Customer: “Excuse me, is this a library?”

Me (regarding the massive sing which says ‘booksellers’ and numerous other company logos all around): “er, no, this is a bookshop.”

Later that same day…

Elderly gentleman complete with cravat: “I’m looking for a book. I don’t know the name of it but I think it is a biography by Steven Coe about Brian Johnstone.”

Unable to find such a book I ask if he is certain of any of these details. Hmm, maybe it’s Bryan not Brian? Nope. Stephen Coe not Steven? No. Find a biography of Brian Johnston the cricket commentator. Nope, not it. Okay, need more solid information to help you. Book is just out. No, I need actual information to search for you. Old eejit now tells me he is going to a launch for this book and needs a copy because his preview hasn’t arrived from the publisher. This is of course, my fault. Is miffed I don’t know what he doesn’t bloody know, as most idiots are. He then ponders it and thinks it may be written by Sebastian Coe. Er, the former Olympic athlete turned Tory politician? This is when you realise your customer knows nothing, is guessing and won’t admit it. Still your fault for not knowing what the book they don’t actually know themselves is…

You’d think if you were reviewing the book and going to the launch you’d know what it was bloody called and who wrote it, wouldn’t you? Is that too much to expect? He makes a call after wasting my time for ten minutes and it transpires he is after a new book by Jonathan Coe called Fiery Elephants, a life of B.S. Johnston… How do you forget a title like Fiery Elephants???? Anyway, I check the new info and find it is due to be released the end of this week and neither we or our other Edinburgh stores have received the book yet. He nods then asks where we keep it. I explain once more the book is not yet published and we do not have it in yet, adding it should be due in the next few days. He nods again, fingers his cravat (which can get you arrested in some parts of Tennessee you know) and asks which section we have the book in… Took four times of re-iterating the same sentence to get him to understand, at which point he moaned that we did didn’t have the latest books… I tried to point out that the book isn’t published yet, which is further evinced by the fact he is going to a launch for the book in a couple of days, an event which, in bookselling terms, means a party when the book comes out… He shakes his head with disgust and buggers off finally…

Large, middle-aged, fat American man (with very loud and fat wife who bellows to him right across the bookstore – decorum rating: nil): “Where have y’all got the books on whisky at?”. They’re in the Drinks section at the end of Cookery on the first floor. He looks puzzled, wrinkles his Neolithic brow and asks “drinks section?” Yes, there is a section on drinks at the end of the Cookery books section. “Drinks?” he asks again, clearly astonished. Where does he expect books on whisky to be? In the children’s section? Okay, maybe he’s from Kentucky or something and that is where they keep them. He chews it over for a further moment then seems to realise that I have actually told him how to find what he’s looking for and lurches off, laughing to himself and saying ‘drinks’ repeatedly before hollering at the top of his voice to his fat wife on the other side of the bookstore that he’s going upstairs. She naturally has to bellow back that she’s going to wait here. Very kind of them to let most of Princes Street know that.

And to round off the day, a customer in is late fifties or so being served by my Virginian chum Kate as I come behind the till. Being a nice chap I bag their books while she rings them through the till. First ‘gentleman’ (I use the word advisedly) remarks loudly to his friend and to Kate ‘what is that?’ while looking at me. Now you can imagine this sort of thing would bug most people. He then goes on to say that ‘in his day’ booksellesr looked very different and were smarter in shirt and tie… Thought about remarking that the Victorian era ended over a century ago and that in my day people were free to be different without rude people commenting so crassly. Then again, maybe I was brought up more politely. Instead favour the old arsehole with stern and disapproving look which he doesn’t like, but he can kiss my magnificent Celtic ass, before adding in my day people were taught to have better manners.

Oh, I love working with the public. And people wonder why do I want a new job? How could I give all of this up?

Enquiry of the Month

Enquiry of the Month goes to the elderly man with the long, straggly beard. In a time of many a stupid question he takes the ship’s biscuit for asking me where in Edinburgh he could obtain an 18th century sextant. Bear in mind I work in a bookstore, not a store specialising in purveying the finest navigational instruments of previous historical eras. When I told him I had no idea and that if anyone did have an 18th century sextant for sale it would most likely be at Christie’s Auction Rooms he was not amused. Shaking his greasy grey hair and ratty beard he explained to me that he was, of course, looking for a shop which sold replica 18th century sextants. Ah, I thinks, why didn’t you say that the first time? Have you tried Ye Olde Sextant Simulacra Store on the Canongate? It’s run by the Sea Captain from the Simpsons when he’s not filming the series… I love working with the public… I did try to be helpful but had no idea of where to help and he seemed most annoyed that I couldn’t tell him where to obtain replicas of 200 year old navigational devices.

Bloody customers

Oh dear, back to work today after a week of leisure and pleasure. After a mere few hours back in the bookstore I realise just how enormously unsatisfying working in the Borg cube of our individuality-is-irrelevant chain is. Not helped by a stream of incredibly stupid questions from customers.

For example I had a gentlemen show me two editions of a Graham Swift novel. One edition (both are paperbacks) is clearly marked as five pounds and ninety nine pence. The other is equally clearly marked as six pounds and ninety nine pence, but with a bright yellow sticker proclaiming “two pounds off.” What does our incredibly incisive customer ask? He asks which is cheaper. No, I am not kidding. And you thought we would only get smart customers in a book store, right? I am afraid we get plenty of people who have obviously just consumed a couple of retard sandwiches for their lunch. One to file with the customer who returned a book called Mexican Cooking because it wasn’t what she thought it was. Presumably she thought Mexican Cooking was actually a book about the wildlife of the Galapagos. Where do they come from? And why do they all bother me?

In order to find ways to deal with the working day we poor booksellers have to find ways to lighten the mood, to amuse ourselves. Making fun of customers and rubbishing their literary choices is one way (yes, we pass judgement on everything you buy). Today I found a new way to keep myself amused at work. I find an Asian tourist who is browsing some of our books and stand near to them then beginning coughing and sneezing. The look on their face is priceless. Yes, I know you are all thinking how sick I am, but just go on and try it. Those who work in areas of high tourism will enjoy it.