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This girl is the shaking hand, the rattling cup - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
This girl is the shaking hand, the rattling cup
In response to a post by addedentry.


addedentry said: I hate personal service, the idea that anyone should have to care about my retail choices.

See, that's the thing that always made me prefer the out-of-the-way haunts -- the dingy bookshops full of mildewy Penguin books and heaps of sheet-music for popular songs and dances of the 1920s, where the proprietor barely looks up from whatever tatty 50s SF he's reading to grunt a monosyllable of acknowledgement as you hand over a vague amount of money; the cafés where they don't know your name and they don't want to know, but they can tell you're only drinking their gritty coffee at all because your taste buds have been rendered insensible by the drink or the drugs or the sordid faceless encounters in dark alleys. The smoky pubs where they won't balk at the request if you order half a dozen double shots within half an hour before it's even midday, because they don't care if you drink yourself to death so long as you don't die on their doorstep.

I don't want some bland, how-can-I-help-you-madam if-I-don't-keep-smiling-they'll-fire-me short-skirted child offering me a frappulattecino-shake and asking me whether I want it strong or "regular" (yes -- every day at about the time the hangover really kicks in, please) and whether I want it black or white and do I want fucking SUGAR in it, and would I prefer cinnamon or chocolate shaken haphazardly over the counter in the direction of my drink by a minimum-wage high-school dropout who probably can't write their own name without moving their lips. And that's what I get in StarBorderStones. Yes, I appreciate the vast cool aisles in which to wander; yes, I appreciate the choice, the browsability, the buyability, the immediate give-me-what-I-want-and-give-me-it-giftwrapped, but I do not want my coffee-drinking experience to be facilitated by the user-welcoming ANDROID in the vomit-coloured uniform.

I don't want overperfumed harridans with orange makeup sidling up to me in a suit-you-sir invasion of personal space while I'm idly browsing racks of bland, generic, cheap-end-of-high-street-fashion clothes. I don't want them to claim to know what would help me to hide my big upper arms and the scars that they pointedly ignore, or to tell me how flattering the more expensive skirt is on my child-bearing hips, or to tell me that vertical stripes are so slimming, not that you need it of course madam, but it's the new black, the new in, the new out, the new shake-it-all-a-fucking-bout. I'd rather pass a haphazard armful of silk shirts and leather boots, a big grasping handful of other people's outgrown fetishes, to the mongoloid manning the checkout of the Cancer Research shop; that way I know that if nothing else I'm doing my bit to prolong the miserable unfulfilled lives of the smokers in those grim bars and cafés who are slowly reducing my lungs to a heap of molten tar.

Yes, your city needs the blandness, the shining chrome and glass and wipe-clean surfaces, the rows and rows of identical suits, the "natural look" faces with their identikit eyebrows and their sexless collagen lips just-parted and waiting to take your order, sir. But it also needs the grime and the grease, the grit under the nails with the cheap glitter-polish, the infected wounds, the needles and the nightmares, the open sores on the rotting underbelly of the world. And it needs to stop deluding itself that one is any less escapist than the other.

Current Mood: frustrated in so many ways
Now playing: electric fan; caffeinated buzzing in my ears

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Comments
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: May 29th, 2003 02:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I almost agree with everything you've written - but. I've worked in shops (the first six years of my working life, at least) and these in-your-face places are very much the minority. Even in stores where they want you to be like this, the staff by and large are too English and prefer skulking in corners to being in the customer's face. Or at least, 10 years ago they did. Employing people I still think of as small children may have changed things, but I don't shop in places predominantly staffed by teenagers anyway. I think I outgrew Miss Selfridge a while back. :-)

Waterstone's is a case in point. I don't honestly think it's quite fair to lump that chain in with Starbucks/Borders etc, simply because experience here at least shows they're not like that. I worked there - customers approached us for help, we certainly didn't cram it down their throats, wave coffee at them, or sneer at purchases (some of the staff on my floor made a positive effort to get through the day without being the first to speak in any conversation). If anything, in Waterstone's and Blackwells and NICE shops you're more likely to find the person behind the till saying "Oh, Jonathan Coe? Great writer - if you like that one you might enjoy [foo]". Which you don't get in Tesco ("Ooh, Persil? Have you tried complementing that with some Lenor?"). I don't find that oppressive - rather I like the fact that I'm buying a book from someone who might actually have read it, and enjoyed it, rather than thinking of it as another unit to shift. The US "how are you today" greeting when you walk in the door of the store is oppressive, and this ethos is carried through into US chains operating here, but whatever the professed "standard" they're still fighting English behaviour.
From: angua Date: May 29th, 2003 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Borders is an interesting one. I couldn't stand working there because of the whole american working culture thing going on behind the scenes but the staff were great people and really knew their stuff and were always helpful to customers and took pride in finding out about authors and books for people so they could help.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: May 29th, 2003 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)
The funny thing about Borders in Oxford is how many of the staff are ex-Waterstone's... :-)
j4 From: j4 Date: May 29th, 2003 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Even in stores where they want you to be like this, the staff by and large are too English and prefer skulking in corners to being in the customer's face. Or at least, 10 years ago they did.

I've found that in clothes-shops it's virtually impossible to just look around without having to fend off shop-assistants. And in Borders I've frequently had staff come and ask me "Can I help you?" when I've been looking along the titles on a shelf. (I feel like telling them "No thanks, I've been reading for longer than you've been alive.") And "can I help you?" always suggests to me that they think I don't know what I'm doing, which annoys me.

Waterstone's is a case in point. I don't honestly think it's quite fair to lump that chain in with Starbucks/Borders etc, simply because experience here at least shows they're not like that.

Possibly not; it just sprang to mind as another bookshop-which-has-sold-out-and-become-a-coffee-shop. It was a rant rather than a factual analysis of customer service trends in bookshops... :)

If anything, in Waterstone's and Blackwells and NICE shops you're more likely to find the person behind the till saying "Oh, Jonathan Coe? Great writer - if you like that one you might enjoy [foo]".

I usually find I have to explain stuff to them. Like how to spell. Or read. I find they're moderately unhelpful about ordering (they'll do it if you hassle them enough, but they don't want to), and utterly clueless about knowing how to search for a book/author on their search systems (okay, so that's an IT issue rather than a bookselling issue, but you'd think they'd train them) -- though I'm delighted that they now have computers that the General Public can use for searching, because that way I can do the search myself in a few seconds and just present them with an ISBN number. I certainly wouldn't ask them for opinions about books or authors, any more than I'd ask any other random person I passed on the street.

Which you don't get in Tesco ("Ooh, Persil? Have you tried complementing that with some Lenor?").

Let us be thankful for small mercies...

I don't find that oppressive - rather I like the fact that I'm buying a book from someone who might actually have read it, and enjoyed it, rather than thinking of it as another unit to shift.

I don't honestly care whether the people who sell me books have read them or not, so long as they can competently take my money and hand me the item I want. When I go shopping I don't necessarily want a conversation with a random stranger. I find it intrusive, I find it's more or less guaranteed to break my interest in browsing, and it often makes me leave the shop immediately.

Blackwells and Heffers, admittedly, still manage not to be intrusive but to be helpful and knowledgeable when required. But then they're still (at least to some extent) academic bookshops. ... God help us if the library staff at the Bodleian ever start bouncing up to people and asking "Can I help you?".
From: angua Date: May 29th, 2003 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I usually find I have to explain stuff to them. Like how to spell. Or read. I find they're moderately unhelpful about ordering (they'll do it if you hassle them enough, but they don't want to), and utterly clueless about knowing how to search for a book/author on their search systems (okay, so that's an IT issue rather than a bookselling issue, but you'd think they'd train them)

I have worked in a book shop and I have to say that I think you're doing a lot of people a great disservice. I'm vaguely insulted about you opinion of bookshop staff, I can both spell and read and *gasp* I'm even IT literate.
Using Borders as an example:
Borders train their staff fully in the IT systems they use and the system they have is actually pretty groovy. They also have information about places that specialise in out of print books if you're looking for something that they can't get in.. and they willingly give out the information.
It's fantastic if you turn up and know the name of book and the author and maybe even the ISBN, normally we get people who say things like "umm.. there's this book, it's got a photo on the cover, it's got some pictures in it, it's about the war" and they expect you to magically know what book it is. You have to remember that they searchign systems aren't perfect either, you might have all the correct details and it will still fail to throw up the book because it doesn't have the edition the ISBN refers to or something equally as stupid.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 29th, 2003 04:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I have worked in a book shop and I have to say that I think you're doing a lot of people a great disservice.

Maybe I've just always been unlucky; but I've lost track of the number of times the bookshop staff I've spoken to have been utterly unable to help at all -- not even knowing where books on a given subject would be, let alone recognising the name of an author.

I'm vaguely insulted about you opinion of bookshop staff, I can both spell and read and *gasp* I'm even IT literate.

Well, I'm sorry you're insulted, but I think you're being oversensitive. My comments were based on my own experience, and weren't aimed at anyone in particular; I certainly wasn't saying "All bookshop staff are stupid", because that would be as ridiculous as if you were to claim that they're all highly intelligent and knowledgeable.

normally we get people who say things like "umm.. there's this book, it's got a photo on the cover, it's got some pictures in it, it's about the war" and they expect you to magically know what book it is.

Yes, I know. I've worked in libraries, it's much the same thing. I don't tend to ask questions requiring psychic powers like that; if I'm resorting to asking the bookshop staff a question then it's much more likely to be about the availability of a specific book, or the location within the shop of a specific book or a subject area. Neither of which should be beyond the scope of bookshop employees.

You have to remember that they searchign systems aren't perfect either

I'm aware of this too. ("Blah blah vaguely insulted that you assume I have no knowledge of IT systems or shops or anything" ... no, actually, I can't be bothered.) What I'm talking about is not having a clue how to search intelligently: not searching on keywords when a (possibly mis-typed) "exact" title fails to match anything; not trying full name / initials / surname variants when no match is found for an author; that kind of thing. (Of course, this is what the WWW is for -- these days I do my own searches and if I'm going to have to order it anyway I might as well just buy it online.) I suppose it's possible that bookshop search systems have no facility for searching with sane parameters, but given the way I've seen people use them (prodding randomly at keys and panicking when they see a screen they don't recognise) I'm tempted to attribute the error to somewhere closer to the keyboard.

If you've only had good experiences as a consumer/customer/whatever-the-buzzword-is-today, well, lucky you; I wish you many more happy years of being capably assisted by pleasant, intelligent staff in the shops of your choice.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: May 29th, 2003 05:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't honestly care whether the people who sell me books have read them or not, so long as they can competently take my money and hand me the item I want.

A class rant.

It's not just for my sake that I want this brusqueness, it's for the dignity of the staff. The most I require is honest mutual contempt, like a transaction with a prostitute.

My current favourite invention? Automated telephone banking.
ewx From: ewx Date: May 29th, 2003 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I've come to slightly expect intrusive staff in clothes shops (except when I have a question, obviously) but being asked "can I help you" in a bookshop just boggles me.
rejs From: rejs Date: May 29th, 2003 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's not something I've come to expect, but then I rarely shop for clothes anywhere other than M&S. Come to think of it, I rarely shop for clothes.

What really irks me is the "can I help you" addressed to the person standing at the front of a queue (eg for a row of checkouts). "No, I'm just standing here for the hell of it, leave me alone".

ewx From: ewx Date: May 29th, 2003 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

can I help you?

That one's just a form of words, innit?
rejs From: rejs Date: May 29th, 2003 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I guess so. Maybe I just parse things too literally.

Like the "there you go" when handing someone their change or whatever. Where do I go? Generally out of the store, that's what.
ewx From: ewx Date: May 29th, 2003 03:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Let me guess, you have no uncle Bob.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 30th, 2003 04:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Good grief. How on earth do you cope with using the English language?

"Good morning" -- is it? it might not be a good morning for me!
"Can I get you anything to drink?" -- well, you're presumably capable of walking to the kitchen and putting liquid in a drinking-container...
"Fancy a bite to eat?" -- actually I'd like a bit more than just a single bite.
(Deleted comment)
ewx From: ewx Date: May 30th, 2003 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: can I help you?

Eh? It's not the form of words chosen when intruding on a browser in a bookshop that surprises me, it's that they'd do it at all. Bookshops usually seem used to the idea that people browse their stock without any kind of assistance being needed.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 30th, 2003 04:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: can I help you?

Bookshops usually seem used to the idea that people browse their stock without any kind of assistance being needed.

Maybe I just look unusually dozy when I'm looking around bookshops. :)
ewx From: ewx Date: June 1st, 2003 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)
I wonder if they are more likely to offer unsolicited assistance to women than men?
olithered From: olithered Date: May 29th, 2003 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Thankyou. That was great to read.

- Olixx
wintrmute From: wintrmute Date: May 31st, 2003 11:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I was wandering around a certain large chainstore today, partially because it was airconditioned, and partially because I was bored and needed to kill some time.

While wandering thru the store, a sales assistant comes up and asks me if i need any help. Since I'm just reading the backs of boxes, and can in fact do this without help, I said no. He then said "Well, if you don't mind, I'll just stand around and talk at you for a bit, anyway."


There was a rant on penny arcade a while back, about how Software Boutique sales-assistant training included lines to use to try and get customers to talk to you, even if they told you to sod off.

No, i don't actually have a point.
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