Tuesday, 17 May 2011

weird things customers say in bookshops

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops is now a book: 

Click for UK version 
Click for US/Canada version

I love our customers, I really do. But some days we get some strange people in our shop. Here are some gems I'd like to share.


Customer:: Hi... erm... are you a library?


Customer: Excuse me, do you have any signed copies of Shakespeare plays?
Me: Er... do you mean signed by the people who performed the play?
Customer: No, I mean signed by William Shakespeare.
Me: .....*headdesk*


Customer: Hi, I'd like to return this book, please.
Me: Do you have the receipt?
Customer: Here.
Me: Erm, you bought this book at Waterstone's.
Customer: Yes.
Me:.... we're not Waterstone's.
Customer: But, you're a bookshop.
Me: Yes, but we're not Waterstone's.
Customer: You're all part of the same chain.
Me: No, sorry, we're an independent bookshop.
Customer: ....
Me: Put it this way, you wouldn't buy clothes in H&M and take them back to Zara, would you?
Customer: Well, no, because they're different shops.
Me: Exactly.
Customer:... I'd like to speak to your manager.


Person: Hi, I'm looking for a Mr. Patrick.
Me: No one of that name works here, sorry.
Person: But does he live here?
Me:... no one lives here; we're a bookshop.
Person: Are you sure?


on the phone
Me: Hello Ripping Yarns.
Customer: Do you have any mohair wool?
Me: Sorry, we're not a yarns shop, we're a bookshop.
Customer: You're called Ripping Yarns.
Me: Yes, that's 'yarns' as in stories.
Customer: Well it's a stupid name.
Me: It's a Monty Python reference.
Customer: So you don't sell wool?
Me: No.
Customer: Hmf. Ridiculous.
Me: ...but we do sell dead parrots.
Customer: What?
Me: Parrots. Dead. Extinct. Expired. Would you like one?
Customer: Erm, no.
Me: Ok, well if you change your mind, do call back.


Customer: Hi, if I buy a book, read it, and bring it back, could I exchange it for another book?
Me: No... because then we wouldn't make any money.
Customer: Oh.


Me: Ok, so with postage that brings your total to £13.05. One second and I'll get the card machine."
Customer: No. No, absolutely not. I demand that you charge me £12.99. I will not pay for anything that starts with thirteen. You're trying to give me bad luck. Now, change it or I will go to a bookshop who doesn't want me to fall down a hole and die. Ok?


Pizza Delivery Man [entering the shop with a large pile of pizzas and seeing me, the only person in the bookshop]: Hi, did you order fifteen pizzas?


Me: Hello, Ripping Yarns Bookshop
Man: Hello, is that Ripping Yarns?
Me: Yes, it is.
Man: Are you there?
Me: How do you mean?
Man: I mean, are you at the shop now?
Me: Erm... yes, you just rang the number for the bookshop and I answered.


Customer: Hello, I'd like a copy of 'The Water Babies,' with nice illustrations. But I don't want to pay a lot of money for it, so could you show me what editions you do have so I can look at them, and then I can go and find one online?


Customer: Do you sell ipod chargers?


Man: Hi, I've just self-published my art book. My friends tell me that I'm the new Van Gogh. How many copies of my book would you like to order?


Woman: Hi, my daughter is going to come by on her way home from school to buy a book. But she seems to buy books with sex in them and she's only twelve, so can I ask you to keep an eye out for her and make sure she doesn't buy anything inappropriate for her age? I can give you a list of authors she's allowed to buy.
Me: With all due respect, would it not be easier for you to come in with your daughter?
Woman: Certainly not. She's a grown girl, she can do it herself.


Customer: Do you have any books on the dark arts?
Me: ...No.
Customer: Do you have any idea where I could find some?
Me: Why don't you try Knockturn Alley?
Customer: Where's that?
Me: Oh, the centre of London.
Customer: Thanks, I'll keep my eyes peeled for it.


Customer: I'm just going to nip to Tesco to do the weekly shop. I'm just going to leave my sons here, is that ok? They're three and five. They're no bother.


Customer: I read a book in the eighties. I don't remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?


Man: Do you have black and white film posters?
Me: Yes, we do, over here.
Man: Do you have any posters of Adolf Hitler?
Me: Pardon?
Man: Adolf Hitler.
Me: Well, he wasn't a film star, was he.
Man: Yes, he was. He was American. Jewish, I think.
Me: ...........


The book is now out in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand published by Constable and Robinson. 
It's also out now in US/Canada published by Overlook Press. 
[translations are available in Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, German, Chinese and Russian. With translations forthcoming Greek]

The sequel:
More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops out now in the UK and Commonwealth
If you'd like a signed copy, head over here

The 'Weird Things....' Facebook page can be found over here
You can follow me on Twitter @aeroplanegirl


  1. Hilarious!

    What happened to the person who didn't want the unlucky 13?

  2. Very funny Jen - do you have any Jimi Hendrix albums ?

  3. Her: Do you have a copy of X?
    My Wife: No, we're not a bookshop.
    Her: But do you have a copy of X?
    My Wife: No, this is a private house, not a bookshop.
    Her: In that case, could you put me through to the basement?

  4. Those beat everything we've ever had but we come close with, 'I don't remember the author or title but it was yellow and in that corner somewhere'.
    Keep them coming!

  5. What a fantastic selection of customers you get through your doors, Jen! I hope this is one in a series of blog posts... looking forward to reading more of these gems.

  6. Never thought I'd be hoping for more mad people to come through the shop door ;)

    thanks guys, I'll definitely make it a regular thing x

  7. Love these - you can't beat a good funny customer story.

    Great to know we are not the only ones subjected to People Weirdness on a large scale!

  8. Jen, someone has to say this, "You could write a book!" :-)

  9. Excellent - and very funny!
    I used to pass your shop every day during my daily commute on the 134 bus - had no idea it was so big inside!

  10. The best we had was from a guy known to locals as UFO Bob.

    Bob (wearing tinfoil hat): When I came in just then I read all of those books in less than a second because I have an IQ of 350.

    Me: Well that'll be 53,945 dollars thanks.

  11. Haha!
    Ik work in a bookshop in the Netherlands and I got asked when we didn't have the book the customer asked for:
    Could you check and see if the library has got it? Or bol.com? (a huge online bookseller here)

  12. Nicky - our shop is pretty much like Mary Poppins's handbag. Every day I wonder how we've managed to squeeze so many books inside.

    Warren - he sounds like a keeper ;)

  13. How much for the parrot? ;-)

  14. We got a customer once who claimed to have seen a book somewhere and wanted us to order it. She couldn't remember the title or the author, and she only had a vague idea of what it was about. The one definite thing she could remember about it was that "the printing on the pages was blue"...

  15. Ahahah! People never fail to amaze me...

  16. They are very funny, thanks for raising a smile!

  17. There's a website called 'Not Always Right' that would expose these to a wider audience. Customers do have some very strange ideas sometimes about the role of bookshops!

  18. I was a bookseller for a while and I count as one of my great achievements finding the *correct* purple cover with a unicorn on it.

  19. I used to work in an oxfam bookshop (with a manager who was very aware that books should cost money and point blank refused to keeps Mills and Boon, Catherine Cookson, Danielle Steel or anything of that ilk in it despite the wishes of the higher ups) provided never ending entertainment.

    Being in central London we used to get wierd things like proofs of unpublished books and books for the library at the houses of parliament never have I had more amusement that when a customer asked if we could get her a copy of a certain book in hardback despite the fact it clearly said on the front that it was an uncorrected proof and not due for publication in hardback until two months later.

    Also if you want the real wierdos in life try working in an occult bookshop (that also sold various bits and pieces for use by neo-pagans) that's a real eye-opener

  20. So funny ! The Shakespeare one reminded me of a chap at work. There was a poster for the Merry Wives of Windsor showing some of the phrases in the script that have passed into common parlance, one being "What the dickens ?!". He seriously asked me if I thought Shakespeare might have been friends with Charles Dickens, to be allowed to use his name. I said that they were indeed best buds, maybe even housemates :)

  21. These are the kinds of things that make me glad I never ended up working at a bookstore! Regular retail is bad enough.

  22. These are classic, I can't even choose a favorite:)

  23. These are great! Thanks for sharing. We get all kinds of the "I loved this book when I was six, the cover was blue" requests at the library where I work. I did once find an out-of-print book for a patron, and when he asked how I did it, I just smiled and said, "magic." Sometimes I credit the library gnomes.

  24. These are truly wonderful. We once had a customer who wanted the pink book we'd had in the window six months before -- and I found it!

  25. Ha ha! :)
    Although the colour thing works. "Hey, Miriam, we've got one of your books at home, no idea how it got there."
    "Uh, what book was it?" *thinking, how the heck did they get hold of it*
    "Can't remember. It was yellow."
    "Oh, The Shock Of Your Life?"
    "Yeah, I was wondering where that had gone. How did you get it?"
    "No idea."
    "Umm. Well. Can I have it back?"

  26. SUE: This is totally late to the party, but for the person who asked about the blue printing in the book, might that have been Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater? The print is blue! Linger, the sequel, has green print. (I'm a bookseller too.) :)

  27. I love your comments about the dead parrot.

  28. I work in a library, and I can totally envisage all those kinds of requests coming your way, since we get some obscure ones here as well.

    One of my favourites was when someone asked if Dolly Parton worked in our library.

    People are funny, aren't they...

  29. Absolutely hilarious.

    And I pine for the fjords too!

  30. Worked in a music shop, with records, music sheets, ... believe me, we also had the weirdest questions. Like someone wanting a recording of Mozart by the composer, or someone asking for the sheet music of "that tune, you know, like that" and managing to whistle something completely out of tune and sounding like nothing known.

  31. I think the gent who was asking for a poster of Adolph Hitler really wanted one of Charlie Chaplin and was having a bad memory lapse.

  32. Oh, you've given me deja vu! Here's another for your collection

    Customer: (Holding a leatherbound illustrated book published in 1701); How much is this?

    Me; (Shows her price inside cover) Forty-five pounds.

    Customer:(shocked and suspicious) You can't really charge so much for an old book!

    Me: Well...old books are expensive.

    Customer (Points to original printed price): But it was only Two-and-six when it was new!

    Me: Alright, bring me 2 shillings and one sixpence from 1701 or earlier, and I'll let you have it for the original price.

    Customer:(looks at me like I'm stupid) But those are worth a lot of money now!


  33. I worked in a large, Canadian chain store back in the mid-late 90s (Chapters, if that means anything), and you have far-and-away the most colourful customers!
    Many of our customers, when not perfectly nice, interesting people, were dull, or ignorant, or simply rude.
    Keep it up, this is fun reading!

  34. -----

    Me: Hello, Ripping Yarns Bookshop
    Man: Hello, is that Ripping Yarns?
    Me: Yes, it is.
    Man: Are you there?
    Me: How do you mean?
    Man: I mean, are you at the shop now?
    Me: Erm... yes, you just rang the number for the bookshop and I answered.


    I think the same man has been calling me. Ten times a day, in many different voices.

    Phone rings
    S: Welcome to (animal shelter), this is Scheherazade speaking.
    Caller: I just called to see if you were open.
    S: Oh, okay.
    Caller: So are you open?
    S: ... yes.

    It was even better when I worked in retail:

    Customer: Do you work here?
    S: No, I stole this uniform and wear it for fun.

  35. I recognise way too many of those. Especially Hi... erm... are you a library? - I'm a (German) librarian and people can't seem to tell apart Buecherei and Buchladen.

    We also get a lot of people asking for that book they once read, it was yellow. I really wish someone would compile a database for book covers.

  36. The Green Cover thing? Totally identify with that. The number of customers who would come in saying they knew nothing about the book except that it had a green cover was astounding. Maybe they're all after this same mysterious green coloured novel.

    Though to be fair there were quite a few novels I could name and grab with very little information on them. However that usually involved "green with a bear". :)

  37. I worked in a bookstore for a while in university and the same lady came in every week asking for the book that had been on the top shelf (we had a lot of shelves) with a red cover. I think she thought it would eventually rotate back there. After 3 months I sold her a blue book from the middle shelf; she seemed rather happy with it.

  38. These are the one's I like in my shop
    Man "Hi, do you have my wife in here?
    Me "Er? I have lots of wives in here, what does yours look like?"
    Man "She's let her self go a bit, is short and her roots are showing"
    Me "!!!"

    We too get asked for the thick blue book about a poor girl that made a better life for herself.

    I also have a customer who keeps his watch under his hat. Why? Because he will always know where it is if he keeps it there.

  39. These are all absolutely HILARIOUS, Jen! These alone should be published, I would definitely buy the book haha.

    Alice x

  40. Loved all three of these posts but I've got to do it and be one of those people.
    There was this illustrated kid's book you see I remember reading when I was young (I think it had a green cover -joke, can't remember anything about the cover). The story was about a party on the stairs of some tower and each person got a ticket to their numbered step and when they got there they had a little box with their favourite food in it??? Anyone??


  41. Regarding the pizza delivery, I think he being careful not to jump to the wrong conclusion. Ordering 15 pizzas for a booksigning does sound like a believable prank call.

    Mr."Are you in the shop now" might have taken cordless phones and mobiles into account.

    "signed by Shakespeare" -- well, it could have his signature printed/engraved/pictured somewhere.

    And while some bookshops do branch out into related electronics, ipod chargers do sound a bit farfetched.

  42. Read through your comments and whilst the commenter a couple above thought the "Adolf Hitler" lady was looking for Charlie Chaplin, my first thought was Adolphe Menjou. Who knows?!!?

    BTW, I was a bookseller for five years...these stories/customers NEVER get old! :D

  43. I'd have suggested the not-13 lady that either I charge her 14.00 or she purchase something extra that brings it over 13.

  44. MWEAHAEWHEAWHEAWHEAWHEAWHewa... oh my god. Your customers are certainly something else, but the last quote really takes the cake. Made me laugh out loud and enjoy myself very much, thank you!

  45. I have to point out that Ripping Yarns was not a Monty Python project per se, it was a solo project by Michael Palin (although some of other Pythons made cameo appearances).

    Still, it's amazing what daft things people say.

    I once knew a guy who remarked to one of his colleagues during the era of perestroika and glasnost, "Isn't it great what's happening in Russia" and received the reply, "What's Russia?" ...(zomg, wtf, etc)

  46. Ah but some of the Pythons opened our bookshop for us, too.

  47. The person who made the Monty Python reference wins everything forever. :)

  48. Found this website via Metafilter this morning here in the US... Thanks for reminding me of the "interesting" customer pains that come with the working in retail experience.

  49. Worked at the late great Waterstone's Newbury Street in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood in the 90's. My favorite was a very tall heavy-set gentleman who looked and sounded a lot like Joss Ackland in Lethal Weapon 2, with what appeared to be an "underling" standing close behind him; he's got his hands behind his back in military parade "at-ease" and in a booming voice demands, "DO YOU HAFF ANY BOOKS ABOUT VEAPONS??"

  50. Isn't it amazing what people will say! I once worked at the Information Booth across from the ocean, and people would stop by to ask where they could swim or if the fish were real.

  51. I too was once a bookseller (used bookstore) and my favorite was the customer who was carrying on quite a conversation with herself. I asked if everything was OK over there, and she responded that the voices in her head were tell her not to buy any more books. I suggested she ignore them!

  52. LOVED your 'dead parrot' response! Classic :-)

  53. Knockturn Alley...hee hee hee.

    Very amusing--thank you.

  54. I love it! I think my favorite is the person who so sincerely asked if they could exchange the book after reading it, and the gentle letdown. Fantastic.

    When I was a teenager working at Boscov's (a department store), a woman came in to return a sweater she bought...at Bon Ton, a competing department store located in the same mall. When I explained she had to go return it to Bon Ton, she became outraged and said, "But you sell the SAME SWEATER here. Look, it's over there on that rack! What's the difference, just take it and pay me!!" Oh Lord.

  55. A couple of decades ago, I worked in a college textbook store (some novels, but not many). One slow Saturday, two girls came in, couldn't have been more than freshmen. One girl started chatting to me and mentioned that her boyfriend had a "photogenic memory."

    I managed to keep my response down to a series of rapid eye blinks, but I let it go (and told the story as often as I could). The scary thing was that at that pint, I was only a few years older than she was.

  56. We get a lot of insane comments in libraries, too, but we're bound to confidentiality thanks to the ALA. Curses.

  57. I supposed the customer could have been looking for Chaplin, but he also could just have been afflicted with a temporary aphasia and meant Alfred Hitchcock.

  58. oh, I love the idea of having a photogenic memory :-) I imagine that would mean all my memories would look so much better than they did at the time.

    and I'm wondering if the Jewish American Hitler poster could be of Mel Brooks' The Producers, because of the play they're putting on, Springtime for Hitler?

  59. So I'm going to sounds like a broken record, but this is hilarious! Thank you for sharing. The 2nd two might be my favorites... haha

  60. I love this LOL! I cannot stop laughing :D

  61. Brilliant! I had a customer in one day who turns and says 'I need a music book for my son, his exam is this evening. I think he plays the violin or it could be the flute?? Anyway it's composed by a man and it has a blue cover..or is it yellow?'. So i asked her if she would care to elaborate as her description was extremely vague at best and she lost the plot! Good times! :)

  62. OMG love these haha! So glad I dont work in retail now. Altho if I did I think I'd go to Knockturn Alley... ;)

  63. And I thought my previous jobs at garden centers and parking garages could seem like a trip int The Twilight Zone.

    Please keep us laughing!

  64. I love that you call them all "customer", even when they're wasting your time.

  65. This is one of the funniest posts I've read in a long time. I, too, am a bookseller at an indie bookstore, but in the US. I've got some doozies, too, but I can't write them as succinctly as you do. One of my friends sent me the link to your blog and now I'm a follower.

    Just in case you'd like to read another ridiculous customer encounter, here's one of mine: http://asthecrowefliesandreads.blogspot.com/2010/12/which-came-first-abcs-or-shakespeare.html

  66. I spent 13 years as a bookseller in Cardiff so believe me when I say I can empathise. The best one I've heard, and annoyingly it was a prank (we didn't know at the time though) was a call taken by my colleague. Ever suspect the government were keeping tabs on the book-buying public? Hear the call at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR7-Y-hVf2k

  67. This is just hilarious. You could shoot a whole new season of "Black Books" with that kind of material :)

    Best regards from Hamburg, Germany

  68. The green-covered funny book from the 1980s ...

    I'm actually pretty sure my edition of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has a plain green cover with just the title and author in white.

    Anyway. Too late to help them now.

  69. I work in a bookshop and this has given me a good chuckle!!
    My favorite was

    Customer : I'm looking for a book

    That was it!!!! I was sorely tempted to say "Good for you" but managed to prevent myself from self harming, there are plenty of nutters out there!

    1. I get that all the time! Somebody rings up and says "I'm looking for a book!" (!!)
      Then they describe the book (usually very badly) and I ask what category or genre, the book is? The answer: "Ah... It's fiction!" Aaargh!! (Probably 80% of my stock is fiction, btw!)

      Or another common one is "Oh, goodness, you've got a lot of books!"
      My answer to that one, is a gentle 'Well, it is a bookshop!' :)

  70. This is hilarious! People say the silliest things! xx
    Sirens and Bells

  71. As a knitter, I particularly love the yarn story!

  72. Brilliant - I always look forward to these posts... they make me laugh so much! Thanks Jen!

  73. oh good lord.

    i'll buy the book provided it doesn't have any pages numbered 13 in it, is signed by Shakespeare and comes with a bonus parrot.

  74. Haha!
    LOL, that's really smth! It resembles me my work. Though I'm workin in a hotel, customers are the same weirdos xD

  75. I really loved all of these :) !

    I'll have to go through all the posts in the series again and choose my favourites... which will be a delight all over again :D .

    (I must warn you that the link for the 6th installment is broken.)

    Too bad facebook is being a somethingsomething with sharing if you don't do it through a share button <_< .

  76. You've got some funny stuff here. I work in a bookshop myself and have written down some weird, absurd and funny things said or asked by customers. I'll definitely buy your book! ;)

  77. Reminds me of working at for a local authority... One caller asked me my name, and they after spelling it three times to her, she said "Are you SURE that's your name???" One of many. I love the random ones.

    Louise Gibney. Yes, Gibney.


  78. That post made me laugh so much - wonderful!

  79. Brilliant post. I'm busy trying to think up mad things to say when I next come in to your shop.

  80. Brilliant post. I'm busy trying to think up mad things to say for when I next visit your shop.

  81. Perfect article, read every word and smiled through it all. A lovely start to my morning. I worked a lot of retail in my life, the most fun was a pharmacy. That's a whole other book itself.

  82. You know what's incredible? Wherever you are in the world, there are the same people! In french book stores too, people keep asking weird questions and we're all like "???" !

  83. Kind of late to the bus but this gem happened to me a while back...

    Customer: Do you have any books on Atlantis?
    Me: Yes, I believe we have a few fictional titles on the topic.
    Customer: (very offended) But Atlantis is a real place.

    That was a long day.

  84. This book is hilarious. I work at a Books-A-Million store in Alexandria, Louisiana and I hear similar things all day!

    This actually happened to me around Hannukah.

    Customer is elderly lady wearing a Star of David Pendant. Bookseller of course is me.

    Customer: I'll take these three books on soapmaking.

    Bookseller: Yes ma'am and can I help you find anything else?

    Customer: Yes, do you have any books on the Nazi concentration camp atrocites toward Jewish People?

    Bookseller: ...uuuuhm, yes, right over here by the WWII books.

    What a combination of books!

  85. First day as a bookseller:
    Women calls on the phone

    Women: " I ripped my ebook how do I fix it"

    Bookseller: " Do you mean your paper back book?

    Women: " No my ebook!"

    Bookseller: " The code to access your ebook?"

    Women: " No my ebook!"

    Bookseller: " Ma'am that's not possible unless you actually broke your tablet"

    Women: " But I didn't break my tablet, my ebook just ripped"

    Bookseller: "........"

  86. This is a regular one with teachers in our shop.

    Customer "Do you have 'Thingy' by Thingy?"
    Me: "Sorry it's not a stock item! I can order it for you though; should only take..."
    Customer "No! I need it for today. I'm teaching a class with it this afternoon."
    Me: "Oh dear. It's a bit of a long shot but we have a Works and WHSmiths over the road. If its urgent it might be worth..."
    Customer: "I've already been! They said the same thing as you." *exasperated sigh*
    Me: "I'm very sorry... So, erm. Was this a last min thing then?"
    Customer: "No. I've had this booked for 2 moths."
    Me: "..."

  87. Gosh, you have a hard time with some of these people! The Adolf Hitler one must have been a bit awkward!