About Us: Sophie

In a series of interviews conducted by ABC’s Maria Minaya, we’re going to introduce you to (almost) everyone who works at The American Book Centers in Amsterdam and The Hague.

Books form an integral part of our lives not only because they’re our bread and butter, but because our passion for them came first. Our mission is to pass them on. By reading these interviews you’ll discover the faces behind your favorite sections and get a glimpse of who we are.

Meet Sophie

Where were you born?

I was born in Tegelen, Limburg. I lived in Sevenum, Limburg for my first year and a half and then my family and I lived and moved all over the world. My dad worked for a contractor and built embassies and factories.

After Limburg we moved to Saudi Arabia. When I was three we moved to Indonesia and when I was five we moved back to the Netherlands for a little while. After eight years, when I was 11, we moved back to Indonesia and then we lived there until I graduated from high school. It was because of his job that we moved, we followed him around.

In the period from ages five to eleven we moved back to the Netherlands because my dad worked there for a few years and then, when he was sent back overseas, we continued living in the Netherlands so that my sisters could finish Dutch high school. During that period we were separated from my father. He would be overseas for three months and come back home for two weeks. That was no fun. When I was 11 my mother wanted to join my father again. I was happy to leave the Netherlands and go to an International school in Indonesia.

What was your favorite food as a kid and what did you hate?

My favorite food has always been and will always be Nutella! I will gladly wake up at any time of day for Nutella. A piece of bread is fine, a spoon is fine. I love it. I don’t allow myself to buy it, only when I’m going to go on vacation. I buy a jar and two days later it’s gone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small or big jar. I love it. It’s sooooo good!

There is an Indonesian dish that I really hate, Gado-gado. It’s raw vegetables with peanut sauce…yuk. I love Indonesian food, but that dish I really, really don’t like. And I don’t like peanut sauce. I like peanuts and peanut butter, but I hate peanut sauce. I also don’t like soto ajam. It is a soup. Yes, I also don’t like clear soups, bouillon. I need a soup with substance, a nice texture. Mouth-feel, texture accounts for a great deal, which brings me back to Nutella!

Were you read to as a child?

Yes, by everybody who ever put me to bed. My favorite story was Pluk van de Petteflet by Annie M. G. Schmidt. My daughter has already heard it twice and I’m sure she’ll hear it many more times.

Did you have books in your house while growing up?

Oh yes. My mom is a bookworm just like I am. I inherited it from her. When you live in the Netherlands and you have children you get child support from the government every three months. So one child got a new wardrobe for the year every three months and my parents shared the fourth block of payments for their own clothes, etc. When it came time for my mother to buy clothes, she always bought books instead. She’d say her clothes were still okay and that she needed books more.

Quick free associations:

Paperbacks: Small.

Sale: Yellow.

Magazines: Lots of work.

Piano: We don’t have one.

Price gun: Ka-chunk.

Cash Register: Money.

Discount Card: Forms.

“I’m looking for a book…”: Customer!

What is your connection to books and the written word now?

I love reading. I love getting lost in a world. My partner Bart sometimes has to physically shake me when talking to me because I don’t hear him while I’m still reading.

As a child I had a great imagination and I could play by myself for hours. I was never lonely, just very busy. My daughter has the same thing. You give her two peanuts and she’ll play for hours.  It’s fun to see that trait in someone else! That whole fantastic world has always been with me and with books I don’t have to imagine it myself. Someone’s already done it for you – you just jump in. I read about 34 books a year.

I like writing too. One day I hope to properly finish a story, that’s my first goal. I also do the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I saw an article about it some six years ago in The Romantic Times Bookclub magazine. So I tried it and wrote only three thousand words that year out of 50,000, but it was so much fun. The second year I wrote more, each year I write more. Last year I MADE IT!

What sections do you oversee and what are your other responsibilities at ABC The Hague?

I do romance, military, military fiction, crafts, and audio books. I’m also a Day Manager, meaning I’m in charge of running the store on particular days. In Den Haag everyone does everything, so I price magazines, answer emails, unpack stock and special orders, etc. I’m also the ABC Blogmistress (there used to be two, Hayley and myself, but unfortunately Hayley has moved back to the UK).  And I write the monthly News Mailing.

What is the best part of your job?

There are two things. I love being a buyer which, ironically, was the part of this job that terrified me the most when I started working here, but it’s so much fun. I have my own little part of the store which I keep clean and attractive looking.

I love helping customers, especially when they have almost no information. This morning a woman came in and didn’t know the author or title, but it was something with The Tip and it was a book about ideas. And when I can say ‘Oh, that’s The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell’ it’s so cool and I love that. I also like recommending fiction titles to customers when they ask. It’s great when they come back and tell me it was a very good recommendation. So, I love being a buyer and interacting with customers.

How would you describe your customer service, i.e., how do you do your job in terms of: cars (Ferrari or Fiat?), pastries (Hema or Holtkamp?), or shoes (Puma or Prada)?

In general I think I’m helpful, friendly, polite and not pushy. I try to think from the customer’s point of view. I’m probably a Volvo: very reliable, accommodates many and keeps on going.

How long have you worked at ABC?

Almost eight years.

Who is your favorite author? Or what are you reading now?

I’m reading Phillip Pullman at the moment. I love Maggie O’Farrell who is under-represented. She’s fantastic, a very quiet writer. She’s written four books and the best two are: After You’d Gone and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. She is not well known, but I think she writes brilliant books. I love Vikram Seth who wrote A Suitable Boy among other things. He’s so great with language. He writes sentences I read again because they are so beautiful. He also wrote a novel in verse, The Golden Gate. It’s awesome and so readable. He’s a magician with language. I love Jane Austen because she’s just so witty and mean. Not many people realize that she’s so mean. Another book I love is The Lord of the Rings. When I was younger I read it every year. I thought The Road by Cormac McCarthy was fantastic.

What is the opposite of bookselling?

For me economics or business is the opposite of bookselling. I know we’re a bookstore and a business, but hear me out. I used to teach at the college for economics (de Hogeschool voor Economische Studies) and it’s full of all these commercial types. These people who go on to lead multinationals are the opposite of bookselling. They’re huge and the focus is only on money. The opposite of bookselling is selling something just to get rich.

What do you think people should know about ABC?

Customers should know that they can approach any staff member at any time. They should not be shy even if the question is vague. Three times out of four we do find the book you’re searching for.

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