Becky says things about … the first day of a new job

Let me tell you a story, Listener. A story of fear.

Yesterday I walked into my local coffee shop. I glanced at the menu board and made my decision. There was a young girl standing behind the counter. We looked at each other.

I realised I was looking into the face of fear.

The girl had TRAINEE BARISTA emblazoned on her shirt.

Ordering coffee from her felt a bit like this:

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She handled the milk jug like it contained a human heart, poured the milk into my cup as though it were the pureed remains of Christ himself, and when she spilt the tiniest globule onto the counter, looked at me as though I was going to club her to death with a raisin whirl and whispered ‘I’m so sorry – it’s my first day’, I wanted to hug her.

Because, most adored Listener, is there any fear like the first day of a new job?

My first ever day of work was at a telesales company that sold double glazing. I was 15 years old. I was presented with a sticky phone, a soiled phonebook, a chewed pencil, a grimy script, and a deep sense of everything in the world being black and wretched.

I was told to call members of the public and sell them double glazing. I stared at my besmeared equipment and suddenly realised that I had an insurmountable phobia of phones, people, talking, and life. If I had been given the choice of phoning a stranger and trying to sell them double glazing, or sandpapering my own corneas, my decision would have been swift.

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After 20 minutes of trying to devise a cunning and elaborate escape, I pulled myself together, dialled the first number and had a brief conversation with a member of the English public that went something along the lines of:

‘Hi, my name’s Becky, I’m not trying to sell you anything but – ‘

‘If you call me again I will hunt you down and I will kill you.’

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On my first day of working in a gift shop when I was 16, I realised I had a terrible fear of greetings cards. Oh, Listener, they all look perfectly harmless when they’re neatly stacked in their displays, but when you’re the poor chump who has to get them out of their box, find the right slots, price them, and stock-check them against a mystifying coding system that was devised by an evil genius in a distant subterranean lair, it is alarming.

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After emerging from the emotional persecution of greetings cards, I was handed a duster and told to dust the shelves. As a result, I discovered a snippet of wisdom that is invaluable for your first day in a new job: find a task you can do and do it very slowly and very thoroughly, thereby keeping well out of that shark-infested deep water and remaining safely in your comfort zone.

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I dusted for about four hours, bristling with terror every time a customer came near me, until the worst fear of anyone on their first day in retail was realised: SOMEONE ASKED ME SOMETHING. 

Everything went into slow motion. The customer’s words morphed out of his mouth, slowly cutting into my soul like demonic blades.

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Fortunately, there was an incredibly simple answer, and I learnt my second piece of wisdom: PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY STUPID.

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What about your first day in an office, Becky? I hear you ask. Behold, sweet Listener.

If you are unfortunate enough to be taking over someone’s job, starting work in an office is like bursting in on a recently-bereaved family, grabbing the urn off the mantelpiece, and shitting in it.

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Your desk is not your own – it is the desk of Val, or Beryl, or Graham, or whichever adorable and much-loved colleague sat there before you. On that first day, and for a fair time thereafter, you are The Person Who Took Over Val’s Job. You are using Val’s pencil. You are using Val’s stapler. You open Val’s desk drawer to find a festering, tea-encrusted mug, and you innocently hold it up and say ‘Er – is this anyone’s?’ and the office sinks into a stony, grieving silence, and before long your new colleagues have grown enormous ginger beards, are wearing horned helmets, and are telling you you are not welcome in their village.

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But there is no fear, no abject terror comparable to your first day working behind a bar.

I was 20. I walked behind the bar on my first shift to be confronted with the blank staring faces of eight men behind a gauze of smoke. I couldn’t have felt more exposed if I had removed all my clothes and straddled the beer pumps.

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The landlord then proceeded to place me two feet away from the group of customers, wrap his arms around me, put his hand over mine on the beer pump, and pull it down, all the while murmuring ‘Theeeeeeeeere we go, pull it hhhaaaarrd, don’t be afraid of it, give it a good tug now’, while the men viewed me in solemnly judging silence. I will give 50 English pounds to the 20 year-old girl who claims she would be comfortable in this situation.

I spent my first shift staring numbly at the ludicrous amount of bottles, the baffling multitude of glasses, and wondering whether I could make it through my entire barmaiding career without ever having to serve anyone a drink.

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The most unnerving thing about that first day was the exposure. In Space no one can hear you scream, right? Well, behind a bar everyone can hear you scream, and everyone can hear when you drop a glass and everyone can see when your skirt’s tucked into your knickers and everyone can see when you’re staring desperately at the bottle shelves trying desperately to see the Pernod and pretending desperately that you’re not trying desperately to see the Pernod, and there is no escape. Space is easy. 

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So I felt for that girl in the coffee shop. The only advice I can give her is that it will get easier. She will become more confident, more assured, until she will wonder what she ever worried about. She will also develop a profound abhorrence for the human race and everything it stands for, but that’s just the beauty of life.

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76 Comments

Filed under Life eh?, People, Rants, The Beauty of Life

76 responses to “Becky says things about … the first day of a new job

  1. At 6″4′ I’ve was left feeling like one of the Oompa-Loompas when I got the order wrong in my first job as a waiter, many moons ago. And you know what, it never got easier in that job, well until I got fired, that is.

  2. I’ve worked a cornucopia of misery-inducing jobs, but my least favorite are what I think of as the “bagged and tagged” jobs. You have to wear an ill-fitting uniform and some horrifying name tag. I once wore a tag that said “I’m new, but I’m exceptional”. I was making doughnuts in a bakery. That name tag felt more like a suicide note.

    • Oh. My. God. ‘I’m new, but I’m exceptional’. That is the most sickening / amazing thing I’ve ever heard. I hope that after your first week you crossed out the first bit and just went around wearing a badge that said ‘I’m exceptional’. I’m going to make myself a badge that says that right now. :)

  3. My first job was as a chamber maid.It did not end well. My head still hangs in shame when I see a bottle of Brasso.

  4. Benetton. Remember in the 80/90’s when it was a store with shelves and shelves of folded tshirts and sweaters. For the first week I had nightmares every night that I had just folded everything perfectly in the store and then someone would come along…a child…a woman….an earthquake…and ruin my beautiful work. Once I think I even had a dream that all the shelves of sweaters fell on me and I was entangled in a sea of cardigan arms all grabbing at my legs not letting me go….(shudder)

  5. Yup, that about sums it up. I have both a fear and a hatred of first days. *Cringes* I quit my first job after the first day. Yup yup. :) I’m a quitter.

  6. All the simplest things become mammoth tasks when it’s your first day. I don’t know if it gets easier or you stop simply stop caring that you spilt a tiny splodge of milk.

  7. Dave

    Ugh… telemarketing jobs are the worst. I tried that once and lasted about 3 weeks. Not fun!

  8. sarahjoy357

    Completely accurate. I worked in a bar for 2 weeks and the fear would make me blank on how to make a vodka & coke!

  9. TK

    I think you just recounted my life here. I spent one summer behind a bar and I will never do it again. I was 19 and not old enough to drink yet. Unlike most college students, I did not engage in underage drinking. Therefore, I had no idea of the different kinds of alcohol and beers. People would ask for something and I’d have to ask “can you point out which bottle that is?”

    I’m never working behind a bar again. It’s just to traumatizing.

    As far as office work goes, I had it easy. My position was newly created. I wasn’t replacing anyone.

    • Urgh you’ve just brought back such painful memories. Some people would ask for such STUPID drinks. ‘A Ram and Special please’.

      ‘………………………………………….Errrrrrrrrrrrrr what is a Ram and Special?’

      And then they look at you like you’re a complete twonk. Or when you present someone with a drink in a certain glass and they go ‘No – can I have it in that glass please?’ Because the type of glass is IMPERATIVE to the enjoyment of the beverage.

      Barwork is indeed traumatising, until you become confident enough to tell customers to shut up and get what they’re given :)
      Thanks for reading!

  10. I had my first day of work last month and they sent me to a conference to be a stenographer…I am not a stenographer. I cried for 3 hours after.

  11. Awesome post. And so true!

  12. Twindaddy

    The last time I was left alone like that on my first day at a job I walked out. If they don’t care to train me I don’t care to be there. Later!

  13. Melanie

    I failed my first day as a bartender. It was misery. I just knew every one of those customers (men) would eat me alive. The bar owner gave me one more day to figure it out. He told me the bar was my stage and I could be any one I wanted to be, but the wet rag act had to go. I bartended for him for four years.

  14. 15 doing cold calling?!? You had guts to even try that! I still have a fear of answering the phone at a new (office) job, so I can’t imagine what it is like to be new in retail these days. I’ve done telemarketing too, but it was the newspaper my mom wrote for so I actually ‘believed’ in the product. I still sucked and it was terrible (and I was under 20, too). I loved my bar tending job tho! I got to wear a top hat and tails – my own! And no one cared that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, it was a tourist trap. But I was still under 20 and when the owner found out I was let go, have to be 21 in the USA to serve booze! Hahhaha.
    Two websites I bet you’ll love: retailhellunderground and notalwaysright. I read both daily, despite not being in retail for a loooong time.
    I love the ‘shitting in the urn’ drawing, it is perfect!

  15. juliereadread

    You’ll always be my favourite CSI oxygen reconciliation lady xx

  16. wandered over here from Le Clown’s…

    I’m on disability now (err, you say “pension” in the UK, right?) but this reminded me of some of my jobs in the past. I regard telemarketing and other similar such jobs as only a few pegs above prostitution, after the experiences I had.

  17. Love you, love you, Miss Becky. Everything is Val’s…yes, I recall that settling in. You only hope Val was awful at her job, so the expectations were way low. You’re the best!

    • Love you too! :)
      Val’s legacy takes a while to get over, but you know what? I know for a fact that when I left that job, EVERYTHING was Becky’s, and whoever took over my job would’ve had quite a time wiping out all traces of me ;) HAHAHAHAHA REVENGE WAS MINE. :)

  18. I worked in a breadcrumb factory once. Do you know those tubes of breadcrumbs you buy at the grocer? I worked on an assembly line filling those tubes. Not my finest hour. I had to wear a surgical mask because breadcrumb dust permeated the air and if inhaled, your lungs would turn into two croutons. The first day, I started at 8:00 and by 10:00 it got insufferably hot. The breadcrumb dust stuck to my sweating arms. That turned into dough and more breadcrumb dust stuck to that. By noon my arms were like two giant corn dogs. I looked like Popeye with malformed forearms. I left for lunch and never went back. Not even to collect my half-day of pay. The next day, I enlisted in the Coast Guard and got out of town. That worked out MUCH better. True story.

    • That is an amazing story. I have a wonderful image of you as a big blob of dough being unable to move because more and more bread is sticking to you. Eventually, in my brain, they have to roll you out of the factory like a big doughy snowball. Lovely :)
      Coast guarding was a MUCH better idea.

      • Honestly…everyone should have at least ONE factory job or ONE retail job. It’s provides excellent perspective. I always think back to that job and many other miserable ones just like it and feel lucky that I found a clean way to make a living. Here’s another unspeakable job, even worse than my breadcrumb factory one:

        Sometimes, when full cement mixing truck is on its way to a job, it’ll get caught in traffic or break down, and all the cement inside the giant turning drum will harden. I knew a guy who used to crawl inside that drum with a hand-held jack hammer and chisel all the hardened cement out of the drum. Can you imagine such a horror!? In the heat of summer or dead cold of winter!?

        This was all a result my having grown up in a blue collar, heavy industry city. We couldn’t afford college. Junk work like this was all we had available to us. The Coast Guard was a hell of a turnaround. I enlisted and ended up having so much fun that I would have done it for free. I couldn’t believe they were actually paying me! Saved a few lives, to boot.

        • Very similar to my dad’s opinion: he thinks everyone should work in a factory, an office, a shop and a bar, and I’ve got 3 out of 4 so it’s not bad going.
          That cement chiseling job sounds horrendous.
          But coast guarding definitely sounds amazing. Not many people can say they’ve saved a few lives in their jobs!

  19. In 4 out of my 5 jobs I’ve thrown up in the work bathroom on the first day on the job. I always cry the night before. I always assume that I’m replacing someone who has set the bar so high that my new coworkers want to take the bar down and beat me to death with it.

    • Oh dear god that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. I hope you now realise that you are amazing and that the world pities the poor bastard who tries to climb to the heights of YOUR bar :)

  20. Liz

    oh, that last sentence is a good one, Becky. You’ve given human existence a motto :-D

    Recently started a new project where I take consumer calls and even after training for three weeks, I FORGOT TO TAKE DOWN THE PHONE NUMBER of the first person that called. Duh. Must have been nerves ;-)

    lol, you have Stick in a compromising position up there.

    Hope you’re feeling better!

  21. Hilarious post Becky! First days are the worst.

  22. Becky, this must be my favourite post of yours. And very timely, as I am job hunting. Shit.

  23. Becky, I worked in a pub as a student. Not for very long. Discounting the day I went in wearing a hat because I bleached my hair blonde and it went a weird white / yellow colour (not a good look) the other slightly embarrassing moment that sticks out was when a guy ordered a big round of drinks and finished by saying “…and a half pint of lager and a creme de menthe”. For some reason I asked him “Do you mean you want the want those in the same glass?”. I don’t know why I asked. He said “Um, I think so, yes”, Clearly he was no cleverer than me, but he may have unduly rattled by my strange question. I poured a shot of creme de menthe in the glass and topped it up with half a pint of lager. It frothed like a witch’s potion and was bright green. Nevertheless, he paid and took it back to his table. A moment later he returned. “Apparently, they are supposed to be in separate glasses”. Ah well, who knew!? Much better sticking to the other side of the bar, I think!! :-)

    • Ahahahahahaha this is SO familiar!! I had the opposite problem. Someone asked me for a coke and red wine. I OBVIOUSLY gave her two separate glasses: one of coke, one of red wine. She looked at them and then looked at me as though I was the stupidest, most moronic monster to ever walk the earth. ‘Errrrrr NO,’ she said scornfully; ‘I said coke AND red wine. In the SAME GLASS.’ Clearly I stared at her like she was mental, because she WAS mental. A) She should have said coke WITH red wine to stipulate her desire for them to be amalgamated into one; and b) WHO DRINKS RED WINE WITH COKE????? People are weird.
      Thank you for reading! :)

  24. The entire retail system, whether it be selling coffee or greeting cards, was derived completely for us to suffer and hate humanity. Hell on earth? Quite possibly. At least it sounds accurate to those of us who have had the “pleasure” of holding one of these menial jobs. As usual, great story!!

    • So true. It’s also psychologically confusing. When you work in a shop, is the customer always right? HELL no. Customers are ARSEHOLES. When you’re a customer, are you always right? HELL yes. Shop assistants are morons.
      CONFUSING.
      Thanks for reading :)

  25. Cold calling is the worst job! LOL! Great story. Can I narrate for my podcast?

  26. I had a job folding t-shirts and stuff at a shop that was sort of like the Gap. Everytime some snot-nosed little skank came in and messed around with the merchandise, I had to go over and refold everything. The biggest challenge was not shoving said merchandise up the behinds of the offending customers and not cursing them, their descendants, and all their friends and loved ones.

  27. Oh, boy. Your first day in the bar (working there, I mean, urhum) reminded me of when I worked at the pub as a student. There was a man who came with a tenner every night, and drank pints alone until he had no more money, pointing silently at the beer pump. Every Friday night, he was there, and I was the only person he wanted to serve him. Finally, after two months, he spoke. “Scuse me?” Me: “Ur, yes?” Him: “if you don’t swap arms for pulling your pints, your right boob will be higher than you left”. He drained his glass, and exited stage right, leaving me the laughing stock of the pub.

  28. Stopped to check out a second post of yours, and this one just as good in a different way–amusing and serious simultaneously. Nice.

    One summer I was short-order cooking at a teensy bar-slash-club when the owner asked me to also be the barmaid for the after-lunch hours. At first I was terrified, since I knew nothing about mixed drinks. But the owner would be offsite. Whenever I got a non-beer order, I’d just let the customer come behind the bar and we’d mix the drink together. Everybody was happy!

  29. Haha I love this! I actually have fond memories of my first day at work, but that being said – I havn’t done retail yet…bracing myself!

  30. Pingback: Awkward Moments on the Job

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