Everything I've Learned from Working in My Family's Corner Shop
First of all, people love quoting Apu from "The Simpsons."
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Illustrations by Chris Harward.
Like a lot of Asian families coming to the UK in the 1970s, mine opened a newsagent. I've spent a great deal of my life working in the shop, and I like to think it's helped me to develop as a person, insomuch as numerous strangers calling you a cunt for wildly insignificant reasons can aid someone in their personal development.
In any case, here are some of the things I've learned from my time behind the till.
IT'S NICE THAT NOBODY WANTS YOU TO BE DEPORTED
Casual racism can be great, but often white people actively trying not to be racist is even better. Often—usually following a glance over a Daily Express headline proclaiming Muslims to be the root cause for the decline of the Great British Pub, or whatever—this comes in the form of the prefix: "Obviously not people like you."
"These immigrants coming over here and claiming money and housing—they shouldn't allow them! I mean, people like you are different 'cos you work hard, but them..."
"If all immigrants were like you we wouldn't have none of this problems we got here."
(I'm still trying to figure out what that means, too.)
PEOPLE STILL LOVE THAT APU ONE-LINER FROM THE SIMPSONS
I began working in the shop during the early 2000s, an era in which literally every British person with a Sky 1 subscription discovered The Simpsons, because it was on all the fucking time. With that discovery came a phrase that haunts Asian kids the Western world over: "Thank you, come again."
I'd hear that sentence on an almost daily basis, from at least one customer who genuinely believed it was hilarious. And when you called them up on their dodgy faux-Indian accent: "Nah, don't worry, mate—it's a joke; it's on The Simpsons! You've never seen The Simpsons?"
The Simpsons is a clever cartoon, and I'd like to believe Apu actually represents a vision of the American dream—a highly educated Indian immigrant managing to build a successful business for himself in the face of yellow oppression and a guy with a rockabilly quiff constantly robbing him at gunpoint.
Instead, the show's most prominent ethnic minority remains—to this day—a thorn in the side of all Asian shopkeepers. Thanks, Matt Groening, for providing the kind of people who buy tickets to Dapper Laughs gigs with an eternal source of terrible banter.
YOU GET CALLED A CUNT BY MORE 12-YEAR-OLDS THAN YOU'D THINK
The first time I was called a cunt at work was when I refused to sell a 13-year-old a packet of cigarettes. It stung on that occasion, of course—nobody enjoys being called a vagina by a child. However, that experience was actually quite a light indoctrination into what was to come.
Catch a kid stealing a packet of Hubba Bubba? "Allow it, you cunt."
When you won't let someone off a $6 magazine because they don't have the cash on them? "Seriously, there's no reason to be such a cunt about it."
I'm still not certain what's so cunty about sticking to a method of commerce that's existed since ancient Mesopotamia. Regardless, I've heard the word so often from so many schoolchildren that it's now almost kind of odd if a whole week goes by without a prepubescent kid in a Nike backpack getting overly sweary for little-to-no reason at all.
WARM CHANGE IS THE WORST
A fact anyone in retail knows to be true: warm coins, heated via the sweaty palms of a customer, are the low point of any day. More so when said customer decides they want to pay for their Snickers bar by dumping a load of hot, moist copper on the till.
It always feels weirdly intimate, a bit like a complete stranger has just handed you some of their freshly excreted kidney stones to sift through.
BIG BRANDS HAVE TURNED CORNER SHOPS INTO TRAP HOUSES
Newsagents tend to make profits on everyday basics and confectionaries. So with the relentless spawning of big name stores selling milk and eggs and bread and all that basic sustenance on the cheap, most independent shops have just become repositories of legal vices—notably cigarettes, alcohol, and lottery tickets.
In fact, I'm willing to bet that the majority of London's corner shops find themselves predominantly selling fags and scratch cards, in the hope that somebody might impulse-buy a Lucozade in the process. So when you consider that a decent portion of your customers come knocking for either tobacco, sugar, taurine, or dopamine, it becomes very clear that your situation is less Open All Hours and more just a really tame version of Top Boy.
SOMEBODY WILL BE OUTRAGED BY TITS EVERY SINGLE MORNING
The best thing about your early morning customers—by which I mean those who regularly show up at 5.30 AM, despite the fact we don't open until 7 AM—is that they're always the first to have insightful comments about the day's news.
Only, from my experience, those comments are usually about boobs, and how they're outraged by them.
"Can that woman not put her bangers away for just one day?" a customer said last week, in reaction to a Celebrity Big Brother headline. "I don't want to be looking at those balloons while I eat my breakfast," said another, who potentially hadn't grasped the concept of turning a page.
NEVER LET CUSTOMERS USE YOUR TOILETS
The golden rule for anyone working in a shop. In the course of the business's lifetime, we've seen customers miss the toilet bowl by a considerable distance, cause actually quite serious flooding and—on one occasion—actually manage to shit up the wall.
How do you do that accidentally? I'm assuming it wasn't deliberate because, as I mentioned, the most aggro we tend to get is from children who've recently learned how to swear. So my question remains: how does one sit down to take a shit, before that shit ends up smeared down a vertical wall?
Mind you, none of that was as bad as what my friend Raj had to go through when a delivery guy made a quick trip to the bathroom and left a used condom behind.
Why exactly he used a condom by himself remains a mystery, and one I'm glad I never had to investigate.
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