Congratulations! If you’re reading this, it probably means you clicked on it because you’re about to begin your summer job. Maybe you’ve never had a summer job before, or maybe you’ve been doing this every summer since you could walk – in which case, I have some stern questions about your parents’ approach to child labour laws – but either way, there’s a very specific feel to seasonal jobs that you just don’t get in a regular job.
I have done a LOT of seasonal work in my time on this earth: I’ve spent Christmases selling CDs; June bank holidays arranging slippery dresses on to plastic hangers that have NO interest in hanging anything; long Julys filing legal papers in un-airconditioned basements; Augusts folding thongs into neat, sushi-shaped parcels.
I have met every kind of manager, co-worker and customer you can think of, so please allow me this moment to advise you on who to embrace, who to avoid and who you’ll never quite get a handle on.
The Fake Mum
This might sound a little unkind, and maybe I’m talking out of my arse here, but if there’s one thing I learned from my teenage years, it’s not to trust women who regard themselves as your mum within seconds of meeting you.
This is all very sweet, at first. They’ll give you a cuddle when they catch you crying in the stock room, give you the easy jobs, give you a quid for the vending machine if you’re stuck. And while some of these women are genuinely lovely, some of them overstep the mark. They make comments on your clothes, like your mum does. They’re condescending about what they think you can and can’t “handle”, like your mum does. Gradually you realise that most people only have one mum for a reason, and that mum is not a random woman they meet while working in a supermarket.
The flip side of the Mum is called The Jennifer, named after an awesome woman I met called (you guessed it) Jennifer. Jennifer was in her 50s, and we used to do Sundays together the summer I worked at the bra shop. She didn’t treat me like her daughter; she treated me like a young woman who happened to be working with her. She was a brilliant laugh, had great stories, and would only occasionally pull the “you’ll understand when you’re older” card. Find your Jennifer, and embrace her. Treasure this time together.
“Sorry Caroline, but the company dress code is black, white, raspberry and ink blue.”
Ink. Blue. Not sky blue, not cornflower blue, not sapphire, not cobalt. This person expected a teenager to have clothes in raspberry and ink-bloody-blue, and I will never understand why. She was my manager, and she sent me home that day with a disciplinary because I was wearing the wrong shade of blue.
You think you leave these sorts of people behind in school, but you don’t. Everywhere, in every sort of office, there’s someone who is following the company handbook to the absolute letter, and it’s useless to think you can escape their eagle-eye. Don’t argue back, or be obstinate, even if they’re being ridiculous. If you make yourself memorable to the Stickler, they will come after you even harder.
Everyone needs a Rizzo: a bad friend who is that little bit crazier, lazier, and braver than you. They will urge you to take that extra 15 minutes for lunch break; to stay out that little bit later after work; to ignore the hard-nosed Stickler as they relentlessly rip the piss out of them. My Rizzo turned out to be one of my oldest friends, and is still a bad influence on me to this today. Love your Rizzo, but don’t feel like you need to follow them, or do what they do. It’s alright to mess around a bit at your summer job, but you don’t want to burn any bridges, either.
The Big Crush
Some of the most intense crushes of my life have been work crushes, and the first and biggest one of all was Anthony. Anthony was a beautiful boy who worked in the menswear department, and who complimented my hair once. I had gone to an all-girls school, so had never known the sweet torture of a boy you were in love with being two corridors away at all times. Obviously, I found lots of ridiculous reasons to go to the menswear department. Yes, it started to look weird after a while. No, we never got together.
If you do have a Big Crush at your summer job, try not to tell anyone. Not even Rizzo, or Jennifer. You will be amazed by how bored people are at work, and even the most loyal colleague will turn your crush into gossip. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.