Accent · British Traits · Expat Dilemmas · Fitting In · Life · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · Shopping · UK

Snippet on Adjusting to Life in the UK

I realize that I haven’t posted in a while; and I am a little half-hearted about jump-starting it with a grumble.  In particular, it will be about (the virtually non-existent) customer service in the UK…. again.  It’s the one thing about  UK life I can’t quite get my head around, just because it’s a puzzle that in a country where everything is about civility, politeness and niceties, very few stores (or “shops”) seem to be able to get it right.

Today I headed into town to run a few errands at the bank and the post office.  Too early for the return train — and yes, I DO have to rush back home as I have a conference call to Chicago by 9:30 Central Time — I decided to go to Debenhams to use up an expiring gift card.  The gift card had a 24-month lifetime, and we got it as a wedding gift 2 years ago.  Hence the urgency to use it before its expiration.  I got a few small things at the home section, and headed up to pay.   Here goes the convo at the till:

Cashier :  Hi, you alright?

Me :  Hi, yes, I’m good how are you (waited for her to scan the 2 items, tell me the total, and then I handed over the gift card)

Cashier :  (peering from the top of her bifocals for some time and swiping it) — Do you know how much money you have on the card?

Me : (slightly surprised why it was up to me to tell her how much was left on the card — she could swipe to find out couldn’t she? — and trying to remember how much I had left on the card).  Hmmmmm…. I’m not too sure.   I think I might have around £120-something on it….

Cashier : (looking back at me)  So, in other words, — you do not know…..

Yup, those were her words  — “so in other words, you do not know….”

I am only slightly amused, but  mostly annoyed at myself, for being thrown off by comments like these, especially when they come with an accent and a nose in the air (literally, as it tried to hold up her bifocals).  I am not too sure whether to react the “American way” of always being right as customer; or to tread the polite line of putting sales staff softly in their place by a slight change in my intonation, the right choice of words, or the just-enough raise of my right eyebrow.  It really is tricky to make that split-second decision to either dare to be yourself and risk awkward attention; or to live as the Romans when in Rome and tone everything way way down.  I just know that each time I come over to the UK, I do not stay long enough to get out of the mode of being the visitor or the outsider, and to know how to deal with situations the way locals do.  But because that is my choice and this is my life, for now all I can do is sigh.  Until I get it right, if they don’t.


20 thoughts on “Snippet on Adjusting to Life in the UK

  1. I’d try to deal with it in a way that least upsets you, because you’re not going to change it. I’m not sure there’s a “getting it right”. Just a “muddling through”.

    1. Oy. Sadly true, I know. It’s just grrrr frustrating sometimes. But after writing and getting it off my chest, I’m alright. This is all just part of easing my way into the other side of the pond. Thanks, Iota!

    1. The irony of it is, I am usually a straight, single-syllable answer person. I agree and you’re right — there would’ve been no two ways, no “in other words”, to a yes or no.

    1. She tried to back-paddle. Not very successful though. As for me, let’s say I trained a look on her that made her slightly uneasy. :) Thanks Dave, glad to be back. :)

  2. Can’t say I am surprised, but once you accept that customer service just isn’t what it’s like in the States you get over it. I always try to be pleasant, even when the person on the till doesn’t say a single word to me during the entire transaction. I will say that the longer I live in London the less tolerant I’ve become of over zealous American customer service. I cringe whenever a server crouches down to take my order!

    1. Never liked solicitous, over-cheery service either. My only thing is, if they’re taking my money and custom, they’d better at least be polite when they talk, and probably better if they don’t. :)

    1. HI — sorry for the delayed response as I haven’t been checking on the blog lately. But thanks for your comment and letting me feel that I am not the only one being grumpy sometimes! :)

  3. You really reminded me of what it’s like in London. Although you title your experience as in the UK that is accurate to a point. However when over there why don’t you extend your experience by visiting Scotland where you will find a world of difference in customer service. Was in Edinburgh and Glasgow and the chat was great and really helpful. So give it another chance,eh? James from Toronto

  4. Were u in London? Lol. People tend to be more ‘occupied’ over there.
    Try other places in the UK though, some give quite friendly service ;)

    1. Hi Cindie: Sorry to reply so late on this. I definitely agree with you that people are much friendlier outside of London, but still…. this particular incident was actually not in London. I guess on the whole they seem not to get the value of their customers for repeated business. I hope things improve or continue to improve.

  5. It’s interesting reading this blog as I can relate to the premise of missing Chicago (and in my case northwest suburbs where I spent my teenage years). Although my situation is somewhat a twist – I was actually born in England and was raised in both countries until I was a teenager where I spent my teens in Chicago. Now I live on the west coast and although the weather is great – I just miss the Midwest. I also miss my family in England, however I will never move back there, to me it’s like taking a step backwards. By the way, it has been 13 years since I left Chicago-land – the feeling never goes away. At the end of the day I’m so lucky I have parents who were willing to leave their family in England for a better life in the U.S. Some people are so attached to their life in a country that they are never willing to let go, even if it means a better life for their children. Anyway – you should start posting again!

    1. I agree that there are marked differences in Midwest vs west coast lifestyles and attitudes. Thanks for dropping by and the encouragement to post. :)

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