I’ve procrastinated this post because of its crassness (not sure if that’s the right word, but it came to mind). I’ve worked 10 days by myself after 10 days of training – I know what I’m doing. I organized the shelves, have stocked them and added inventory, and have learned what some ingredients are and what they can be used for.
I’m having more fun than I thought I would. I usually arrive early to get the lights turned on before customers walk in. I was a bit too early the other morning and a guy walks in looking for something with a K and Q in it and I tell him to please look around in the dark while I finish what I’m doing and then I will hurry to open the store for you – an hour early.
He found what he was looking for – pickled mango…perhaps his g just looked like a q. Some Indians (from India, not native to America) think I have no idea what I’m doing. This assumption can be helpful for those moments when I don’t understand them or when they call food by a different name. Then they are amazed when I’m able to help them find it and know something about it. Not all Americans are close-minded to the other cultures that live on the planet too.
Some people ask if I’m done with school (assuming senior in high school or freshman in college) and are surprised when I tell them I have an associate degree and though married my husband is not Indian – and neither am I…thanks to some helpful observations (though I could’ve been adopted). I suppose everyone has their own definition of rude. One lady walked in and gawked at me. I asked her, “What?” She replied that I wasn’t as ethnic as she thought I should be. I told her this is an Indo-EURO store and I happen to have ancestors from Czechoslovakia and was born in Germany. “Oh, well I’m from France” was her response.
Another customer came in looking for some spices and told me I didn’t look a day over 16. This was my 3rd day of training and his approach caught me off guard. I told him I was older than that and he told me to call him when I turned 21. I ask where he works (assuming it’s a bar) and he says home. I would’ve been perfectly content with the conversation ending there, but he says I could come over now if I can cook or when I’m 21 (or when ever the legal baby making age is)…really!?! Did this just happen? I was too stunned for a good response as he left with his purchase.
He came back on Monday and my dad happened to be hanging out before closing. I was ringing up another customer and my dad confronted him. The guy tried to feign ignorance – I wouldn’t want to get hit by my dad either. He whispered something under his breath, walked out, and hasn’t been back since. Good riddance. Every girl likes getting hit on – it boosts our self-esteem, but please do it in a pleasing and legal manner…which leads me to the next guy.
A couple walks in and they buy a few things. The guy, “I don’t usually hit on women in front of my wife…” Then what do you do? (I thought to myself), “but you are too cute not to.” Thanks. Now she feels uncomfortable and is probably wondering the same thing I am. Of course this gives me another reason to email Caleb in the middle of the day. I think he somewhat enjoys these moments (for their funniness), but is also annoyed at them (for their lack of respect).
I got a customer the other day (we didn’t have fresh methi (fenugreek) leaves) so he writes me a shopping list in Hindi (because I’m going to understand that) and says that’s what he wants. Well, he is going to have to wait until Sonal gets back – just like everyone else. And these moments I can handle, just like I handled another situation calmly. A lady walks in and asks where my owner is. I feel bad for those that have had to answer that question. I kindly told her that the STORE owner was not here and she seemed to understand. I have to think it’s just a loss in translation on my part – and I’m ok with that.
I had a customer on the phone ask if I was Indian and when I said no he hung up. Some ask if I can speak any Indian languages or understand the music playing. No, I can’t understand it, but it reminds me of the movies I watch with subtitles and it’s still beautiful like the Chinese, Russian, French, African, and Spanish music that I listen to. Music is beautiful no matter what language it is.
Above – Desi sweets varying in wheat flour, milk, butter, sugar, saffron, and nuts.
Some customers are curious and friendly. They share something about where they are from and help me learn something in return or ask about how I came to working here. Others recognize me as the daughter of John Wise (a friend of Sonal for at least 10 years that has been known to watch the store from time to time). These customers I enjoy and they make the day go by too quickly.
There are some regulars – ones that buy manikchand (potpourri smelling dirty rock tobacco product) and others for fresh veggies, movie rentals, and snacks. There is a lady that comes in with a huge smile on her face and puts money on the counter. I’m to exchange it for its amount in calling cards. She will tear the top off, hand them to me, and say, “Bye!”
Then there are kids. Some are great – well dressed, respectful, and helpful. I talk with some of these kids and have even let some draw with dry erase markers on the glass doors – and some are quite creative. But even the not-great ones are way more behaved than some of the children I’ve seen elsewhere; they just have to be told twice.
And none of this should be taken negatively. I have appreciated the insight into another culture. Not just Indian, or British, or Irish, or Pakistani, but all the people of the regions of the world that choose to shop here and share their background with me – whether through speech or actions. Some people hand their money to me, others throw it my direction (and I take my sweet time collecting it) or they lay it down in front of my hand. Note: that money is dirtier than my hands – by any standard.
I’ve had busy moments with customers waiting in line and then I’ve gone hours without a customer (especially without ones paying cash – so much so that I forgot to put the cash drawer in the register until the change I went to give wasn’t there). I once read a quote, “If you are bored it is because you are a boring person.” I don’t like the idea of boredom. In my downtime I organize, clean, stock, front, and learn more about the inventory of the store. I also read, blog, and check Facebook. It’s nice not to have to hide in the bathroom and check it on my phone like I’ve seen other women do at work. My last boss used to let me sit in the office and talk to Caleb for 45 minutes while he was on deployment – and I was on the clock.
For a different point-of-view you can read my dad’s posts Improvements and Visiting Another World and Before & After and Indo Euro Foods and Other Side of the Counter and Piracy & Bollywood. There are more posts on his site – he has spent a lot of time there, but these posts have pictures of the owner, outside of the store, customers, a roadtrip, and a different perspective of the inside. Enjoy!