Kerry McLean: So many times I saw rude or abrupt customers accost shop assistants in Belfast. Retail workers deserve a break at Christmas, too
If you're lucky enough to still be off for the Christmas celebrations, chances are you're getting ready for a return to work on Monday.
It used to be that lots of offices and places of business closed down for a full festive fortnight but now it seems like fewer and fewer people get to enjoy two weeks lazing on the sofa and challenging the laws of physics and biology by experimenting to see just how much chocolate can fit inside a body.
If you're at the stage of thinking about washing your work clothes and dreading the thought of wearing something without an elasticated waist, I'd love to say you have my sympathies. I'd love to, but I can't.
Instead, my thoughts go out to those generally unsung heroes of the holidays, the retail workers. We often see stories in the news drawing attention, and rightly so, to the wonderful doctors and nurses, the firefighters and the paramedics who've been on shift every day. Their jobs, managing life and death situations, would be more than I could ever handle and they have our unending gratitude. But after my experiences over the last week, I can't help but think about the poor souls who act as a buffer for everyone else's stress, shop staff who may have just got Christmas Day and New Year's Day off.
I don't see the plaudits ringing out for those who were stocking shelves from four o'clock every morning, who had to deal with swarms of angry, peeved people desperate to finish their gift buying or, after Christmas, fighting their way through sale racks, searching for a bargain or two.
Browsing around the shops is never my idea of fun, a fact I learned as a child when following in the slipstream behind my mum and granny. There was nothing they loved more than a lengthy, lazy toddle around the stores, checking out every rail though rarely buying anything. By the same quirk of fate or genetics, my daughter has the same love of shopping so it was at her request that I found myself in Belfast city centre this week, wandering behind her and trying not to yawn.
Uninterested in the clothes, I found myself people-watching and was struck by just how many times rude or abrupt customers accosted staff. I watched one young woman shouting about being unable to find a pair of jeans in her size on the sale rail. When the shop assistant explained that all the stock available was out on the floor, the young woman petulantly pushed a stack of jeans onto the ground and stormed off. Personally I'd have been tempted to grab her and insist that she tidy up after her tantrum, but the shop lady (and I truly mean that word!) merely sighed, picked up the clothes and plastered the smile back on her face.
I also spotted another woman at the desk complaining loudly, and with what can only be described as an overly colourful vocabulary, about a skirt she bought in a size 10 being "cut wrong", that she couldn't fit into it to go out on Boxing Night and it had ruined her Christmas. The young assistant kept a calm head, even apologising and offering the woman her money back. This despite the fact it was clear the customer, much like myself, hadn't fitted into a size 10 since possibly the last millennium.
So, what I'd like to suggest is a new way to do the holidays when it comes to the shops and their staff. How about shops give their employees a little bit of power when dealing with bad behaviour? Good, well-behaved shoppers could be given a 10% discount on their purchases at the discretion of the staff. Anyone raising their voice or swearing would be instantly removed and dumped unceremoniously out and onto the pavement.
While I'm at it, how about all of us agreeing that we don't need to be traipsing around the shops every day? Couldn't we give everyone a couple of extra days off, say Boxing Day and New Year's Eve? I'm sure all the gift vouchers and wrong-size clothes in need of exchange can wait for a day or two…