The other side of the coin.

When I say “airport” what do you think of?

For me, an immediate image pops in my head – that of the opening scene of Love Actually, shot in the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. It is a beautiful moment, filled with love and smiles and warm embraces.

I have worked at Gatwick airport for over 2 years, on and off. It was never my plan and I never intended to stay that long but some things you chose, others you don’t. When I started, working in the World Duty Free seemed unsuited to me. I had a degree in Interior Architecture, a fervent passion for writing and the desire to leave my own mark in this world. Surely, this wasn’t going to happen while I sold Dior perfumes, gave away leaflets, stood behind the tills or did L’Oréal makeovers. No, I was meant for something else. But what was it exactly?

The answer to this question is still waiting to be found but over the years, I have learned that beyond the crazy shift patterns and long commute, beyond this feeling of complete uselessness that often submerges me late at night, Gatwick remains a unique place.

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Interesting shot by Bob Broglia (Creative Commons)

Yesterday, I worked a 12 hours shift. The passenger count was announced to be 37,000 people. I’m terrible at maths but I’ll work this one out. The first passengers start walking through the Duty Free around 4am, the last ones leave around 10pm. This means 18 hours of a constant ebb and flow of traffic. This also means my eyes saw an average of 24,000 people in 12 hours. Isn’t that unbelievable?

That is 24,000 people with their own character and job title. 24,000 people with their own sources of happiness and torment. For the writer in me, that is 24,000 hypothetical characters. It is the very definition of ‘inspirational’. Because when I think of it, in 2 years, I have met the most extraordinary people. A hypnotist who convinced my colleague that his hand was glued to the top of his head. A medium who said she could see the dead and feel the energy in people. A footballer who bought two watches and walked out without the warranty under the pretext that when they broke, he’d “just buy a new one”.

I have met the most ordinary people too. A young couple going to get married in Tenerife. A woman flying to sell her parent’s house after her mother’s funeral. A 14 year old girl getting on a plane for the first time.

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Women contrasts – by Nicholas Mirguet (Creative Commons)

And I have met people working in all kinds of sectors. The director of Universal Edition. A German illustrator and editor for children’s books. A Bulgarian architecture graduate from Oxford University (what are the odds?). A Latvian woman earning a living in a clothes store in Guernsey.

Yes. I complain and I rant, I get bored and I feel worthless, I sell £500 worth of La Prairie skincare and I hate to see money spent like this. I hate it when people walk past you like they walk past a lamp post, when they wave their hand at your face and when they don’t say thank you. I hate it when they are spoilt, when they have forgotten their last pair of Miu Miu sunglasses and buy another one “for the holiday”. I hate the arrogance in some people’s stares, the pity in their eyes as they take my perfumed blotters. I hate the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach – that little voice that says that my CV will never get picked up and the most use I will ever be to someone is neither build their house nor write the words that will move them but rather fix their pale skin with bronzing powder.

I hate it all. But yesterday, I finally saw the other side of the coin. I saw the richness and the diversity. I saw the friendliness and the warmth. I learned that a bit of gloss brings a smile to a 7 year old. And that if you set out with a smile on your face, even the most tedious of days will turn out just fine.

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21 responses to “The other side of the coin.

  1. The most important thing is to smile…. and be courteous. If you scowl, if you are grumpy, usually people respond with the same….

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    • You are absolutely right. I do strive to smile no matter what but the pretence often sends me home tired.
      That being said, I have recently learned to look for and appreciate the positive side of this job and I find it much easier to deal with.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a young woman, I was getting used to a new role, and the buck stopping with me (unless escalated higher), and striving to do a good job…and one day one of my staff gave me a bit of a talking to, as she felt I could have a better attitude….she was absolutely right, best thing anyone said to me, and I never looked back…. Brave of her, but she was a lot older than me and had a lot of life experience!

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      • Did i say something that made you think I had a negative attitude at work? If so, I definitely didn’t mean to.
        I am always friendly and I actually hate it when people let their issues and struggles show. This is fine with friends, not for customer service.
        I have been told I look miles away sometimes though… Whoops… :D

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your take on life, the universe and everything! The idea of 24000 characters is creatively splendid, and I enjoyed the brief sketches of the people you’ve met. Do you know Alain de Botton’s “A week at the airport”? I’d rather read yours. Every time I see you in my inbox, I know there’s a pleasure waiting for me.

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  3. I completely understand. I spent 6 years in retail and I thought I’d never get out. But in time, you will remember this time fondly for all the richness you got to experience. You won’t miss it, but you’ll appreciate it. It’s a great place to learn. And if it makes you feel any better, many writers had day jobs that had nothing to do with writing. I know you’d prefer for architecture to be your day job, and it’ll happen in time. For now, appreciate the experience as much as you can. All things come to an end – good and bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your encouraging words. You are right and I know that now. These past few days have been a turning point in the way I see this jobs. I can’t quite explain what triggered this change but I’m glad it happened.
      It is now with a different perspective that I walk in and with a different mood that I walk out.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So many people deserve much, much better than the jobs they work at. Things have been bad here in the U.S. for jobs for years now and I’ve heard its the same in London.

    My Dad liked the idea of having a vocation and then an avocation, the latter being what you REALLY liked to be doing, the former being a means to an end. Maybe like Chekhov – medicine being his wife and writing his mistress.

    Working at a duty-free shop at Gatwick is probably a wonderful place to study people and many travelers really need a smile and some kindness. I find airports fascinating places to people-watch.

    Something more interesting will come along for you. It’s incredible to me that someone so gifted in so many ways as you are isn’t immediately routed to a wonderful job by resume-readers, but yet I know that so many are having a difficult time.

    Love Actually is such a good movie! I like to watch it around Christmas:0))

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Beth. I’m so flattered by all the positive responses I’ve received. I was merely trying to channel my emotions to highlight the good side of it and never expected such a warm response.
      It is a shame to find out the job market struggles just as much in the U.S.
      I definitely agree with your dad and have been working on embracing this idea. I just wish I knew which was which amongst all those things I want to achieve in my life!!
      One day… :)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This surprises me. You are such an intelligent and talented young woman, I can’t even imagine you in a duty free shop. I’ve been to Gatwick, hope to go again soon with my bike, and hope I don’t find you there. It is difficult for young people all over the world to find the work they are most interested in. Don’t despair. You have a marvellous attitude, and you are so talented, I am certain you will in the end find work you truly enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well if you fly through again, let me know. You never know…
      As I said in a previous comment, I’m incredibly humbled by all your encouraging and flattering words.
      This post really made me think and I have no better solution than to look on the bright side until something brighter comes along. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What an affirmative approach to making the best of situations. It’s easier in some days than others, but you are so right about the amount of ‘grist’ we accumulate by watching strangers and their interactions. I pretend i’m a film director for a Fellini flick 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like you had something of an epiphany. It just comes out of nowhere, and you don’t know what triggers it, but its acceptance, and wow does it make your life easier and happier!!! I had one myself last year about something completely different. I worked in retail for many years, so I know how you feel. It turned my stomach to see people spending thousands on the latest designer something or other which they didn’t really need or want, when people in the world are starving and suffering. But for all tha nast people you meet (and there are many!) There are also lots of lovely ones too. Thank goodness!

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