I went into my bank today. I had to go into my bank, as it was not possible for me to withdraw the low remaining sum from an ATM.
I cannot be the only person who has noticed an increase in the level of overly-friendly “customer service” provided by the counter staff, and how it is directly proportional to the financial mess that the banks have left the entire country in. I do not want to be engaged in this transparent distraction technique by some excessively-polite, smiley do-gooder. This is a business transaction, not a social interaction. I do not want you to try and be my pal.
It began with the blonde woman marching up and down the queue of four people, enquiring if we are “just paying in?” I am not sure how much time it would really save, in such a small queue, to be directed to the faster-payments thing. At least it is keeping her in a job, even if it does mean that I have to reveal the nature of my business in such a way that the earywigging people around me become aware of private details. I resent that. If she would just hold her horses, the reason for my presence would be made quietly known to the teller.
As bad luck would have it, I was called to one of the two tellers at the low desks. I was not really in need of a seat, and having to sit down when making the quickest of withdrawals is an unwelcome chore. I aim to be in such unpleasant places for the briefest amount of time, and needing to sit in order to be at eye level feels like they have added an element of captivity, not comfort. Worse still, the teller had evidently been a model student in his customer-facing training. He wanted to know if I was having a good day.
If this question felt in any way sincere or unscripted, I would be less annoyed by the persistence with which their staff always ask it. Instead, I find it to be intrusive – it is no concern of any stranger’s whether I am having a good day, a bad day, or an indescribably mediocre day. It has no bearing on whichever of my affairs I am in the process of conducting.
Bank staff are singularly bad for this. I will happily converse with the checkout staff in my local supermarket, with the conductor on the train, or the ticket office staff, and with just about anybody else who conveys any genuine warmth during the course of our encounter. By way of example, my supermarket staff unfailingly ask me if I “need any help with packing?” I always reply in the negative, and if I am in a reasonable mood I jokingly add “but you can help me pay if you like.” This usually elicits a smile and, more than that, everybody declines with good humour but in a different way. My point being that I am not above a casual conversation and a smile, provided there is some human depth to it. The banks, perhaps to nobody’s surprise given the crisis they created, lack humanity.
I find myself, then, entering into terse and largely one-sided dialogues with courteous but target-focussed individuals, whose individualism is denied them by their corporate masters and by the script they have rote-learned and from which they must not stray. If they thought about what they were asking, then they might stop and ask something else instead – something relevant, something less personal, or something that did not immediately lend itself to having its stupidity highlighted.
“Are you having a good day?” I was asked.
“So-so,” I replied.
“Could be better?”
By definition, if my day can be described as so-so then yes, it could be better. I neglected to point this out, instead telling him matter-of-factly:
“Better if I wasn’t taking out the last of my money.”
“Okay,” he said without listening, checking the balance of my account. “You have nine pounds thirty.” He began counting it out, continuing the line of questioning.
“Are you up to much today?”
Drily, I answered “Not with nine pounds thirty.”
He smiled. It was the smile of a man satisfied that he has done as his job requires of him. It was a smile that did not belie any indication that he had appreciated my attempt at injecting a little bonhomie into his day. Perhaps the possession of a sense of humour is seen as subversive. They trained him on which questions to ask, but not in how to respond adequately to the answers.
Earlier this week, I was in my local branch of a mid-sized national supermarket chain. I happened to see an offer on burgers, and took a photo of the sign in order to make a silly joke on facebook, with reference to the UK horsemeat burger news story of last week. One of my friends looked beyond the cheap gag, and pointed out that the pricing information on the sign was arithmetically incorrect. I decided, for my own amusement, to write a complaint to the company in question. Ostensibly, it would be about the news story, and I would fill it with as many puns and as much wordplay as I could, before making a comparatively serious point about mathematical standards. This is the letter I sent, after the photo that I took.
Unless you have had the blinkers on, I am sure you will be familiar with the major headline story last week. On the back of the recent news reports about “beef” burgers and their contents, I’m afraid I wish to register rather a serious complaint regarding one of the products you offer for sale. I saw it, and took the attached photograph, in a branch in Glasgow, on Monday 21st January.
I understand that this brand, Birds Eye, was not caught up in the recent ‘horsemeat’ scandal. I can only presume that this is because they use their name to alert consumers to the possibility that their burgers may contain alternative types of meat, for example avian ocular organs.
I am aware that, by law, burgers must have a minimum meat content, and I absolutely trust that the majority of burgers do contain a minimal amount of meat. Listening to the naysayers, this issue seems to be less about eating Red Meat, and more about inadvertently eating Red Rum.
I understand, too, that – while your business may have stable suppliers – it is not your mane duty to vet all sources of meat used in the products you sell. I do not mean to nag, nor to stirrup trouble, and trust that you will not trot out a generic answer to this statement of concern.
Selling these particular burgers at half price, after this (without wishing to sound too grand) national outrage, seems – in a manner of speaking – a little like you are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is almost as if you do not wish to be saddled with this remaining stock.
Having had free rein to bring this to your attention, I am now champing at the bit to explain the nature of my complaint. It relates to the advertising sign attached to the shelf edge in the photo, and I am not sure how it got pastyour quality control department.
Specifically, as you will see, the sign pronounces “Half Price” in large, bold letters. The original selling price, as stated and struck through, is £2.70.
You are offering this pack for sale at £1.29. I am not sure where you learned division, but it does not take great dexterity to realise that half of £2.70 is £1.35.
I realise that it is too late to amend this sign, and merely suggest that greater care is taken in future when calculating differences in price. Indeed, you could have made this offer seem more attractive to the potential consumer, by pointing out that it represents a saving of MORE THAN half price.
As you may gather, from reading this email, I am presently (like so many others) unemployed. I will be happy to come in and do basic maths or proofread signs for you on a regular basis, for a small fee. I am also available for any writing vacancies you may have, for example in public relations, subject to appropriate remuneration.
I do hope that you will give this some serious consideration, and await your reply..
If a reply is recieved, be certain that I will post it here. I sincerely hope that they will reply in the same spirit in which this was written.
Edit, 2nd May 2014: Fourteen months after I questioned their maths, to which no reply was forthcoming, they have still failed to grasp basic concepts. A three-day weekend is fifty percent longer than a normal one. They are eight hours short.
I bought a new pair of jeans yesterday, from a well-known and low-priced High Street retailer. For a few years now, this retailer has been putting all purchases into paper bags as a matter of course.
As the assistant reached for one yesterday, a particularly wet day even for Glasgow, I asked if she didn’t have one that was perhaps a little more waterproof.
“I’ll double-bag it for you,” she said, and put the paper bag inside another paper bag. This didn’t afford any additional protection from the elements, but it did allow me to carry twice as much soggy paper around. Until the handle predictably gave way.
I can’t help but feel that any environmental benefit of using paper bags is offset by the need to immediately wash your new clothes, after the bag has disintegrated and they have landed in a puddle.
I understand that paper is better than plastic as it breaks down faster. It would just be useful if it didn’t fully biodegrade on the journey home.
I confused a friend in London once, when I mentioned in conversation that I had “just jumped the tube.” I used it casuallyand offhand as an expression meaning that I jumped ON the tube as a means of getting where I was going, and not – as she interpreted – to mean that I had literally vaulted a turnstile to avoid paying my fare.
Whether the use of the word in this context is unique to Glasgow, or Scotland, I don’t know. I do know that it was in a Glasgow supermarket where I heard it used entirely inappropriately.
It was one of these sizeable (but not out-of-town) supermarkets with its own car park, and the checkouts had low metal barriers that swung across the lanes and were locked when the checkout was not in use. Most of these checkouts had a single lane, but every so often there was a double gate, where two checkouts had their lanes next to each other. It was at one of these double gates that I witnessed the following.
Someone in a wheelchair was waiting for one of the staff to unlock these gates so the aisle would be wide enough for them to leave. The guy unlocked the gates, held them open for the person, and said “Just jump through there.”
It was said without thought or malice, and I don’t think anyone else picked up on it – it’s such a common phrase here – but I noticed it, and it stuck with me.
I had two encounters that amused me today, but you’ll need some background for the first one.
Prior to Christmas, I was employed by the Royal Mail via Manpower via the Work Programme. That sounds a bit messy, and it was. The job was meant to last until March, but lasted just fifteen days. There’s plenty more I plan to say about that in due course. Manpower’s staff and conduct were abysmal, so I made a formal complaint. This went to a grievance hearing, at their invitation, and the letter of outcome that arrived last week was very unsatisfactory in many ways. Feeling that they just don’t care, I wrote a letter to head office appealing the decision, but keeping my tongue firmly in my cheek. That letter will undoubtedly appear here once they have had the chance to respond – my wee sister read it and cried laughing. Today, though, I went to the Post Office to mail it.
The counter clerk, a wee Glesga Woman, took it from me, and asked if there was anything of value in it – vouchers, cheques, etc. I said no, only satire.
“What’s satire?” she asked, “Is that a flag?”
“No, that’s The Saltire.”
“So what’s satire then?”
“Sarcasm,” I said, explaining briefly the content of the letter and reason for sending it. She was happy to have learned a new word, and said she felt bad having to charge me to post it. I said that was fine, just so long as they don’t lose it…
From there, I went to The Co on the corner of Gordon Street and Union Street to pay a bill. They have the electronic voice thing that beckons you forth, and I was directed to Cashier Number Seven Please. Glancing up at the numbered LED displays above each till, it was obvious that they only go up to six. I took my chances, and went for the last till. When I mentioned the anomaly, the girl said “I know, I don’t know why that is.”
I asked if it was a joke, so they could stand and laugh at anyone stood scratching their head while trying to work out why they’d been called to the seventh till in a line of six. She laughed and said “Aye, that’s it.”
That was my entertainment for the day, not least because they both happened within minutes of each other. Sometimes I’m easy pleased.