Thursday, 19 April 2012

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

On Tuesday night I went, with my housemate Mel and fellow book-blogger Naomi (aka Bloomsbury Bell - go check out her new Wordpress style!) to hear Jen Campbell talk about Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.  Quite a few of you will know Jen from her blog, and those of you who use Twitter more than I do might well know her as @aeroplanegirl.  One day I'll fully understand Twitter, and then there'll be no stopping me.

Jen had also been a writer in residence at Blackwell's, writing a poem related to each of Blackwell's five floors, and she recited these at the event - I'd love to read them again, so hopefully they'll make an appearance somewhere.

But the main event was the book - having worked in a secondhand bookshop, and the Bodleian, I am familiar with some of the stranger comments and requests made by the Great British Public (calling from New York at 3am to tell the head of Rare Books your spurious theories on the authorship of Shakespeare's plays?  Sure, go ahead!) but I wouldn't have believed she could fill a book, almost entirely from her own experience.  The back section includes other people's contributions, but this is mostly Jen's collection.  It's hilarious.  I'd read all the entries on her blog, but there are plenty more gems.  Here are some from the blog, also in the book, as a taster:

Customer: Excuse me, do you have any signed copies of Shakespeare plays?
Me: Er... do you mean signed by the people who performed the play?
Customer: No, I mean signed by William Shakespeare.
Me: .....*headdesk* 



Customer: Hi, I'd like to return this book, please. 
Me: Do you have the receipt?
Customer: Here. 
Me: Erm, you bought this book at Waterstone's. 
Customer: Yes. 
Me:.... we're not Waterstone's. 
Customer: But, you're a bookshop. 
Me: Yes, but we're not Waterstone's. 
Customer: You're all part of the same chain. 
Me: No, sorry, we're an independent bookshop. 
Customer: ....
Me: Put it this way, you wouldn't buy clothes in H&M and take them back to Zara, would you?
Customer: Well, no, because they're different shops. 
Me: Exactly. 
Customer:... I'd like to speak to your manager. 

--

Customer: I read a book in the eighties. I don't remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?

If this appeals, you should definitely get hold of a copy.  And once you've laughed your way through that, I suggest that you check out Bookworm Droppings by Shaun Tyas, from 1988, which is a less attractive title (and rather less well produced) but equally amusing - and essentially the same concept.  Also, I've copied this entry across from my brother's blog - I worked occasionally in a secondhand bookshop during my sixth form, and when I couldn't be there, Colin covered my shifts - and thus was left with this woman... (Hope this is ok, Col... yeah?)

August 31st 2004
Here I am, working at the book shop again... much better than last time, since I've got about three and a half hours left and I've already made £36.25, more than covering my £20 wages. But the last customer I had was rather strange (before you get confused, I'm writing this on my laptop, which I brought into work). I don't want to hurt her feelings, but it's unlikely that she's heard of the internet. [...] Anyways, she came in and asked me if Ian (my boss) was here. I said he wasn't. She said 'What?' and I repeated what I said - this was more or less the pattern whenever I said anything, actually - so she asked me what our phone number was. I didn't know, so I phoned up Dad, and he knew, so I wrote it down on a PostIt. She asked me if the fives were fives, I said (and repeated) that they were. Then she decided she didn't want the phone number on a PostIt, because it was sticky, so I tore part of another PostIt (ie not the sticky part) and wrote it again. This time she said it was too small, but accepted it anyway. After this she left the shop and, I rather hoped, my life, having told me twice that she would like to see Ian's daughter and dog. A few minutes later she came back in and asked me how much the books outside were, so I came outside and told her about four times that they were individually priced, interrupted while she told me the man nearby had just stolen a book. I mumbled something along the lines that he probably already had the book in his hands before coming to the shop, but she probably didn't hear me because she didn't say 'What?' Satisfied that the books did actually cost what they said they cost, she said she'd be back in if she found any books she wanted to buy. Okay. So I went back in, and soon enough she was back, clutching two books and telling me that she'd read one of them (A Tale of Two Cities) in school, but wasn't sure if she'd read the other (Crime and Punishment). I took the books, told her the price (£1.75), and she asked me 'Are you busy?' I wasn't sure what to say - did she mean the shop? Or me? The shop, I assume - so I told her we were quite busy. She made her usual reply, so I told her we were quite busy. Then began the long process of paying - one pound and seventy-five pence - in which she decided to get rid of as many coppers and small coins as possible. When she'd got to about £1.30, the phone rang, so I answered it, but got no reply, and got no number from 1471. Is it just me, or has prank calling never really reached the level of sophistication that it could have done? There are some artists out there, but silence is about as rubbish as it gets. Anyway, she'd got to about £1.35 when I'd said 'hello' several times and hung up... eventually she got to the full one seventy five, and as I was putting the money away in the money-box, she asked me again if I was busy - me personally. Sensing she wanted me to help with something, perhaps along the lines of lifting boxes, I said I had a bit of time. It turned out she wanted me to hold A Tale of Two Cities while she recited from it. She marked the place in the book, read two words, and then asked to see it again. This time, after reading the first line, she was able to recite the last two pages of the book with only minimal errors (which I didn't point out, judging that to do so would bring more trouble than it'd be worth)... well, congratulations to her. She told me that she'd memorised it when she was a girl, and that she was also able to recite pages from Wuthering Heights. It was about this moment that I silently thanked Ian for not putting Wuthering Heights out for sale. Anyways, I told her that it was very impressive (what?) very impressive, and she asked me if I would listen to my grandmother do the same thing... I told her my grandmother was dead, but that I probably would do if she still lived. This was far too confusing for my customer, who simply ignored it, and told me that her grandchildren soon got bored when she tried to recite from nineteenth century classics. Rather than proclaim my astonishment at the foolishness of youth, or point out to her that, as an employee at the shop, I could hardly tell her to shut up, I mumbled something and she shook my hand. Now she's gone, and hasn't come back in the last thirty minutes or so, so I think I'm safe.

29 comments:

  1. I'll have to read this. Before you took me to Ripping Yarns in September, I'd never heard of Jen or her blog but, of course, I looked her up right away once I got home and laughed my way through her old posts - though not as hard as I laughed at Colin's story!

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    1. They were so funny - I was so pleased she made them into a book - and one that is now doing very well, I believe.

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  2. These are awesome! I cannot wait to get a copy of this. Colin's story..oh my gosh. How awful and awkward. Very odd.

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    1. Aren't people strange sometimes?!

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  3. Haha! This made me laugh! I can totally relate to the 'I read a book in the 80s...' - I work in a college Library and frequently get 'have you got the yellow book?'

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    1. Ah, yes! At least in an academic library there is some sort of filter on the door... and yet the oddest people still find their way in.

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  4. That's pretty amazing, Colin. I wish I could remember more bookshop anecdotes, apart from Dr Baker who phoned every day for a long, irrelevant chat ('Don't tell him your name!') and the other regular who came in every day to research the prices of certain books and write them down in pencil on a grubby piece of paper. I am sure he was stealing books from somewhere and selling them on - he did also try to scam us into buying book tokens back off him. But hey, he was friendly.
    I'll always be gutted that I was absent on the day my manager wrestled a shoplifter to the ground.

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    1. Wow! That does sound amazing. And possibly illegal?

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  5. I nearly wet myself at Colin's story - hilarious! I used to get similar customers when I worked at Sainsbury's - working in a shop really does open your eyes to the strangeness of humanity.

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    1. Isn't it brilliant? I read Col's anecdote while in a public library, back in 2004, and had to leave because I was laughing too much.

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  6. Fabulous! I worked at a bookstore for a couple of years, and all of these induced a sense of deja vu.

    One of my favourites: 'Why don't you have photocopiers in the store, so I can scan the bits I need and not buy the book?'

    Me: 'Well, we're a bookstore, and we do actually want you to buy them, so I think a photocopier would defeat the purpose.'

    Customer: 'Oh. Well, do you know of a place where I can photocopy a book?'

    Me: 'Yes. A library.'

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    1. Haha! Brilliant. But please don't send them to our library... ;)

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  7. Simon! My bowl of cereal had to be put down, this is too funny! Okay, I'll share one of my funnier episodes at the library. Last year a man called me over to the end of the circulation counter and placed a package before me. He said that it contained a stool sample for a colorectal cancer screening test! He wanted to know what the advantages were to bringing it the library. I had to tell him that THAT was NOT a service we provided and sent him on his way. He must have been instructed to return his sample to the 'laboratory' and brought it to the 'library'...eek! Hand sanitizer anyone?

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  8. Oh this has just brightened up my otherwise boring day - especially Colin's story :o)

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    1. Isn't it brilliant? I just had to share it.

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  9. Every day of my life, that's all I'm saying.

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  10. Too funny! I am going to put Jen's book on my list to read, thanks.

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    1. Great :D It seems to be selling really well.

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  11. Colin's post is priceless. I love the idea of these books and have been compiling my own "heard in the library" quotations, so you just watch out...

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    1. Julia, as a library employee, I would LOVE to hear the weirdness that goes on in other libraries.

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    2. I'm watching, Julia, I want to see this happen!

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  12. I work at the library, and we get some quirky people too (to put it nicely). We have a repeat patron, a fiftyish lady who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, and is obsessed with vampire lit. She's come in repeatedly and asked where the vampire section is. She also only wants books on audio. The first time I helped her, I took her to the audiobook section, and she wanted to know which were the good paranormal authors. So I showed her Laurel K. Hamilton, Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, etc., and explained these were the ones I knew of. Then she asked me, deadly serious, "What about the ones you don't know?"

    Finally, I showed her how to sit at the library catalog and search for vampire fiction, though it took her several tries to finally get it. God bless the Library of Congress subject headings!

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    1. The vampire lady is hilarious! Sometimes you wonder what is going through people's heads...

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  13. This book sounds so funny I want to read it now. If you have the time could you take a look at my blog at www.em2109.blogspot.com and give me any feedback. I also review books and write as I absolutely love to read.

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  14. Having w orked in a public library for years some of the things the public asked me ran along the same lines. I am also thinking of posting about things readers used as book marks: a slice of raw bacon was one, a squashed jam sandwich another and then there was one thing which I will not mention that caused screams of Yuk from all the female staff......

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  15. I have this book coming in the post and I am so excited about it it's untrue. I couldn't locate the blog so thanks for that link, and am also now following her on twitter, so this post has done all sorts for me today.

    Thanks also for the piece by Col, I can't get enough of bookshop tales, I loved Kim's too recently.

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