French check-out lady scans years of insults to bag bestseller

At the start of 2008, Anna Sam, was part of a legion of 170,000 French women who are, in her words, “omnipresent but invisible”. She was a “beepeuse” (a woman who beeps) or, more officially, a “hôtesse de caisse” (till-hostess). In other words, she was a supermarket check-out girl.

In January, Mme Sam, 29, began to write about her experiences, first in a blog, then in a book. She told of life behind the till and the conveyor belt - “one of the most desirable vantage points from which to enjoy the full panoply of human idiocy”. Almost a year later, the invisible woman is not only omnipresent but inescapable.

She has become a best-selling author, with more than 100,000 sales, and a triumphantly successful blogger, with more than 1,000,000 visits to her site (caissierenofutur.over-blog.com). Her advice on the life of shop-workers is sought by politicians and supermarket chains.

Her book - “Les Tribulations d'une Caissière” (The tribulations of a check-out girl) - is about to be translated into several languages. There are projects to turn Mme Sam's life - literature-student-turned “beepeuse”-turned-author - into a comic-book, a play and a film.

The young Breton attributes her success to a turning away from a stifling obsession with celebrities towards a refreshing interest in the humour - and heroism - of everyday lives. “I talk about things as they really are, without exaggeration or aggression,” she said. “My popularity shows that society is changing more rapidly than we think.”

The success of Anna Sam's book follows in the tradition of other, surprising, runaway triumphs in France in recent years, such as the movies “Amélie Poulain” (2001) and “Bienvenue chez Les Ch'tis” (2008). All three are pleasantly humorous portraits of the lives of ordinary people.

Mme Sam is still determined to extract light-hearted revenge from the thousands of customers who ignored, or insulted her, during her eight years behind the tills of a suburban supermarket in Rennes. “(My book) is so easy to read that even supermarket customers can read it,” she says.

With malicious but gentle wit, she lists the different categories of “typical” customers. There are those who have their noses impatiently pressed to the sliding door 30 minutes before opening-time. There are those who are discovered ambling behind their trolley ten minutes after the doors have closed.

There are the boastful ones, whose trolley contains nothing but extra-size condoms. There are the pathologically bashful ones, who go to extreme lengths to hide toilet paper beneath other items in their trolleys. (If the bar-code happens not to be working, the “beepeuse” takes a malicious pleasure in broadcasting to the whole supermarket a request for the price of “an extra-large packet of pink, double-ply toilet paper”.)

There are also the queue-jumpers, the kleptomaniacs (CDs hidden in camemberts are common in France, apparently) and the obsessive bargain-hunters. There is the orderly young man who places his shopping neatly on the conveyor belt, followed by a piece of snot picked from his nose. There are the customers who keep their money in their socks or their bras.

And then there are the customers who carry on conversations on their mobile telephones while failing to say “bonjour” to the invisible “beepeuse”.

“But I'm already at the till! Why didn't you tell me that you wanted bananas…You want to go out tonight? But have you stopped throwing up yet? I am sure you have the gastro. I hope you haven't given it to me. I don't want to spend the whole night on the toilet…”

Mme Sam has a special hatred for the male customers who used to ask her “vous-êtes ouverte?” - meaning “are you open?” but also “are you available?” “I am not but my till is,” she would primly reply.

Supermarkets can be erotic places, it seems (French supermarkets at any rate). Mme Sam writes: “You would be astonished by the amount of kisses stolen in the aisles (even in the toilet paper department), the langorous looks exchanged between the charcuterie and fish counters, the bottoms and breasts felt in the frozen food department…”

Mme Sam is especially poignant, however, on the fate of the “beepeuses” themselves, trapped behind their tills, unable to escape easily for a breather, or a coffee, or even a pee.

A check-out girl, Mme Sam calculates, says “bonjour” 250 times a day, “merci” 500 times a day and “have you got a frequent customer card” 200 times. She (and very occasionally in France, he) beeps 20 items a minute and lifts 800 kilos an hour for a monthly salary of €850.

Mme Sam says that, in becoming an author, she looked forward to having more spare time, especially at weekends. Now, she says, she is in so much demand that she “has plenty of time but not a minute to myself.”

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Sport
footballScores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Manchester City and Chelsea vs Schalke
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week