The next best thing to being asked to explain why I study Public Administration is being asked what kind of job I have: There is just no way to say “I sell bags” without sounding terribly lame. And make no mistake out it, sometimes it is dull, boring and, above all cold, seeing that the heating has been broken ever since I started working here. But there is the human component that simply makes up for all.
I just spent about half an hour leaning against the cash register while talking to a middle-aged Dutch woman about her volunteer work in Guatemala (65% of all Guatemalan children are malnourished), my desire to go to Bolivia, learning Spanish, the European integration process and, ultimately, the meaning of life. Yes, it can get that heavy when selling bags. What is interesting about this job is that you get to engage with the customers. Sure, you could just stand there, wait for them to pick something out and explain the working of the occasional shoulder strap. But when people stay in the store for over 20 minutes and you begin talking, it quickly becomes about more than waterproof ripstop lining, you are actually starting to have fun with the people you are trying to sell things to. My favorites are the really strange characters we tend to attract here. I had an artist who needed no longer worry about money or friends because everything was in place and his girlfriend had long started handling his finances. He called her up to come by and buy a bag for him. Yesterday there was a guy who wears sandals all year long (in the Netherlands…). I had a woman’s rights activist from the 60s who ran away to Spain without shoes back in the day. Something about my “So where are you from” tends to make people tell me their life stories. And so I learn about ugly divorces, living in 2 square meter cabins in the forests in California or get practical evidence on how to not handle your children. It’s really quite resourceful, the wisdom of the common man.
Recently I had lots of customers in the store dressed in full-body survival gear. A customer was sipping water from his Camelbak backpack, with a walkie-talkie dangling from his bags shoulder strap. You could have picked him up and dropped him in the Sahara, where he would easily have survived for 2 days, judging by the gear. Turns out his hotel is around the corner.
It is far from boring to work here. Or, in other words, the good experiences definitely make up for the times I simply stare outside of the window, waiting for people to come into the store.