The 12 Rules of Xmas

Store clerks forced to battle the grinch, armed only with a smile

Model Leah Bernard gives her bravest Christmas smile.

Model Leah Bernard gives her bravest Christmas smile.

Store clerks forced to battle the grinch, armed only with a smile

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t

thought of before. What if Christmas, he thought,

doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas,

perhaps, means a little bit more?”

— How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss


After 50-plus days, Christmas shopping season is almost done. As the last bedraggled remnants of Halloween were being hauled away in late October, shelf worn zombies passed the retail torch to Santa and the snowmen in a seamless retail ritual that had us listening to endless carols in the malls before the kids had even hung up their spooky costumes.

Now Christmas morning is only days away. Yikes! Small wonder that the shops and malls have taken on a frenetic quality generally reserved for incoming tropical storms and other natural disasters.

Shoppers have officially lost their collective minds, knowing that if they’re to meet the Stats Canada prediction that they’ll spend some $36 billion this Christmas, they had better get out there and buy, buy, buy!

And buy they will. They’ll be charging and debiting all manner of toys, clothing, electronics, gizmos and doo-dads; all those over-packaged, gaily wrapped bits of happiness that our loved ones desire and can’t live without.

It’s a pity though that, when it comes to seasonal cheer, too many of us allow the Grinch in our souls to rise to the surface.

“It’s like customers forget that we’re just people trying to do our jobs,” says Rebecca, a Victoria retail sales clerk. “They take out their frustrations and mistakes on us and all we can do is smile.”

(Rebecca, like the rest of the clerks contributing to this piece, can’t give her last name or the name of the store she works in for fear of getting fired. It seems that it doesn’t do to criticize customers at Christmas.)

Still, Monday talked to dozens of retail sales staff to compile a list of a dozen rules for keeping the spirit of Christmas alive when we’re interacting with those poor clerks behind the counter.

1. Get off the phone. “We get people coming through on their phones while we’re trying to do their order,” says Donna, a clothing store clerk in Mayfair Mall. “They wave at us in response to questions like ‘Do you need a gift receipt?’ and then get pissy when we get the answer wrong. It’s pretty frustrating.”

2. On the same note, don’t phone the store. “People call the store in December to ask if we have a certain piece of clothing in a specific size,” says Donna. “They expect us to leave the 12 customers who’ve come to the store waiting, while we go do their shopping for them. They can do that in July. In December, they have to get off the couch and come down here.”

3. Retail clerks can’t change the price. As much as you may think that your local Best Buy is a Marrakesh marketplace, you can’t bargain for a better price. Sure, you can offer two goats and your sister for that new big screen, but the retail clerk can’t take up your offer. It’s the price; live with it.

4. The “back” is not a place where enchanted elves are miraculously producing whatever you need. “‘Can you check in the back for a size 4x?’ I hear that, or something like it a hundred times a day,” says Marie, a clothing store clerk in Langford. “All we have in the back is a staff bathroom and a table where I eat lunch. Going to the back isn’t going to help, but people insist that I do.”

“I go eat a sandwich. It’s easier than arguing.”

5. You want to pay for that sweater with your gas card? Really?

“I wish people would find a card with some money on it and be ready with it when they get to the till,” says Marie. “They stand in line for 30 minutes but wait till they get to the front to start hunting through the 50 cards in their wallets only to come up with a gas card or something equally silly.

“Or there’s the people who hunt through their purses for exact change,” Marie adds, obviously on a roll. “A dozen people in line and they’re searching for that last four cents. Just give me a dollar already and I’ll make change!”

And no, you can’t write a cheque. No one writes cheques anymore.

“Believe it or not” says Amir, a clerk in a local electronics store, “this one time I pointed to the guy’s debit card and said that we did accept debit. He said that he couldn’t use that because there wouldn’t be any money in the account till the end of the month. Unbelievable!”

6. It’s not their store. Don’t complain to the clerks behind the counter about the policies, price, selection, air temperature or the choice of Christmas music in the store where they work. They may agree with your assessment but they can’t change it. It’s like yelling at Cratchit because Scrooge’s office space is too cold.

And, by the way, the fact that you had to stand in line for longer than usual is a function of it being Christmas. Maybe you’re right, the store should have more staff. The clerks would love more help. Cratchit felt the same way, but he didn’t own the company either.

7. Get real! “We don’t have any boxes left and, if you want it gift wrapped, take it to the mall and make a donation,” says Jeff, a clerk at the Mayfair Mall. “It’s a few days to Christmas, and we’re working double shifts and not keeping up and I have people wanting me to wrap their presents in paper they bought at Costco. Next they’ll want me to drive it to their home and put it under their tree on Christmas Eve.”

8. Your lack of planning is not the clerk’s fault. “But you had a lot of the singing Elmos a while back! What happened to them?” It’s a refrain that clerks hear over and over again. “You wanna say, ‘Is this your first Christmas?’ What do you think happened? We sold them to people who didn’t wait till Dec. 22 to do their shopping,” says Rick, a toy store clerk in Mayfair Mall.

9. Respect your fellow shoppers; they’re just as miserable as you are. “I don’t even care if customers are nice to me; they’re not even nice to each other,” says Gertie, another clothing store clerk. “They see that there’re a hundred customers waiting for service, but once they have our attention, they act like they just bought us as slaves and to hell with everyone else. Some Christmas spirit, huh?”

10. Control your children. Sure, Christmas is all about kids, but that doesn’t mean that they get to make stores their playground. “I had these kids building a fort out of our coffee table books,” says Geoffry, a book store clerk. “You heard me, an honest-to-god fort! When I asked Mom to do something she called me a grouch and said she’d take her business somewhere else. I wanted to ask where so I could call and warn them.”

11. Boxing Day sales are insane. “It’s like the final day of Christmas crazies when people come in expecting us to give away product,” says Amir. “The prices are reduced, but we’re not giving stuff away.

“And two more things; there are some great deals but don’t yell at me because we’re out of the thing you want, and finally, don’t bring in your gifts for refund on Boxing Day. See the thousand customers in line? We’re not doing refunds today!”

12. Finally, show a little kindness. Remember that retail clerks are people doing a tough job at a time when the customer base has officially lost its collective mind. They earn a salary within calling distance of minimum wage and while you may be feeling like the Grinch, it’s no reason to steal their Christmas spirit with your behaviour.

Follow these 12 rules and you may find that your own heart will grow three sizes by the end of the season. M

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