Happy Encounters


I told my mom that my next blog post would be about how I pack for trips with only my backpack, and I promise I have a draft post being worked on, but I had a happy encounter today that I wanted to share.

While living here in London, I decided to get a part time job. In part to fill my hours with something other than Netflix and in part to afford my travels and Diet Coke addiction, I have been working in retail. It’s introduced me to some wonderful characters: my coworkers are lovely and we regularly chat about cultural differences and what it’s like to live in a city like London and what funny customers wandered into our shop on any given day. Most days, in fact, I genuinely feel happy being busy at work, tidying and organizing (and occasionally dancing/singing along to mediocre music).

As most people who work in retail can tell you, you’ll meet some pretty unpleasant people. Folks who are frustrated, angry, impatient, generally unpleasant. These people come into the store just about everyday and you do your best to help them out. Sometimes they leave happy and sometimes you’re left feeling a bit down or useless.

But then there’s real gems. Like the girl who came up to the till and asked how my shift was going (and then remembered me the next week when she came in again). Or the girl on a mission trip who informed me that God had sent her to the second floor of our shop to offer aid and prayers to whoever was working there. Or the babies that come in and smile.

Because of the location of my particular shop, we get a lot of tourists, oftentimes popping in to buy shoes to replace their broken ones or to grab an umbrella for a rainy day. Sometimes, they are just killing time while they wait for their train. French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, all spoken in one place. As I struggle to translate my question of “would you like to purchase a bag for 5 pence?”, we use smiles and hand motions to communicate.

Every once in a while, I hear it though: the American accent. I don’t know if folks aren’t expecting it or if I’ve been in the U.K. long enough that my y’alls aren’t as strong, but most Americans don’t seem to notice that I’m not British.

But then there’s those happy encounters, like the one I had today, where an American (usually a mother, bless them) will stop and do a double take, asking me where I’m from or what I’m doing here.

Today, I had a customer leave the fitting room and then come back to chat with me. When I mentioned that I was getting my Master’s here, her face lit up. She was visiting her daughter who was studying abroad in London.¬†She asked about my travels and how I was finding it with such enthusiasm and joy that our small conversation washed away any frustrations about my shift or any anxiety about my upcoming exam.

We exchanged a high five, or two, and she said “if I knew you better, I’d give you a hug!“. We’ll probably never cross paths again, but my day was made by this simple happy encounter of an enthusiastic, interested American mother who I just so happened to run into.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to have three days off from work in a row, but it was a nice reminder of why I stay in my part time retail job: the people.