter where you can pick up ordered books. I am glad I get to work there rather than the other sections, since I would probably be a bit lost otherwise.
Before I tell you about the perks of this job and what I like about it the most, I will briefly mention some negatives. Firstly, having to wrap books as presents is quite hard and annoying, even more so when you need to do it quickly. It is already stressing me out sometimes and it is not even Christmas season yet. However, I am probably going to get a lot of practice in the next few weeks and will hopefully improve my wrapping skills. Secondly, I only work 1-2 days a week (because I am a full-time-student) and therefore, I sometimes find it hard to determine whether I should ask a co-worker to explain something or teach me how to do something that I don’t do there on a daily basis. On one hand, it could be useful to learn, so I can help. On the other hand, it might just be superfluous considering the task itself takes less time than explaining it to me.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to love about this job (besides just being around books the whole day). I enjoy working with books, sorting them into the shelves, and reading blurbs, otherwise I would not have applied for this job. It’s refreshing that, when the number of customers in the shop allows it, I can just have a conversation with my colleagues without getting yelled at by my boss (which was the case at my previous job). Talking to people who love books as much as I do is a great perk. Last week, a co-worker, who recently started working full time, and I realised that he had studied the exact same thing I do now (minor included). This made me more optimistic about being able to find a job after my studies. Another part I am enjoying a lot is that I get to recommend books to other people. Granted, I often have no recommendation for someone, simply because I have not read many books from genres that do not interest me as much, like thrillers for instance. But when I can give a recommendation, it is amazing when the customer is convinced by my enthusiasm about a book and decides to give it a go. On my first day working at the bookshop, a girl asked me to recommend a fantasy book and I showed her a couple. She then bought one of my favourite books. That was a great feeling. (The book is called The Priory of the Orange Tree written by Samantha Shannon; if you have any interest in fantasy, you should read it!) Lastly, it’s good that this job gets me out of my comfort zone. I get very nervous talking to people I don’t know. Working in a job with constant customer contact makes it virtually impossible to overthink every single interaction you’ve had/ are having/ will have. I like to think that I’m growing a thicker skin, especially when it comes to people being angry at me about something I am not responsible for.
Starting work at this bookshop was an amazing idea and I never thought that I would be hired there. I feel like I am learning so much about work life, dealing with customers, and about the books we sell. I am so grateful for this experience (although maybe ask me again during Christmastime, that’s going to be stressful). Just being around books brings me so much joy and I like talking about them the whole day. In conclusion: follow your dreams, kids! They may be closer than you think.
-Tjorven was listening to “Poetry by Dead Men” by Sara Bareilles while writing this article.