I always had this dream of writing a memoir about working service jobs for the bulk of my career, and how my twenty-five years in the profession (I started young, selling veggies at my parents' farm market stand) had one overwhelming result: I now hate people.*
But it turns out it's work to write a memoir, so it remains a dream. In the meantime, I keep searching for the type of service memoir I always wanted to write. During my search, I've read a lot of books that didn't particularly turn me on: Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Caitlin Kelly's Malled, etc. About the best one I've found so far has been Debra Ginsberg's superlative Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress. I would highly recommend that one.
The latest entry in this field is Anna Sam's Checkout Girl: A Life Behind the Register, which has been translated from the French. Evidently, if the cover can be believed, it's an international bestseller. And although it was a fun, quick read, it wasn't quite what I wanted either. Sam makes the point, well, that one can indeed be well-educated and still end up working as a checkout girl; she's got advanced degrees and she works in a supermarket. Anyone who's worked behind a service counter will find a lot to chuckle at here: making sure your register "cashes out" correctly; people talking on their cell phones while you wait on them; devious customers finding new ways to cut in line; spotting shoplifters; etc.
But one of my favorite anecdotes was this one, about being used as a cautionary tale:
"When you hear a mother tell her child as she points her finger at you, 'You see, darling, if you don't work hard at school, you'll become a cashier like the lady,' there's nothing to stop you from explaining that it's not a profession for stupid people, that you'd rather do this than be unemployed, and that you actually have a good degree...
Well, I have news for all those ignorant, self-righteous parents out there: it's been a long time since a degree guaranteed a dream job. Today's graduates sometimes have no choice but to do less skilled work. Dear parents, thank you for reducing our profession to a warning! Wake up: this is a new century." (p. 104.)
I found that funny and scary. So yes, this one was kind of fun. But I think it suffers a little bit in translation, and it wasn't quite what I had in mind. But still a book that might make you chuckle if you've ever stood behind a cash register.
*This is actually the chicken-or-egg question of my life: Have I always hated people, or did waiting on them so early make me hate them? It's a thinker.