Nothing will ruin your Christmas more than working at Primark

Imagine being the person who has to fold all the musical jumpers


Christmas. A time for joy, kindness and goodwill. It’s a special part of the year, when listening to a gaggle of tuneless seven year olds singing ‘Silent Night’ on a cold evening gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. Food, lights, family and presents. That’s what Christmas is about.

And that’s what Christmas was for me, until I started working at Primark. The festive period at everyone’s favourite high street sweatshop changes you. Christmas at Primark is screaming, shouting, fighting and tears.

Christmas shopping shows how despicable the human race can be

Forget greed or religion, Christmas shopping is the root of all evil. One manic December weekend, an assistant on the till next to mine served a man who had spent over £300. He watched her unhang, fold and pack everything in front of him, and she was just giving him the receipt when he asked, “Can’t I have the hangers?” The assistant apologised and told him the manager had said we couldn’t give them out today. He immediately demanded a refund, adding that she was a “fucking greedy cunt.”

Still smiling, she informed him that refunds could only be done at the customer service desk, upon which he threw the bags over the cash desk, with the clothes falling everywhere. He then stormed out, £300 down and with none of him purchases. A few months later, I was getting a lift into town from a new friend. When I got in the car she introduced me to her Dad, who turned out to be the same man from Christmas. Although he actually seemed really nice, I never did ask him if he came back for his items.

People will do anything to get hold of the fabled gift sets

These sell out fast and you spend a lot of time hanging around the stockroom on the pretext of looking for them for customers who won’t take no as an answer. A typical one for women contains pink lipstick, cheap nail varnish and some red socks (adorned in obligatory snowflakes). Once I witnessed a fight break out between three women for the last one and security had to be called to separate them. One of the same women appeared at my till less than an hour later holding the gift set. “They weren’t getting it were they, silly cows?” she said to me without an inch of shame.

5pm on Christmas Eve is full of boyfriends asking you what they should get

There’s usually a sudden influx of men drifting through the women’s clothing section, holding an assortment of women’s leggings, jeans and cardigans over their shoulders, asking you what you think their wife/girlfriend/daughter who you’ve never met will like. Smiling, saying everything they’ve picked up is beautiful and reminding them to get a receipt usually works. It’ll all be returned two days later. You know what mate, don’t get your girlfriend a gift from Primark.

There’s no Christmas music

If there’s one thing worse than Michael Bublé songs being played on loop from November time, it’s having no songs at all. The eerie silence of your 10 hour shift is broken only by children having tantrums, parents screaming and excruciatingly loud tannoy announcements asking for “all available staff” to go to the tills every 15 minutes.

They now sell Christmas jumpers, with hoods

The Boxing Day queues are ridiculous, despite there being no sale

People would wait outside from an hour before the store opened, as if it was the Next sale (also, why do people do that). In truth, Primark doesn’t really have Boxing Day sales (you might have guessed – it’s cheap enough already). Even more cringe worthy was when these same people would come to the tills gushing at you about the great bargains they had got, unaware that what they had bought was the same price two days ago.

People buy even more than usual

Giving. What captures the spirit of Christmas better? No customer knows that more than a Primark one. While it’s not unusual to serve people who require two tills to scan all their Christmas presents, there’s the occasional shopper who resolves to take it a step further and to do their Christmas shopping for the next decade. Once we had a family who bought so much they spent over £2,000. That’s the equivalent of buying 800 Primark £2.50 T-shirts. Their bags had to be wheeled out on two trolleys by members of staff. Needless to say they had hired a van to take all their purchases back in.

They make the clothes by adding some kind of snowflake to them

The designers at Primark HQ seem to have a creative block when it comes to winter fashions and compensate for this by adding snowflake patterns to every standard item. You name it, it’ll have snowflakes: jumpers, cardigans, hoodies, shirts, t-shirts, leggings, hats, gloves, scarves, socks, boxer shorts, jackets, ear muffs, onesies…

‘Jingle Bells’ is the most popular Christmas carol

If musical Christmas jumpers are anything to go by it is. It makes the folding tables the worst place to be in store from November. Whenever you touched them, you’d subject yourself to a kitsch sweater yelling festive cheer from a tinny speaker. Hearing “Oh what fun it is to ride…” breakdown in varying stages of health over nine hour shifts, wears you down. The week before Christmas is particularly depressing. The batteries are almost flat by then and the jumpers only let out feeble groans.

Christmas jumpers are not appreciated and always get returned in January

No matter how tricky you’re finding someone to buy for, these are never redeemable panic buys. Even for secret Santa presents. Come 10am Boxing Day there’s usually a queue blocking most of the aisles made up of people returning jumpers with ridiculously large red nose pompoms on them. Just think about it: they’re only relevant for 15 hours every 365 days. People don’t want them.

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Fun is for managers only

For the two weeks leading up to the 25th, managers at the store are allowed the special privilege of wearing festive themed jumpers and headpieces to work. The aim of letting them walk around with Christmas puddings on their ears was presumably to manufacture some fragment of Christmas cheer. In reality, it just made them appear even more ridiculous and incompetent when they would shout at you for refusing a customer a refund on a jumper with half-dried gravy stains on it.  

The number of staff doubles (but then halves again when it’s all over)

Mid-October they would hire tonnes of Christmas temps, lured with empty promises of permanent contracts in the New Year “if you work hard”. The first month they would be expected to survive on their four hours a week, with no more hours offered. The second it hit mid-November, they were suddenly expected to work 30 hour weeks, regardless of other jobs, study commitments or children to care for. If they objected, managers would accuse them of being ungrateful and remind them that only those who work hard are kept on. As to be expected, around half of them quit before Christmas, sometimes disappearing in tears mid-shift never to be seen again.

The Christmas party is the least fun you’ll ever have

The £20 premium you paid in advance seemed to fund the drinks of the managers’ friends and family. You soon realised you had only ever spoken more than two words to a few people so you spent most of the night slowly sipping lager from plastic cups at the edges of the room, waiting for the one person whose name you knew to come back from the toilets. In the middle of the dance floor the more desperate would try to dance seductively with beer bellied Mike, the assistant manager. A few drinks later he couldn’t stop telling you and everyone else his favourite story that he “started as a Saturday boy” and now is an “assistant manager which shows you what you can achieve if you work hard”.

If you were lucky and able to, you left the party (and store) as soon as you could after that, having learnt that hard work is sometimes not worth it and you would any day prefer to spend the New Year in bed with a hangover than any of the possible ways you could be spending it earning money at Primark.