Shopping in Britain: Where the Customer is Never Right

How to grow old and wrinkled Fast!

The British Don't Take Well to Service

One of the nastiest thing that can happen to you in most British shops is a salesperson slinking up to you undetected and asking if you need any help. In the US, when I lived there, such cooperation by those whose wages, indirectly, you were paying, was a given. "Good morning, sir, how are you today, can we help you with anything?" The day was suffused with a rosy hue as you felt as if the whole staff of J.C. Penney was actually listening and enquiring as to your welfare.

But, brother, not the British. We must be the people least suited to service in the world if not the Universe. Which is why it is so unpleasant here actually having one of these shelf-stackers, money-takers and take-a-break fag-puffers actually offer to's so unexpected it scares the bejaysus out of you! "No...I'mmm fine," you stammer, "Just looking...just filling the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, you know, hahahaha" They give you that pitying yet PC look reserved for small, yelling kids and the doddering old, which seem to be most of those shopping these days. The one spending the social children's allowance and the other, the OAP.

I can't remember if it was always like this or Britain, having adopted the US model of huge department stores and the like, thought the merchandise deserved no more attention by staff from the factory to the cash point. And, by Christo, try and catch one as it flits around the display shelves and aisles coming and going from its fag break. If, by a dint of athleticism and cunning, you do manage to corner one, it changes immediately into a real salesperson before your eyes. "Can I help you," it mouths prettily. And then, "Oh, that's Elsie's section, hang on a minute..." and it's gone forever, perhaps tracking Elsie down just as she's off for her fag break.

And while we're on the subject, what do you think of the smoking ban for staff in shops? I never saw them smoking before, did you? They had there own tea room where they could go and light up. Now, they are clustered in every niche and doorway all down the High Street. It's like running the gauntlet in the final minutes of some huge fire! There are so many dog ends on the street, you could make a good living collecting them every half hour or so and rolling some for sale. Those trying to quit and those who get easy satisfaction for their tobacco jones leave half a fag or more. And the price of smoking these days! With every pack telling them they are about to die! Why on earth do they do it?

What got me on this subject today is something that also pisses me off big time. That's these shops and stores which put a limit - varying from £5 to about£10 - which you have to spend before you can pay with your debit or credit card.

I parted company with my favourite charity book shop today over this mindless nonsense.

I found two books I wanted (one was the latest Lehane), handed them over with my Nationwide debit card as usual only to be told I "hadn't spent enough for Mr bearded, metal studded hipster to accept it."

I asked him why: I had always used my debit card here in the past 3 years.

"S'rules," he indicated a sign on the wall that indeed stated this. "We 'ave to pay 'em, see?"

I said, "But you are a charity shop, you get given everything free, why should you care if you have to pay a small commission?"

"You wanna keep the books aside or put 'em back," he asked me.

"You can shove the bloomin books," I said, storming off, "and you've just lost a good customer with this stupid crap!" I can storm off or cut off my own nose to spite my face for England!

But how inane is that! What has happened to the customer is always right?

I mean, I don't like it, but I am more sympathetic if a retail shop asks for a reasonable minimum. And, after all, how can you spend less that a tenner in Debenhams's, for example. But they do it everywhere in Blighty: coffee shops and pubs, I mean, come on! How much profit is there in coffee - 300%? It's just the mean minded greed that permeates every facet of life here. All the way to the criminal 20% VAT we now suffer with under this government. We used to complain when it was 3%! I suggest you refuse to give’em your business; we can form a club of folks without noses.

Finally. Do you know that British councils are actually evicting whole families from council housing if one of the kids was involved in the riots and looting; even if he or she has not been found guilty yet! They are really doing this. It’s getting to be as if we are living in Russia of many years ago. Where are these poor parents - completely innocent themselves - going to live?

It stinks and I detest Cameron and his privileged gang for doing it, instead of apportioning the blame where it truly lies, at the door of number 10 Downing Street,

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Comments 26 comments

50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

Aye a customer akin to myself, push stupid my way I tell 'em get stuffed, and end up driving 50 miles further and buy else where. I spose in the end I'm the only one noseless and pissed off, great hub, 50

moncrieff profile image

moncrieff 5 years ago from New York, NY

Interesting. I've been in customer service for years and such behavior is unacceptable to me. Probably you're right, with bigger department stores goes attention and courtesy. Why, indeed they can afford to lose a customer, when they have thousands shopping there. But eventually it will be beaten by a store with the attentive staff.

cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

last night i went to my favorite restaurant, panera, and the portions were smaller. i asked for more and got it with a smile. so far, they remain on my "good" list.

a side note, bob, i read "a walk in the woods" per your suggestion. i decided i don't need to hike the whole appalachian trail after all. i'll stick to a very civilized part of it here in western PA. thanks for the "word to the wise".

enjoyed your kipling quote. it may have been wasted on the clerk, though.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

You did precisely the right thing by walking out. Consider that you are probably an average customer and that your reaction was typical, so when they realize that their rule is costing business, they'll change it.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

50 calibre




I am on my way to bed and just popped in to email. Thanks all for lovely comments Bob

BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

Well, I can't say in America we have wonderful customer service anymore either. My husband and I were at McDonald's drive-thru window and asked each:"How many people does it take to pour two cups of coffee." Apparently it takes 15 minutes at the window. Giving the term 'fast food' a whole new meaning. Love this hub!

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Is Australia like that too? I was in Montreal once and thought the taxi service was bad, but the hotel service was first rate as were the restaurants we went to. I was a little perturbed to be addressed as "Madame" which has a totally different connotation in Texas. But all in all, I thought Canada was very service oriented.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Whew! The two female heavyweights visiting me at once!

Hi Bobbi and AustinStar...

I am in the UK, AS, but I lived in Oz for some years and it's very down to earth, but there's been big changes there since they stopped eating raw kangaroo. Bobbi...what the heck are you doing at Macs? Shame on you! Bobxx

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I was wondering that too. Macdonalds for coffee? Isn't Starbucks right next door?

Raw Kangaroo meat? Kangaroo Tartar? Oooh, sounds yummy, though I would put some bbq sauce on top for sure.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

"I was wondering that too. Macdonalds for coffee? Isn't Starbucks right next door?"

In a double blind taste test a few years ago, the winner was McDonald's, over Starbucks and a couple of others!

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

True, and MickyD's is much cheaper. I started drinking MacDonald's Iced Coffee and love it!

However, Starbucks still has the best Hot Cocoa in the winter.

QudsiaP1 profile image

QudsiaP1 5 years ago

Sounds to me like another riot is in order Bob...


writeronline 5 years ago

QudsiaP1, lol, love it!

Sorry, Bob, I quite enjoyed your hub too... although my wife, who works (sells) in retail women's fashion, swears there are people in the world who wake up on a bad day and say "Where can I go to insult, patronise and belittle someone who's prevented by company rules from engaging in any human interchange (ie fighting back)?"

Then they hit the shops.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

WOL: How uncharitable of your wife! I specifically said I understand her sort of emporium insisting on a minimum charge. And they can "fight back," i.e. engage in philosophical debate about the problem? Wives! On other uncharitable and bad days, i got rid of four of 'em. teehee.

diogenes 5 years ago

Qudsia: Hi gorgeous. yes, we'll be on the streets again soon, we've all had enough over here...Bob

diogenes 5 years ago

Will and AS: Do carry on your debate in my comments about the realtive merits of Macs and Starbucks! Forgive me if I snooze! Bob

J Burgraff profile image

J Burgraff 5 years ago

We are tired of our privileged gang over here in the US as well. Costs more to buy two red peppers than it does to feed a whole family on McDonalds (and sorry, I didn't mean to continue the McDonalds theme, although I might add they serve Starbucks at certain McDonalds now...) Keep writing diogenes and I will keep reading.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks for that kind comment JB. The US has never treated its "underclasses" like the Europeans, especially the British. I don't think you ever had babies was (5 was average age) Cleaning chimneys for 12 hours a day while fires where lit of straw to make 'em go faster. I can't remember of any instances of the US sending people to Australia for stealing a loaf of bread or sentencing them to live in Workhouses. OK, that's many generations ago, but the same inequality exists today and the upper or ruling classes are as cruel as they ever were and only restrained by the law...Bob

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I've got one word for you Bob - Revolution. It worked for us! Well, for a little while anyway.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

One more reason for the Second Amendment.

BTW, why did you Brits give up your guns so meekly when your higher classes demanded it?

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

I went to Canada and couldn't belief the service and knowledge they have to have about the products. At the door there an elderly person just to greet you. That she/he does and it gives the a few pennies.

Mind, Bob, it never used to be in England that. They used give good service. I don't know what happened to this country. Nobody seems to care or bother.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Hanna; I believe you are German?? I am English but lived away for 35 years. I couldn't believe this "foreign" country when i returned in 2003. It gets worse every year now, but where do you go? It seems the whole world is ruined by greed and people pollution. I am glad I enjoyed this country and others in the good times, because it is finished now...Bob

AutumnSarah profile image

AutumnSarah 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

This resonated with me. I just spent a month in England. I agree!

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Sarha: Thanks for your visit and comment...Bob

blogtipper 5 years ago

Oh no, I think my mum is right, I'm turning in to a grumpy old man early. I'm 'only' 28 but what you said resonates with me and my own blog rants at British culture are quite similar. Budget airlines and Midland Mainline draws most of my ire!

diogenes 5 years ago

...And it's only getting worse! There's nothing for the less well off here except misery...Bob

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