Sunday 27 December 2009

Checkout : A Life on the Tills - Anna Sam

The blurb on the back of the book says : "Anna Sam spent 8 years as a checkout girl. Checkout - A Life on the Tills is a witty look at what it's really like to work in a supermarket : the relentless grind and less-than-perfect working conditions, along with people-watching and encounters with every kind of customer from the bizarre to the downright rude. "

The book is a translation of the original French novel Les Tribulations d'une Caissière, a book that evolved from Anna Sam's blog of the same name. . Anna worked in a Leclerc hypermarket in Rennes, one of the big towns in the Brittany region of her native France, but I'm sure her tales of life at the tills will strike a chord with anyone who's ever worked in a supermarket anywhere in the world. It did bring back a few memories of my own first ever holiday job as a student when I worked in a huge cash-and-carry store.

Some of the tales will have you sniggering - the naughty people who try to hide CDs inside round camembert boxes, who follow her from checkout to checkout as she hunts down a chair so that they can be first in the queue at her till, who (not so) discretely wipe bogies on the goods that go down the conveyor belt ... Other anecdotes will have you cringing guiltily as you recognise some of your own behaviour - the busy shoppers who don't take the time to say hello and goodbye, those who carry on their mobile phone conversations as if the checkout girl isn't there, those who try to put eleven or twelve items down the 10-items-or-less express checkouts ...

Anna has certainly got her revenge on those inconsiderate shoppers by revealing their less than perfect behaviour and she may, as she says she hopes, change the attitude of some shoppers so that they are more courteous to their checkout girls, seeing them as humans rather than an almost robotic extension of their constantly beeping tills.

However, I must admit that her constant complaining did start to irritate me slightly towards the end. I quite understand and empathise that spending eight hours a day at a checkout hearing that annoying bleeping noise and dealing with rude customers isn't the most enjoyable way to spend your time. But I think that must be the case for pretty much anyone who works ! I'm a teacher and I could fill several books with the rude behaviour we have to put up with too, from pupils but also their parents. We often have a whinge in the staffroom but to me, it's just one of the downsides of the job and I wouldn't think of whingeing about it to people outside of the job, let alone write a book trying to reeducate people about the way they treat those around them.

There are some amusing anecdotes, some interesting facts and some wity social comment, but I would say it's an instantly forgettable book, not something that will have bookgroups debating its finer points. I am therefore a bit surprised at how much it has taken off - according to this article in the Telegraph online, "Sam has become an unlikely literary success. Her book, The Tribulations of a Checkout Girl, has sold 100,000 copies in France so far, and is set to be published all over the world, including the UK, later this year. There is a French film in the pipeline, a play, a comic strip and – this last bit she finds impossible to say without a gurgle of pleasure – "even 'ollywood" has expressed an interest. " Hmmm. Maybe I should write that book about life as a teacher that I mentioned earlier !

Another thing that slightly bothered me was the translation aspect with regards to the facts and figures. Anna Sam wrote the book in French and quoted data concerning French shoppers. Morag Young then translated it into English. Somewhere along the way, the facts and figures were transformed into data concerning UK shoppers. So did either Anna or Morag do the research and modify the figures or just change the nationality from French to English without changing the numbers ? It's just a detail but it seemed strange (and probably inaccurate) to see data about UK shoppers in a French book.

If you've ever worked behind the tills, or even if you haven't because you'll recognise some of your fellow shoppers, this book will have you sniggering many times. But from there to basing a Hollywood movie on it, it seems a bit too far to me.

star rating : 2.5/5

RRP : £6.99

Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Gallic Books (15 Jul 2009)
Language English
ISBN-10: 190604029X
ISBN-13: 978-1906040291

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