Sunday, 16 November 2008

On a rainy Sunday morning

'All change, please.' If we're talking about what's British and what isn't, this phrase will be familiar to anyone who's travelled on the Tube. What a polite way of saying, 'Right, everybody off this train!' I read over the summer Kate Fox's book Watching the English, a book about English (rather than British) behavioural patterns, especially as related to the class system. Of course she included a section on the English obsession with manners, and it's true that rude people are still one of the biggest sources of everyday fury for many of us, far more than, say, parters who cheat or dictators who commit genocide. I work in a bookshop, which I love most of the time, but occasionally you get people who refuse to believe that the book they want is out of print, or won't accept that their order (placed yesterday) hasn't yet arrived. One man threw a complete fit after the till computer didn't recogise a 3 for 2 offer and the sale had to be put through again. He demanded vouchers and a large discount from our floor manager, who refused politely, upon which he asked for the details of our Head Office to make a formal complaint. It seemed like he was really going to do it, too. This story was told over and over again in the staff room for the rest of the day - no one could believe his nerve, especially since the girl who had served him was quite new and had made a simple mistake, which was explained to him. There is no excuse for rudeness. By all means get a little wearily exasperated - we get frustrated with ourselves sometimes if we slip up - but, to be quite honest, a bad customer is more likely to receive lacklustre customer service than someone who is polite, recognises that staff are only human and our search engines are imperfect, and who is philosophical if we conclude that we can't get hold of a book. We have a statistics area on our computer called 'Sales/Customer Performance', which suggests a little comically that we expect the customers to perform as well as the sales team. This isn't so far from the truth, though, and acting like a human interacting with another human rather than a superior talking to an inferior will reap its own rewards.

Sorry about that little rant - which sounds a little pompous. And to be fair, I occasionally find myself playing intellectual oneupmanship with customers - like a girl, clearly a Cambridge fresher, who bought a copy of Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory, which I read as revision for my first-year exams at Oxford. We're supposed to comment on customers' purchases if we can, so I said, 'Oh, I've read this, it's great,' in what I hoped was an affectionate way (towards the book, not the customer). The girl looked wary and her mother looked close to disgusted. Perhaps it was more the idea of an English Oxbridge graduate working in a chain bookshop, but I suppose I could have seemed like I was showing off. Very bad form.

I've forgotten what the original point of this post was. I think I was going to talk about whether or not sexually-active gay men should be allowed to donate blood in the UK, but I realised I hadn't explained the name of my blog at all. I still haven't, really, because this blog isn't going to be any kind of commentary on what makes us British. I think Jon Gaunt's got that covered (albeit in the form of racist, chauvinist nonsense). I like the phrase, and I suppose 'All Change Please' is a good metaphor for what I'd like to see happen to the way we think. We need to get off the train of 'men vs. women', because it has reached the end of the line. A new train will be leaving in a few minutes in the opposite direction, and you are strongly advised to board this train.

Love and respect.

1 comment:

Arietty Dexter said...

And you get those customers who are determined to prove to you that you are stupid, like a woman in the Opticians the other day telling me that 'Your receptionist's directions were absolute rubbish,' although I knew very well that *I* was the receptionist to whom she had spoken and I'd made a point of going over it twice for her..

Anyway, I like the title 'All Change Please' because it keeps everything that's lovely about being English with an affectionate request of the acceptance of new notions.

So to summarise, I'm rather tempted to have some t-shirts printed along the lines of 'I'm bisexual and I have a degree!' what do you think? ;-)