I recently completed a 10 day campaign for IKEA here in Madrid, Spain where I was stationed at a photocall in a mall taking pictures of willing mall goers. The idea was cool enough: get your picture taken at the photocall, and a few weeks later, pick up the new IKEA catalog with your picture on the cover…for FREE! Below are a few things I learned about working at a mall, promoting the IKEA catalog in Spain, and dealing with the public. Although there were some bad apples, overall, people were nice and friendly.
· Spanish people love the IKEA catalog. I had no idea. People even gift the damn thing to their friends and family. While most people were thrilled at the idea of having their picture on the front of their own, personalized catalog, many were disappointed, even angry, that we didn’t have any on hand to give out. I was called a jerk, an idiot, a liar, and several other nasty names because I “wouldn’t” give someone a catalog…it was clear that several people thought I was hiding them somewhere and just didn’t want to give one to them.
· There is always a way that they “get you.” By this, I mean IKEA or other big corporations. The notion that something is completely free is not something people here are used to. I was almost always asked, “What’s the catch?” I was honest. The catch was that they had to pick the catalog up at an IKEA store, i.e., it wouldn’t be mailed to their houses. Most were satisfied with not having to buy anything or pay for the catalog, as they go to IKEA frequently anyway. Others were angry that I “wouldn’t” mail it to them, as if I were calling the shots. Again, I was called nasty names. Some people just can’t be satisfied.
· People like free stuff. This is not exclusive to Madrid, although the Spanish seem to have a particularly stronger obsession with getting things for free, no matter what it is. For example, the photocall was setup to look like a kitchen, complete with an island work station, chopping block, cabinets, etc. There were also little jars (sealed shut with a zip tie) with cookies, coffee, cereal, and some cookies stacked on a plate. All of there were, of course, props for the photo. Not once, twice, or even three times, but MANY times, I was demanded by passersby to give them a cookie, despite the fact that hundreds of people had handled them. When that request was denied, they would ask for a t-shirt that the hostess was wearing, a napkin, some cereal, or even a spoonful of coffee. Yes, I was asked to cut the zip tie on the jar to give someone a spoonful of coffee in the middle of the mall. Once again, nasty name calling ensued.
· On a positive note, I actually work pretty well with babies and small children, but only for a few minutes at a time. Close to 1,000 pictures of babies taken and only 2 or 3 that cried. Pretty successful in my book.
· It’s easy to become popular working at the mall, especially if you make people look good in photos. I was there for only 10 days but got to be on a first name basis with everyone at Starbucks, the security guards, the restaurants, and with folks from a few other places I frequented. I even got discounts at certain establishments. It was a nice boost to my self confidence.
· After a few days, everyone starts to look the same. It felt a bit like the movie Groundhog Day. I swear I took the same photo of the same people 300 times.
· I can pass for Swedish, at least according to Spaniards. I was probably asked 20 times a day if I was Swedish. It makes sense, I suppose: IKEA promotion + bearded guy with a funny accent = Swedish. However, I am not. I can’t even come close pronouncing the products I had displayed at the photocall.
· Many people have no consideration for anyone else. “Hey, see that long line of people waiting patiently (enough)? Don’t worry, I’ll take 20 photos and let you check after each one to make sure you’re smiling just right and your head is tilted at the correct angle.”
· Rules are made for other people. “You’ll notice that my camera is on a tripod in a roped off area. But don’t worry, YOU can just duck under and take a look at your picture. No, it’s OK if you bump the tripod and I have to recompose the shot and then spend an hour more when I get home at night explaining to the printing company how they now have to crop each photo differently so peoples’ heads don’t get chopped off in the print. Seriously, maybe you could come by my place, sit outside my window and blast reggaeton all night so I don’t sleep at all?”
· The same ladies who complain about models being Photoshopped on the cover of Vogue ask me to Photoshop them for the cover of their novelty IKEA catalog cover. Although they were half joking when they said it, they were not left smiling when I pointed out that, “Indeed, I do have Photoshop, but I would need Harry Potter’s wand to fix your face.”
· You meet people from different walks of life. It was interesting to see the different people and families that stopped by. Several times, the people dressed nicely with their kids all decked out in Polo were the rudest and least grateful. Then a few minutes later, a guy wearing a street cleaning uniform and covered in tattoos would bring his kids by and make sure they thanked me for taking the picture. Money doesn’t buy classiness.
· Mallrats are real. There people that are there all day, everyday. Not kidding. I was there 10 days straight and I don’t want to see the inside of a mall again for a long time. These people are a special breed.
· I saw more mixed race couples and families than I’ve ever seen in one place. Zero incidents of racism, hostility, aggression, or judgement. Also, mixed race babies tended to be the cutest. Suck it, racists.