hy can't British shops offer the same levels of service as you get in New York or other US cities? So runs the refrain. As an American accustomed to helpful salespeople, prompt deliveries and Christmas presents that are routinely wrapped for you in the store, I put it to the test last week.

First stop - Selfridges. I don't look like a Selfridges shopper, dressed in khakis and trainers, but I pump up my spirit by reminding myself: "They don't know. I could have Daddy's platinum card tucked away in my back pocket."

It wouldn't have mattered. I perused some of the clothing items without a cursory glance from the salespeople. When I made eye contact with the saleswoman at the Miu Miu purse display, she felt obliged to say "Hello".

Sensing her disdain, I thought, "Well, you're not getting my 150 quid". As I walked away, she realigned the purse I touched to its original 68.7 degree angle.

In the furniture department I lingered in the modern-design section. After 20 minutes of running my fingers up Eames and down Le Corbusier chairs, I still hadn't attracted the attention of the staff.

At DH Evans the only shoppers appeared to be grandmothers, slowly heading for clearance bargains. Staff seemed to match shoppers at a one-to-one ratio, but again, all available sales people were attached to telephones.

I stared at big-screen televisions - no service. I pushed buttons on stereo systems - no service. I picked up garments and said, "hmm," but still no service.

In the bed department it happened. I sat on a modern Japanese futon, and a salesman approached. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, can you deliver by Christmas?"

Sadness filled his eyes as the sale slipped away. "Not until mid-January," he said. "Everything here is made to order. Unfortunately it takes eight weeks."

At John Lewis, the salesman in furniture said, "No way, not by Christmas". Christmas cards, however could be personalised and picked up two weeks after purchase. Now that's a holiday miracle.