In 1994-1995 Julie and I lived in London. It was newish to her; oldish to me since I had lived there between 1953 and 1969. I had accepted the invitation to be an Academic Visitor at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, University of London. No money could be paid to me but it was honor all the same. In our late 40’s we said “What the Heck – Lets have an adventure!” Julie quit her job and for the first time in her life, did not have another one to got to.
Living within our budget was to be the hard part of our adventure. We set aside only $12,000 for the year, so our budget was small. But so was our tiny flat in West Ealing, with its microfridge and nanowasher. Yet; the cost of food was meso- and London Transport fares to and from Central London were macro. We did indulge in a “Cadillac” – a cheap shopping bag thingy on wheels.
At some point Julie got bored with hiking to the shops witth the Cadillac and doing verbal battle with marble-mouthed Cockney clerks and foreigners with loose command of English English and none whatever of understandable San Francisco English. For respite she signed up to have lunch in fancy Knightsbridge with a group of American ladies from the English-Speaking Union. But upon arriving at the restaurant she saw that the venue had changed to another macro-fared corner of the City and so gave up on the idea of lunch.
Harrod’s was nearby. Harrod’s is/was a very posh department store. Since she was dressed so nicely, and being of the adventurous kind, my darling wife applied at Harrod’s for a part-time job, the busy Chritmas shopping season being imminent. We certainly needed the money, and Julie was legally allowed to work since she had the odd British visa clearance of “Accompanying Spouse”. (Although US Resident Alien is also odd!).
I being a token Brit was very amuzed and very amazed. “They’ll never hire you” said I. “You are too old and too American”. Says Julie a week later: “They invited me in for an interview”. And even later: “They hired me for Fine Linens”. The young woman interviewing Julie had been in awe of Julie’s considerable Human Resources and Office Administration background, but even more impressed with Julie’s down to earth manner and willingness to give anything a go. Harrod’s needed a few unstuffy people.
Julie had an interview with Mr. Singh, the Manager of Fine Linens. Apparently Fine Linens were table cloths and napkins (oops: “serviettes“) and the like. Julie confessed to Mr Singh to not even knowing the concept of thread count in inches let alone in cm. Also she did not laugh at Mr Thing’s lithp. He liked her – she really is very likeable. He even liked her when he asked if she could work on Saturdays and she told him “”Oh no! I can’t do that. Life’s so busy, isn’t it?”
Harrod’s was an odd place to work. You have to understand something about the undercurrents of class and prestige and accents in Britain to fully appreciate what a stuck-up, affected sort of place Harrod’s was/is; and how non-stuck up Julie was/is. I do understand and the place drove me into tirades of spluttering irritation.
For example: Mr. Thing, as a Thenior Manager, got to wear a red carnation in his lapel buttonhole. Junior Managers wore white carnations. Julie, like all staff, had to wear a black skirt and white blouse. No flowers. Red and white carnations could eat in the management area of the dining room – a sort of stage raised one foot higher than the rest of the staff’s cafeteria (adding a small elevation to the term “moving up in the world”). Julie was not impressed- she just found it interesting and different.
Julie got on fine with Fine Linens customers. To the hapless she was a savior – customer and clerk learning thread counts together. She is equally as polite, cheerful and fair with anybody, despite accent, class or prestige, although she lets little pomposity get by her. But she was thrown by British dialects. She once spent much patient time trying to find the Pet Department for a woman looking for some sort of willfer nittens, or as Julie interpreted the woman’s thick Scots accent – “willfer kittens”. Actually the woman wanted “wool for mittens”.
On another occasion a British woman and her Italian husband were frantic to find a huge table cloth for a huge dining room table for a huge dinner. Well: she was frantic, he was very wary of the potential huge cost. Julie made them into fans by suggesting they buy two much cheaper small table cloths, and cover the junctions with flowers and frippery.
As is often the case when people hire Julie, Harrod’s wanted Julie to stay on permanently, but as Julie had warned them: “Life’s so busy”. Anyway, she was offered a job in the Personnel Department of Imperial College. But that is another Fine Tale….