Work is work, as my parents always say.
You clock in, do your job, clock out and then go home, only to then get ready to do it all over again the next day.
But that’s not exactly the case when you work at the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore. Working here is not as simple as clocking in and doing your tasks.
I am far more than a typical department store worker: I also double as an ambassador for the United States of America.
With a name boasting the glitz and glamour of a city more than 30 miles away, the premium outlets are a tourist mecca. Equipped with stores like Gucci, Prada and True Religion, the outlet has quickly become a melting pot of many different cultures and flavors of human beings.
As legend has it, they all get dropped off by tour buses and, like a pack of wild dogs on a hunt, are unleashed and prowl the stores. Asians, Europeans, Indians, Australians and all other citizens of the world arrive at the Livermore/San Francisco Premium Outlets. All in search of a great deal. The stores are more than willing to oblige this need, sporting giant signs that promise the hugest
I work at Under Armor, obviously the store with the most foot traffic. At least it seems it does. I am a salesman, of both shoes and the American Dream. I roam the store with the biggest smile on my face, striking up conversation with anyone, with hopes of selling more product.
It didn’t take long before I realized my job was far more than sales alone.
Right from the get go, I noticed that many of our customers were not from the United States, so selling clothes became a challenge. But it was a challenge I was eager to conquer. Many of the tourists were not from here, and for many it was their first time in the United States.
Realizing this, my mindset instantly changed. Instead of being attached to them like a beeper, constantly pitching them product like my name was Billy Mays selling Oxyclean, I was now helping make people feel comfortable enough to buy more items. I learned from one of the tour group bus drivers that many of these tourists only visit the U.S. to shop, getting right back on a plane and red-eye home with bags full of goodies for friends and family.
I came to the realization that for many of these tourists, outlet workers are essentially the only people they interact with during their trip. In essence, we retail workers shape their image of the country.
Now enlightened with the idea that I was the face of the United States of America, I tried finding ways to converse with customers who live thousands of miles away. Most times I was met with puzzled looks and hand gestures. With time and practice, I got the hang of things.
I started to add to my social toolkit, with compliments as my nails and humor as my hammer. I found that I could build a connection with people on a human level. I now walked with confidence, cracked jokes left and right and always tried to give our foreign customers a good retail experience. In return, when I became the positive embodiment of what Americans can be, those same customers shared their culture with me in our brief interactions.
I was hired during the 2018 World Cup, so finding common ground with tourists became easy. I got caught up on World Cup news every day, so I could be up to date when speaking to the many soccer obsessed Europeans and South Americans. A great U.S.A. representative must be careful not to sound like a fool.
I confidently spoke of England's great underdog run to the final four, and shared the same amazement when Croatia made it all the way to the end. To say I got along with the English like bangers and mash would be putting things lightly.
I’d make Australians laugh when speaking of my dream to visit their country, but this dream can also be my nightmare. I’d explain my fear of their gigantic insects. As I understood it, Australian bugs are like our bugs, only on steroids. One couple burst into laughter, telling me that this is not true. They said I should be more concerned of their alligators and sharks.
My knowledge of the world was exponentially growing.
Many visitors from China were very kind, yet very blunt. I once had a woman approach me asking what size I wore and even went as far as bringing out a tape measure to size me up. After she was done logging my sizes, she smiled and said, “Thank you. The clothes are for my nephew. He is very fat like you, too.”
As salesman and ambassador, it was my duty to tell her, “In the United States, he's just considered husky.”
Another thing I learned on the job is it’s disrespectful for Chinese tourists not to bring gifts back for the whole family after visiting another country, which made sense to me. They seemed to carry the biggest bags into the store, all filled with weight and love, ready to return home with all their goodies like a sherpa.
My time working as a representative of the typical American male has been a phenomenal success. Not only do I feel like I have accomplished my mission as an ambassador, I also feel as though I’ve learned a lot about other cultures. It was eye-opening just to see how different and similar we all are.
Being raised by my Afghan mother, I was taught the importance of respecting other cultures. We are all different in our own right. Rather than judging our differences, I celebrate them. Instead of being close minded, I’ve learned to be curious. I always try to look at things from another person’s perspective.
Sometimes these individuals are not from America, but that’s OK.
Every lesson in positive international relations I have gathered at the Livermore/San Francisco Premium Outlets has prepared me to be the very best representative of the great United States I can possibly be.