This Is What It’s Like Working Christmas Eve in a Supermarket

This is what it's like working Christmas Eve in a supermarket. 

10am: I’m here, I’m tired, and before I’ve unlocked the till and detagging device there are customers queuing up. This is my first Christmas as a checkout operator, and so far it’s been intense. Yesterday I started at 9am and already the aisles were full of people pushing trolleys around – it wasn’t even fully light outside!

“Helloooo,” I say, in this horrible cashier voice I somehow can’t change. “Would you like some bags?”

This will be my refrain for the rest of the day.

10.50: Okay, so I’m beginning to realise what Christmas Eve shopping is really about. It’s not the £300 turkey haul from yesterday, it’s festive bits and pieces, and it’s food for the days after Christmas when the shops will be busy – stir-fries and sandwiches, food that isn’t stodgy. People are getting through the till pretty quickly without a million bags of roast potatoes to weight them down, and this suits me just fine.

11.30: As I’ve woken up a bit more, I’ve added some more phrases to my repertoire: “So is this you ready for Christmas now?” I ask, or, if there are kids, “What’ve they been asking for?” The reply customers give to the first question is a wry “Well, it better be!”. The reply for the second is, sighing, Everything.”

The more responsive customers have started asking me if I’m ready for Christmas. I don’t know what to say to this. I’ve bought presents for my immediate family, but in this in-between stage where I’m not a kid but don’t have kids myself it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

12.00: I’m officially hungry now. Hunger on the tills is a big problem – delicious-looking food goes past all the time and I’m the sort of person who likes to snack. I try and reach a sort of zen acceptance of “yes I’m hungry, no it’s not my lunch break yet”, but people are buying these rotisserie chickens that smell beautiful and I resort to swigging water in a sort of excessive, extravagant way.

“Is that vodka?” old men ask me. They always say this. It is their duty. It is scripture. And it is my sacred role to respond, “No, gin!!!!!!!!” and then we laugh, our job done.

12.45: LUNCH TIME! Peace and goodwill to all men, and all small stressed checkout operators who have been thinking solely of chicken drumsticks for the last hour.

3.00: A group of chatty American tourists come through. They’re absolutely delightful. I ask them as politely as possible why they’re here, because my town is grey and grim and windswept, and they say “Christmas in Wales just seemed like a nice thing to do.”

This is one of the perks of working on a checkout – you get to chat to a lot of different people, and sometimes, like right now, they’re nice, and everything is okay for a while.

3.15: NOT THAT LONG, THOUGH. A woman and her adult daughter follow on the heels of the Americans, blown in on a gale of swearwords.

“Fucking Yanks, I’ve never seen anything so SELF-CENTRED, GET OUT OF THE WAY,” the mother fumes.

The Americans are not in her way. They’re six feet away, discussing whether to go back and buy more alcohol.

“Fucking unbelievable,” she says.

“Would you like any bags?” I ask.

4.00: Two hours until hometime!

“Are you going out tonight?” a customer buying several boxes of Budweiser asks me.

I’m not. I’m going to sit quietly in my room and go on the Sims, and maybe hold my guinea pigs for a while. No fluorescent lights. No loud people. And thanks to my 9am New Year’s Day shift, that’s how I intend to see in 2016 as well.

I start telling customers that I’m going to have “a quiet one”.

6pm: LET’S GO. Success is a shift where no one says you look like Michael Jackson (as happened on Thursday) or talks about how “the immigrants” are going to go to our houses and cut our throats (hello, Tuesday morning). I’m out the door as soon as the clock hits the hour.

Edited by Katie Randall 

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