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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

An Invisible Christmas

<ried 3 times over winter break. No, I did not attend 3 funerals; I worked at a large retail chain store. I am unable to say the name of the specific store for legal reasons (really, it was in my contract), but I can assure you that I will be vehemently hinting at it throughout this article. So, here is my revenge for 5 weeks of non-stop, cheesy, unbearably cheery Christmas carols.

After working retail during the panic of the Christmas season, I can definitively say that people are pretty weird…and loud. I can’t even remember how many times I was yelled at during my 5 weeks, but I was yelled at about three main things: the store not carrying an item, the price of items, and coupons (even expired ones) not working. Now, I couldn’t do anything about any of their “pressing” issues, but sure was expected to try. One man went up to my checkout counter and said that he really wanted jellybeans. Now, we have small packets of candy at the checkout counters, but my particular one did not have jellybeans. I tried to explain this to him but he insisted that I find him jellybeans. It took me 15 minutes but I managed to track down those darn jellybeans, expecting him to have left, but he was still waiting! Well, at least I made that customer’s day “magical.”

Even after being told numerous times by managers to look out for signs of theft, and I still can’t believe the lengths people would go to steal pretty insane things. It was 12:00 at night and I was closing a cash register when I tripped over a customer. She was on her hands and knees in an attempt to crawl under the cash register and steal clothing boxes. I didn’t even want to know what her crazy excuse was, but she promptly told me that she hadn’t purchased anything. She just wanted people to think she bought her gifts at a large retail store, and there was nothing I could do to stop her. I promptly called security.

I told you these stories for a reason. Yes, they were partially for your amusement, but they were also to highlight the disturbing world of the large retail chain industry. I don’t know what I was expecting, but people act differently towards retail workers. It’s as if a switch goes off in their brains whenever they enter a store. They look at you and see you not as a person who has a life outside of retail, but as a person who lives to serve them. I think most customers can’t imagine retail workers ever leaving the store. Sadly, they are kind of right. Many of the women I worked with barely left the store. They were single moms, struggling to makes ends meet, working overtime to earn a little extra cash. Most of the women I met had 3 children, and, going off of my hourly wage, only make $8.25 an hour.

According to the Living Wage Calculator of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an adult must earn $33.28 and hour, while working 40 hours a week, to support 3 children in Minneapolis. Because they don’t make nearly this much, the women I worked with needed all the hours they could get. During the Christmas season they would work on average 65 hours a week, which is the equivalent of pre-turn of the century labor hours. During those long hours, they are constantly harassed by customers, pressured to meet quotas by managers, and afraid to even take a 10 minute bathroom break. If they even make one snide remark to a rude customer, they risk getting fired. In a world full of fake Christmas cheer, commercialism reigns and makes sure they that feel expendable. I have such respect for these ladies. I only worked there for 5 weeks, and I felt completely invisible. It’s a miracle these women still fight for their lives, for their children, and for their dreams. I hope that their courage doesn’t disappear.

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