Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
(Wo) man at work: sales assistant at the weekly market in Maastricht
Emmy Maas/ 21/ third-year student of Medicine/ sales assistant at the weekly market in Maastricht, works varying hours on Friday mornings/ earning up to 60 euros per day
“Mushroooooooooooms on offer!” is what people expect Emmy Maas to say when she talks about her side job, but there’s no yelling from behind Champignonhandel Jan Haagmans’s mushroom stall. Contrary to popular belief, not all market vendors yell out their prices.
While Haagmans sings Dutch songs and sets up his market stall on Friday morning, Maas is still asleep. Her alarm goes off at eight – “half an hour later if I went out on Thursday, haha” – after which she looks out the window to see how Haagmans is progressing. It’s no more than five metres from her front door to the stall. Maas’s job as a sales assistant – or as Haagmans’s right-hand woman (and interpreter), as he puts it – is to promote and sell a wide assortment of products: eggs, asparagus, nuts, dried fruit, honey, syrup, herbs and spices, and primarily button mushrooms and other kinds of mushrooms.
“Ten large eggs please, child. Are there any white ones left? You were right last week, I had only double-yolk eggs”, a customer says. Her purchase is placed in a box made of old egg cartons, held together with rubber bands. The box doesn’t close properly. “Careful, ma’am, either the box is too small or the eggs are too large”, Maas says. It’s about ten o’clock and she doesn’t have much time to answer questions. Maas: “Our busiest times are between ten and twelve in the morning; that’s when we really have to get down to business, especially during asparagus season or during the holidays, when everyone needs ingredients for special recipes.”
“Back home, I previously worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant and I always worked in the warehouse of my father’s company during the summers”, says Maas. “When I was little my dream side job was to be a supermarket cashier, but this is much more fun. The marketplace atmosphere is what makes it so special. It’s much more informal; people stop for a chat, sometimes sharing quite personal information. That doesn’t happen in a supermarket. I tend to see the same faces every week, and tourists. Few students shop here; the ones who do are usually international students. And Jan is very nice, buying pie or other sweet treats every week. Delicious. They don’t let me go hungry here.”
“The interaction between market stalls also contributes to the pleasant atmosphere”, Maas continues. “Colleagues often drop by to tell jokes or to borrow Jan’s bike. Jan always says, ‘I only have colleagues, because together we make up the market.’” Haagmans later yells in the direction of the cheese stall, “Hey Ronnie, do you have a few five euro notes for me? I’ve got a fifty euro note, so I’ll take eleven, haha.”
The weather is good today, a little over twenty degrees and dry. The market is bustling with people. “In winter we often work in freezing temperatures, which is quite rough”, says Maas. “Our feet and fingers get so cold; we can’t wear gloves, as we work with produce. Fortunately, I live just round the corner. I once went home to warm my hands by running them under warm water.”
Maas, passing on a customer’s question: “Jan, do these plums have pits in them?” Haagmans: “Of course! Real plums have pits, haha.” It doesn’t take long to learn this job, Maas says. “You start to get the hang of it after a few times, although I still have to ask a question every now and then. The only difficult part was remembering the names of all the different kinds of mushrooms and doing mental calculations at first. Customers often want a little bit of everything, and we don’t have a till that calculates the amounts for us. Happy that I can use my phone every now and then.”