Monday, 4 April 2011

Dealing with the oiks

Charlie Brooker's column today is about the awful ways in which people treat shop assistants:

 I did spend several years working as a shop assistant – and during that time I learned, as anyone who spends their week standing behind a counter quickly learns, that the worst kind of customers are the ones who think they're automatically superior to you just because you're serving them. The ones who pop into Debenhams and suddenly think they're Henry VIII inspecting the serfs.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat waiters and shop assistants, especially when you are one. The majority of people are perfectly capable of interacting with retail staff without spitting on them or whipping their hides like dawdling cattle, but planet Earth still harbours more than its fair share of disappointments.
The first surprise is that when it comes to arrogant customers, class isn't as big a factor as you might assume. True, I'd occasionally get a stereotypical ex-public-schoolboy blurting requests in my direction as though addressing a programmable service droid, or openly scolding me as if I was a failing member of his personal waiting staff – but the most overtly boorish behaviour came courtesy of people who weren't posh at all, but seemed to want to increase their own social standing by treating the person serving them like scum.
Then there were the people for whom even basic civility was an alien concept.
Damn, he's right. I've worked in several awful places: the Jungle Bungle Children's Indoor Adventure Playground attached to a horrible pub stands out for misery - spending the days explaining to drunk dads why taking their pints into the ball pool wasn't a good idea, spending the evenings wiping pooh and vomit off each ball in the pool. I've taken my share of abuse from the Great British Public, and from employers. 

Hello Transco, thanks for sacking the slowest member of the workforce each Friday afternoon just to scare everybody else while insisting on 100% accuracy, for banning 'speaking' and 'reading' even when there was literally no work to do some nights: I bet your database was riddled with flaws. 

Hello too Brewers' Fayre pubs: after a customer complained about maggots in the salad, two of us were detailed - instead of throwing it away - go through the big dustbin of prepared salad (I think the container was symbolic), picking the maggots out before continuing to serve it up. In an entirely unrelated accident, the manager's brand new Vespa fell onto a bonfire that night. 

What I really don't get on a very basic level is why people think it's OK to be so rude. Sure, there are surly and unpleasant shop assistants (I don't like the hand out for money while looking elsewhere), but there are at all levels. On a really selfish level: be nice to the support staff, or they will ruin your life. I know all the secretaries, catering and security staff here, by name. We chat most days. When I need something, I can wander in, look confused, and they'll take pity on me. I had one colleague though who would royally abuse anyone in a uniform or 'menial' job: strangely enough, he had a lot of difficulty getting admin done. Serves him right: he failed to see through the job description to the person, and got punished. 

What's the worst you've been treated? Or the worst thing you've done to such people? Confess!


oldgirlatuni said...

I couldn't agree more. We should all be aware of the people who really run the organisations for which we work - the people who actually keep the place running.

I worked in an off-licence as an undergraduate (actually, it claimed to be a wine merchants, but there you are), and my particular hates were the man who informed me that I knew nothing about wine (I do, actually - certainly enough to recommend what might be a good buy), and the one who informed me that his time was worth considerably more than mine - I can't remember why it came up in conversation.

But, my real hatred, is the not unusual practice of coming to the counter to pay for something while on the mobile phone to a third party. Just plain rude.

Benjamin. said...

I once received near third degree burns in serving a prestigous function their Christmas dinners. Then continued to work another two hours before my burns attracted attention.