'Too many Arabs in Cartier': an Interlude in the Murky Hinterland of Luxury Retail

It’s fair to say that 2012 - 2013 was a year of rapid and sizeable change. By the end of my contract and an extended trip through China, I was ready for a rest; to take some time to decompress, breathe, and reacquaint myself with my friends, family and home country.

This coincided nicely with the start of my next contract. For various reasons related to horribly adult-sounding things like ‘five-year plan’ and ‘career trajectory’ I’d decided some time ago to set my sights on a state school job in South Korea. The application process for this is extremely long and involved - after applying before I left China and passing the interview a couple of days after arriving back in the UK, I pretty much had to get hold of every document that has ever had my name on it, in triplicate, and have it signed and sealed by a lawyer and the Foreign Office. There were then a few more hoops to jump through, including a last-minute trip to Wales for a new passport, before the start date in mid-February.

Teaching EFL may be a lot of things, but lucrative enough to support four months’ gadding about in London plus legal and administrative costs it ain’t. I needed a job. As EFL teaching work in the capital is almost impossible to come by without a whole bucketload of luck and experience, I worked over my customer service CV, did the rounds of temp agencies and prayed. A week or so later I had a job in the customer services arm of a well-known luxury retailer. I should state at this point that until recently, my familiarity with the world of luxury retail bore some resemblance to that of a salmon with the interior of a gentleman’s club in that 85% of my clothes have been foraged from charity shops, I’m not really fussed about money beyond having enough of it for plane tickets and the pub, and, frankly, the idea of spending any longer than absolutely necessary shopping for anything brings me out in a cold sweat. One might posit that, under the circumstances, this may not have been the ideal environment in which to seek work. One might also posit that, having spent the previous year in a country where life for large swathes of the population consists of round after grinding round of poverty and government-sponsored oppression, spending large amounts of time on the phone to uptight, self-important Sloanes droning tastelessly on about how they spend more in a day than I earn in a year might not be the best option for my blood pressure. One would be correct on both counts. However, I was also chronically skint and reckoned it would make cracking blog fodder.

Whilst I was hopefully correct in this assumption, there were certain aspects of the job I failed spectacularly to anticipate. In particular, I was entirely unprepared for the daily occurrences of outright, breathtaking racism. After a year spent on the receiving end of outright, breathtaking racial prejudice and kidding myself that I came from a country where this was unacceptable and the only people who used the word ‘foreigner’ were a small minority of idiots, or those ironically impersonating a small minority of idiots, this was something of a nasty shock. Aside from the title of this post, which contains an honest-to-God genuine complaint, examples include:

A member of the British Fashion Council referring to a member of shop staff as an ‘Eastern European animal’.

On asking for a description of a sales assistant: ‘I don’t mean to stereotype but he was foreign’

'It's all changed for the worse in Kensington - it started with these Eastern European postmen'

The following are my - hopefully entertaining- personal Top Five run-ins with the commercial woes of the super-rich. However, the attitudes expressed above have educated me uncomfortably in a side of my country I am rarely exposed to, and will stay with me as a visitor to other peoples’.

5. An extract from the case that came to be known as Pantgate: ‘My panties (this word alone is enough to make me violently sick in my mouth) did not come packed in individual boxes. How am I supposed to stockpile them now?’

4. ‘The dresses I bought today all have at least one crease in them. I will need three steamers and people to operate them despatched to my house by taxi immediately, free of charge.’

3. ‘I am disgusted by the attitude of Father Christmas, who was extremely sarcastic about the musical talents of One Direction singer Harry Styles. My daughter(9) is devastated.’

2. In conversation with a customer who had requested I call her with the ingredients for the store’s spelt loaf: ‘Well obviously it has spelt flour in it! My question to you, young lady, is which mill is it from? It could be any one of… well… TWENTY or so in the UK! One can never know!’

1. The outright winner of the Fake Complaints Association Fake Complaint of the Year award: ‘Your sales associate tried to sell me his mother for sex’.

Wanderings and Ramblings of an ESL teacher currently based in a tiny mountain town near the North Korean border.