Customer Review

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique insights into an everyday experience, 12 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Checkout: A Life on the Tills (Paperback)
It was fun reading the inside story on working in superstores in Anna Sam's book Checkout. If ever there was a lightweight holiday read this is it, but it also worth reading as a snapshot of something in daily life we take for granted - the visit to the supermarket till.

Anna Sam worked for eight years in a Leclerc superstore in Rennes as a check-out operator (a job which she amusingly describes as "beepeuse" in her interview with the Daily Telegraph). With her degree in French literature, Anna Sam was never going to be content with sitting at the till year in year out, and when she cottoned on to the power of the Internet, she launched her blog, Les Tribulations d'une Cassiere, which became an instant success.

Book deals and possible film offers followed with the result that Anna Sam is no longer a beepeuse, showing once again the power of the Internet to catapult people into prominence.

Enough of the background. Checkout is a humorous but also rather humbling account of the experience of dealing with customers - people like you and me who have to shop and try to keep the experience as quick and efficient as possible, often ignoring the real people who work in our local stores. Customers continue mobile phone conversations while packing their bags. They sneeze over the operator. They belittle the staff in front of their children ("if you don't work hard at school you will end up in a job like this").

The check-out operator has to handle an unremitting stream of packages passing on their conveyor while dealing with people who are downright stupid and often unacceptably rude. The chirpy "good morning" and the friendly smiles are compulsory behaviours enforced by the company, and employees are generally denied any way of responding to behaviour which would be not allowed anywhere else.

Anna Sam describes all the different types of customer and the reader may cringe at recognising themselves. There are the people who start snarling when there is a hold-up ahead of them. The people who always complain about the lack of free bags. The impatient ones who can't bear to take a moment longer at the checkout than is absolutely necessary and the people who linger in the store right up to closing time. The people who open a bag of crisps to eat a few then put the bag on the conveyor so it empties its contents on the belt. The smelly customers, and those who hide their money in strange places about their person then hand it to you still warm from their bodies - supermarkets are dirty places!

This is not a "literary" read, but its worth a look. I was left thinking that it should be compulsory reading for shoppers as a reminder that we really can't treat other people as robots. Shop-workers have the most unenviable of jobs and suffer long hours and low pay. If Anna Tam reminds us that there are real people working in supermarkets she will have done a good job
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Location: Sussex, England

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