In the span of two years I spent working in three souvenir shops in Zagreb, I’ve learned a lot about life.
Here is some complimentary wisdom, speaking from experience: every time you say I’ve seen everything, someone will immediately prove you wrong. People can be outstandingly nice and incredibly rude with no reason whatsoever. Silly questions can be posed both by locals and the tourists. Have a few more cold, hard truths about working in the souvenir business, along with wartime stories I wrote down as soon as they happened so I wouldn’t forget all of this actually took place in real life.
1) You are never just a souvenir shop salesgirl.
If you thought your job description will be limited to standing behind the register, you were very, very mistaken. Along with being a salesgirl, you’ll also be any or all of the following: a translator, a fashion model, a postcard content creator, the sole person responsible for the state of Croatian economy, the sole person responsible for the lack of services in Croatian tourism, a personal shopper, the head of the Impromptu Tourist Information Center, a psychiatrist, a policewoman, a travel agent, and last but not least, a punching bag.
2) The customer is always right.
Even when said customer is what seems to be a 100-year-old man who politely tries to convince you he remembers you from the battlefield, the exact date and location of the battle in question remaining unknown to this day.
Even when said customer is a middle-aged woman informing you the flag you carry is not the real Croatian flag because the actual Croatian coat of arms starts with a white field.
Even when said customer is an old lady who opens the door, leans in without entering and screams EVERYTHING IN THIS STORE IS SHIT!, then leaves.
3) The ultimate Croatian folk costume is a thing.
The shop I worked in carried wonderful traditional garments, carefully hand-crafted and featuring design patterns of numerous types of costumes worn in all parts of Croatia. There are dozens of variations which can loosely be divided into regional categories depending on their origin. On more than one occasion, customers would ask to purchase a Croatian folk costume, suddenly getting angry after being asked which particular costume they were interested in.
– I told you, the Croatian one.
– Okay, sir, but there are many types of –
– I know, I want the Croatian costume!
– Yeah, but which one?
– What do you mean, which one?
– Which regional type of –
– I don’t want any regional types, I want THE CROATIAN COSTUME!
To avoid looking like an idiot and making them feel idiotic as well, there was only one option left to resort to:
– Ah, you mean the Croatian costume! I’m sorry, we’re currently out of those.
4) You break it, you buy it only works in theory.
As many other shops overflowing with small breakable items, we had a break it – buy it policy in place. Turns out, a sense of guilt over destroying someone else’s belongings is a thing of the past, according to the number of customers who successfully ignored my demands to compensate for the damage. As long as they can physically leave the store, how is one to stop them anyway? The unofficial policy these days leans towards you break it, you say oops, you run.
5) It’s possible to carry out a meaningful conversation using only a couple of words.
That doesn’t mean you’ll close a sale, though. What follows is the exact transcript of a shopgirl – customer interaction:
– Hello, you have shirts?
– Sure, we have a couple of different designs. Here,take a look!
– ……..You have this and this and this.
– Oh! This and this?
– And this.
– No more?
– Yes. Thiiis… and this and this.
– This and this. This, this and this no. This?
– This how much?
6) Dubrovnik is located in Montenegro.
…at least according to a certain Indian pater familias accompanied by his wife and four children. Upon noticing that some Dubrovnik-themed souvenirs also featured an inscription saying Croatia, he proceeded to lecture us on geography in a five-minute monologue, undisturbed by my desperate attempts to defend what is ours. He visited Montenegro last year and enjoyed his time in Dubrovnik. He’s never been to Croatia up until now. Am I saying he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, disrespecting him in front of his children?? No, I am not. Sorry, sir. (Sorry, Dubrovnik.)
7) People will try to bargain, no matter the amount in question.
Look, I understand the basic human instinct to bargain for a discount, but everything has its limits. We’re more than happy to shave 10% off a substantial total sum. However, if you proudly inform me you’re staying in the best hotel in the city and then start yelling at me for not giving you a free magnet after you’ve already bought one, it’s not going to end well for you. It’s 10 kuna a piece. You’ll live.
8) Current events dictate trends on the market.
You may remember the occasion when the Croatian war veterans took refuge in the church of St.Mark during their protest in the spring of 2015. Can you guess what out bestselling item was on that particular day?
9) People tend to overshare.
A woman just a bit older than me once entered the shop and said:
– Hello, young lady. Can you spare any change? I’m fresh out of prison and I need money for wine, I won’t lie, it’s not for food and shelter. Nice earrings by the way, very nice, so good I wanna steal them.
10) Every now and then, someone will come along and save the day with a casual compliment.
Once upon a time, after an exceptionally lousy shift at work, a random local lady popped into the store and said:
– I’m sorry, I’m not looking to buy anything and don’t want to waste your time, but I just wanted to say you look lovely today.
It was Sartre who said, hell is other people. I’d like to add to that and say, hell is other people when you work in retail. Next time you’re on vacation and you enter a shop to buy a magnet or two, be kind to the salespeople. We’ll appreciate it.