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Never Trust a Smiling Sales Clerk

July 30, 2010

I’ve always been a rather straightforward person, saying what I think and doing what I say. As such, I’m constantly amazed at how, now that I’m working in sales, I can be perfectly polite to customers while fantasizing about hitting them in the head with a heavy object.

(If you’re offended by swearing, maybe you shouldn’t read this post. According to my best friend, I ‘look so small and sweet, but eat like a lumberjack and curse like a sailor’.)


'I don't know. It's red.' - Pelargonium

‘Good morning, how can I help you?’ I’ll brightly greet the first customers of the day, and what I think is, ‘Oh go away. Can’t you see I’m sweeping the shop? Do you people always have to come when I’ve just shaken out the doormat?’


‘Surfinias? Yes, we’ve got Surrrrrfinias right back there,’ I tell them, while secretly rolling my eyes and thinking, ‘It’s Surfinias, not Sulfinias! What the hell is wrong with you people here? Stop talking like cartoon Chinese!’


‘Yes, the weather is quite miserable, isn’t it?’ I say, counting out lettuce plants with rainwater dripping down on my head, the wind ripping the wrapping paper out of my hands and my fingers stiff with cold. But really – don’t whine to me about the weather! Who do you think works in this fucking rain and fucking cold every fucking day? So  shut the fuck up!

'I don't know. It's red.' - Rose

‘Good morning, how can I he…’



I haven’t yet found a polite way of saying, ‘When I say, “help you”, I don’t mean by carrying your plants! I’m not a bloody shopping trolley!’


‘Wax begonias? Yes, of course we’ve got wax begonias, right through here,’ I say calmly, while repressing a shriek of, ‘It’s wax BEGONIAS, you idiots, not wax pelargoniums or wax petunias, can’t you learn to keep that straight already?!

'I don't know. It's red.' - Zinnia

‘Good afternoon, how can I help you?’, said just after 12, most likely means, ‘Oh, piss off. I’m already half an hour late for my lunch break, and if you get on my nerves, I might just eat you.’


‘Busy lizzies?’ I have to ask, cautiously, almost every day. What the hell is wrong with Austrians – why do they have to call everything ‘fuchsia’? ‘Fuchserl‘ (litterally ‘little foxes’) are fuchsias, ‘Eisfuchserl‘ (‘ice fuchsias’) are wax begonias, and ‘Wasserfuchserl‘ (‘water fuchsias’) are impatiens, and most of the time, they’ll just call everything ‘Fuchserl‘, and look at me like an idiot if I can’t read their mind to tell what exactly they want. Of course, I look at them like idiots, too – when they’re not looking.

'I don't know. It's red.' - Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)

‘Yes? Can you remember how big they were?’ I ask patiently, while suppressing the urge to bang my head against the wall. Because ‘It’s got leaves. Green leaves’ really doesn’t help me find the plant you want. I mean, really? Green? As opposed to what – bright red with purple dots? Especially when the plant with ‘green leaves’ you’re looking for is, in fact, variegated.


‘I’m sorry, the boss is not in at the moment – maybe I can also help you?’ It’s really boring having to ask this, when I just want to bang my fist on the counter and say, ‘I’m a fully qualified horticulturist myself, not some silly school kid earning a bit of money over the holidays, so stop assuming I can’t answer your questions!’

'I don't know. It's red.' - Canna indica 'Firebird'

‘Oh, just comfortably warm,’ I’ll say with a laugh when asked if it’s hot, with the sun burning down, 30°C and more in the shade. Of course it’s hot! Hot! Hooooot! Must water! Go away, must water! Water on plants! Water on head! Water on hands! Water in mouth! Water! Water hooooot!


‘I’m sorry, I can’t recognize it from this description, but let me show you a few possibilities…’ We walk up and down the greenhouses and I point out plants with the appropriate flower colour, wondering how people can be so blind… If you’re looking for a plant, and it absolutely has to be one particular kind, maybe you should remember a bit more about it than, ‘it’s pink and green’! I mean, seriously, how hard is it to remember how tall the plant was, how big the leaves and flowers were, were they star-shaped, trumpet-shaped, daisy-like? I’m trying to fucking help you by asking about these things, so please say something more than, ‘I don’t know. They’re red.’

'I don't know. It's red.' - Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire'

Later in the afternoon, the evasion tactics start:

‘You’re finding everything you need?’ translates to, ‘Please say you don’t need me, please say you don’t need me!’

‘If you need me, I’ll be over there,’ means, ‘Please don’t bother me, I’ve got a lot to do, and I’d so much rather do all of it than talk to another customer today!’

‘Maybe I could go and give that lady over there her lettuce plants while you think it over again?’ is not so much a courtesy to that lady waiting for her lettuce as an attempt at escape from one of those incredibly annoying indecisive customers.

And if there’s no-one else waiting to be served, and I know I can’t keep from murdering or at least severely injuring that indecisive customer if I stick around for a moment longer, I’ll just stammer, ‘I have to… really urgently… um… over there…’ and run off to water something that doesn’t really need to be watered, or to restock something that didn’t really have to be restocked quite yet.

And if even that doesn’t work, well, I might just give that customer a puzzled look while ringing them up at last, and say, ‘oh my, you seem to have a plant with a damaged pot here…’ They don’t need to know I’ve been pretending that pot is their neck…

Sorry for squeezing your rootball like that, little Oxalis... but you know you'll get repotted as soon as flowerpots go on sale tomorrow. Also, how's that for a picture taken by pressing the shutter with my chin?

And at last, it’s going-home time, which during Spring Madness means I’ve been on my feet and talking to stupid customers for nearly ten hours, and then another car drives up… ‘Good evening, how can I help you?’ I say, still polite, still cheerful, but really that’s just another way of saying, ‘Fuck off and let me go home!

'I don't know. It's red.' - Mandevilla

It’s really quite amazing what can hide behind a cheerful smile, polite words and a calm and professional tone…

… I’ll never again trust any sales clerk, especially not one with a cheerful smile.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 03:37

    Dragging a plant description out of a potential customer, detail by detail, is about the least fun thing ever.

    THEM: I don’t know, it had green leaves, and it was about [gestures] this tall. . . .
    ME: Well, uh, “green leaves” covers pretty much everything we have. Was it variegated at all?
    THEM: “Variegated?”
    ME: Spotted or marked with other colors?
    THEM: Oh yes.
    ME: .
    THEM: .
    ME: Which other colors?
    THEM: Sort of white, I guess.
    ME: And was it white dots, or white splotches, or white stripes or what?
    THEM: I don’t remember. Dots maybe?
    ME: Okay, and so how big were the leaves?
    THEM: I don’t know.
    [ME: You don’t know? Weren’t you there?]
    ME: Well, do you remember what shape they were?
    THEM: Shape?
    ME: You know, like, oval, or long and narrow, or heart-shaped.
    THEM: I don’t know. It was green, and it was about [gestures] this tall.
    ME: Yes, I know, you said that already. But what did the leaves look like? Specifically?
    THEM: Well, they had white variegation on them.
    ME: Okay. Um. Was it a vine? Did it climb something, or did it trail down out of a hanging basket, maybe?
    THEM: Yes.
    ME: So it’s a vine with white-variegated green leaves that was about [gestures] this tall.
    THEM: Yes, I already told you.
    ME: [grabbing a ‘Marble Queen’ pothos] Was this your plant?
    THEM: No, it wasn’t that.
    ME: [grabbing an ‘N’Joy’ pothos] Was this your plant?
    THEM: No, it didn’t look anything like that.
    ME: [pointing to white-variegated Hedera helix] Was this your plant?
    THEM: No. I told you the leaves were bigger than that.
    ME: No you di . . . okay. Fine. Um. This one? [points to white-variegated Hedera canariensis]
    THEM: No, not that. It was taller.
    ME: Well, uh, I’m pretty much out of ideas here. Maybe if you look around for a little while, you might see it, or something that looks like it?
    THEM: .
    THEM: .
    THEM: .
    THEM: It had green leaves, and it was [gestures] about this tall.
    ME: Yes, well. I don’t think we have it, then. But maybe you might see something else. . . .
    THEM: You’re not going to help me?
    ME: I can’t help you find a plant if you don’t know what it looks like.
    THEM: [taken aback] But I told you what it looks like. I said it was . . . oh! There it is! [points to Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’]
    ME: But that isn’t. . . . [blinking] Okay, well, let me get this up to the counter for you, then.
    THEM: Well how much is it, first?
    ME: $44.95.
    THEM: $44.95? For that thing?
    ME: Yes.
    THEM: Well, I’m really more looking for something under $10.
    ME: This is the cheapest one we’ve got, unfortunately.
    THEM: Oh. Do you know if Lowe’s has them?
    ME: [blink] I really don’t work for Lowe’s, so much. . . .
    THEM: Oh well. I’ll just go check. Thanks so much for your help! [EXEUNT THEM]
    ME: [whimper]

    I didn’t have that exact conversation with anybody, but I got pretty close.

  2. July 30, 2010 08:52

    Hahaha – but that’s still a lot more information than I got in that, ‘green leaves’ conversation. The sheer dumbness of the Austrian German ‘jo, grüne Bladln hoid’ doesn’t quite translate to, ‘well, green leaves’, but that was all I got!
    And then there was that even less translatable conversation about the ‘little spheres’ (which sounds so much more intelligent than the original ‘klane Kugerl’) – that customer could tell us nothing more than that the plant ‘made little spheres’, and we’d shown it to her on the herbs shelf, and she found that so neat, that it made ‘little spheres’, and she wanted to have it – had no idea what it was called or what it looked like! Needless to say, we had no idea what it was she wanted, but we still joke about it, pointing to random plants, like chestnut trees and calling, ‘oh, look, it makes spheres – maybe that’s what she wanted?’

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