Friday, 08 January 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 8 January

Ought we to be miffed when shop staff refer to us in the third person, or remain glued to a screen? Thomas Blaikie weighs in

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
In shops when making enquiries I often find the assistant will turn to a colleague and say ‘She wants to know…’ rather than ‘The customer would like to know…’ The offenders are always of the younger generation.

Still on the subject of poor manners, the hairdresser’s receptionist said to me (after I had been ignored for about five minutes), ‘Are you all right there?’ I’m afraid I snapped back, ‘No, I’m not all right – your computer seems to be of more interest to you than your customer.’ I think the sarcasm may have been lost on her.

Do you think I’m overreacting in either of these cases?
Elizabeth Mueller, Glasgow

Dear Elizabeth,
We’re in what I understand is called the ‘clearance season’ – ie, the January sales, which nowadays start on Boxing Day if not before. How many of us will be subject to this kind of o hand treatment from shop sta as we battle for bargains?

You’ve certainly hit on two pronounced contemporary sources of annoyance. It’s always rude to refer to someone present as ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘this bloke’ or ‘chap’ or ‘guy’. I made a fuss during a card game recently when a fellow player said ‘He’s dealing’ – meaning me. ‘I’ve got a name, you know,’ I barked. I have to say the others made fun of me. What I’d forgotten was the thing about the cat’s grandmother: snarly child says something like, ‘She said I’ve got to have bread and butter first,’ she being the child’s mother. Cue for indignant adult, perhaps mother herself, to enquire pointedly, ‘Who is she? The cat’s grandmother?’

Parents of today must have given up on the cat’s grandmother – hence all this ‘he-ing’ and ‘sheing’. These shop staff don’t know any better. So you’ve got to tell them, in the nicest possible way, that they should refer to you as ‘the customer’ or ‘the lady’, but not ‘the woman’. Of course it’s okay to say, ‘The customer is lost. She’s trying to find China and Glass.’ Also have a word with the management, who should be responsible for training.

The other issue you mention is computers and sales staff saying, ‘Are you all right there?’ instead of ‘Can I help you?’ Computers are all very well, but you’re right: shop staff are fixated with them. Ask a question and they begin clattering on their keyboards. While we’re on the subject, I’d love to be able to pay for small items and leave at once – without having to wait for the computer to do whatever.

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Online Abuse

I was dismayed that The Daily Telegraph, following the House of Commons vote to bomb Syria, attacked pro-war MPs who complained of being bullied by internet trolls. No, no, said The Telegraph, why shouldn’t members of the public express their political fury in the fine lampooning tradition of Michael Foot and Disraeli? Really?

Proper political satire has an artistry to it. It’s poised and witty – as when Denis Healey said that being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like being ‘savaged by a dead sheep’. This summed Sir Geoffrey up brilliantly.

Artistry implies control, but internet trolls on the whole are just blundering about the room, smashing things. What they offer is raw hatred. They’re to be feared and resisted. And they’re on the increase not just in political debate, but on reviewing websites and so on. Bizarrely, all this seems to go hand in hand with much mention of the awfulness of bullying and the need to respect the views of others. So if you’re thinking of expressing your opinions online, do please think twice.


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