How to whinge like a winner

The British are useless at complaining and we suffer bad service with a stiff upper lip. But one man claims that a sense of humour and the courage to make a stand for what you want can bring just rewards. By Kate Watson-Smyth

WHEN John McEnroe flung his racket down on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon and complained about the linesmen, the umpire, the ballboys and sometimes - just for the hell of it - the weather, a frisson would ripple round the court.

Some of the, mainly British, crowd would gasp in admiration at his audacity and long for the courage to turn to a manager, waiter or shop assistant and complain with such conviction. The others would sniff with disapproval and smile kindly in the direction of Bjorn Borg, whose stoicism and long- suffering gained him the lasting respect of the nation.

Those mighty tennis battles between the two players encapsulate the British attitude to complaining - something at which we have never excelled.

Faced with adversity, we prefer simply to mutter among ourselves, swear never to go there again even if you pay us and stomp off in a huff. As a result, we have to put up with bad service, shoddy workmanship and bullying from our neighbours, all of which gives us more to whinge about.

But whinging is not the same as complaining. Complaining means actually doing something constructive about a problem and, put simply, the British are no good at it.

This, according to Jasper Griegson, a man who has made a career out of complaining, is because of the War. "The British are desperately proud of the Dunkirk spirit," he says. "By spending enormous amounts of time `grinning and bearing it', the British have come to associate expressions of dissatisfaction with sissiness.

"The manly response to adversity is the proverbial stiff upper lip, which is all very well if you are squatting in an air-raid shelter waiting for a doodle-bug to drop on you, but not much help if a chocolate machine has swallowed your pound coin."

So, in the spirit of altruism and an effort to initiate his fellow countrymen into the benefits of making a fuss, Griegson has compiled a book, The Joys of Complaining, which he hopes will inspire the nation to put pen to paper when faced with life's little irritations.

As well as general observations on the nature of complaining and how different nationalities approach it, the book consists of complaining letters - often outrageously cheeky, but always charming - to various top-name companies and their replies. Some are from Griegson himself, others written on behalf of friends, but all the correspondence is totally genuine.

But Griegson warns that McEnroe's approach is not necessarily the best way to achieve a result "Abusive complaining doesn't work. I've tried it," he says, recalling the time he sent a sick bag (albeit an empty one) to the Alitalia airline to complain about their business-class cuisine.

"We enclose by way of service (you will not know what that means) the following documents," he wrote. "It is quite dreadful to think that even at this very moment hundreds of passengers are being force-fed like battery hens with plastic trays full of the remarkable offal you apparently deem fit for consumption."

Not surprisingly his final paragraph, asking for a "substantial gesture of goodwill" did not meet with the required response.

The "unduly impolite and offensive" letter was returned with the curt suggestion that only a formal complaint would be considered.

Nowadays, Griegson writes with his tongue firmly in his cheek and says he has much better results. "If you can make the person dealing with the complaint laugh then they will be more likely to help you out."

In a letter to the managing director of Selfridges, he complained about a defective coffee machine. "For many eons I have been a great fan of your store. This faith was sadly shattered when I spent pounds 220 on a cappuccino machine... the knob has dropped off as a result of a defective spring.

"In all the circumstances there is only one way for this to be rectified and that is for you to supply me with a new knob as soon as possible.

"Unless I receive the same within three working days, I intend to commit suicide by putting the steamer pipe from the machine (if I can make it work) into my mouth."

The reply, by return of post, began: "Don't do it. As you might imagine I now feel personally accountable for your serious complaint and concerned for your continued good health!!"

He was sent a new knob and a complementary pack of coffee "which I trust will help ease the trauma. Please let me know when you have the machine working satisfactorily again as I am going to worry about this for the rest of the week. In the meantime, thank you quite seriously for your letter and for bringing a touch of humour into our pressured existence."

But despite his skill at writing the perfect letter of complaint, Griegson is an invention. His alter ego, who will not reveal his real identity beyond the fact that he is a family man with a "very dull job in the city" claims he never complains about anything. "But when I become Jasper I take on a new persona which enables me to complain better," he says.

The turning point for Griegson came at Dublin airport in 1986 when he faced a four-hour flight delay. A loud American in checked trousers made a huge fuss and demanded that he be taken to the best restaurant for lunch. Griegson joined in, somewhat sheepishly at first and was pleasantly surprised to find that both he and the American had their way - unlike the rest of the passengers, who suffered in silence. "Since then, I've never let anything go," he says.

In fact, he was so good at his job as complainer for Woman's Realm magazine that he was sacked. Tongue firmly in cheek, he wrote to the "personnel manager" at the Conservative Party's Central Office complaining about the poor quality of candidates in the 1995 Tory leadership contest.

Modestly offering his own services, he wrote: "My readers and I, concerned that UK Plc is rudderless, feel that a strong, bold and strident leader is needed. Although I have not been directly involved in politics, I was a school prefect at Oakthorpe Junior School in 1969-71."

Central Office failed to see the joke and telephoned the chairman of IPC magazines demanding that he be sacked forthwith. He was. "I have a sneaking admiration for that because they were just following my example and complaining about things and it worked," said Griegson.

However, Kathy Watson, editor of the magazine, claims Griegson resigned. "The letter was sent back to IPC with a covering note from someone senior in the Tory party and when I rang Jasper to ask him about it, he said it was a joke and resigned.

"There are no hard feelings, but I was glad he resigned because we had employed him to write letters of complaint on behalf of our readers and if he wanted to write a jokey letter he should have done it under his own steam and not as an employee of Woman's Realm," she complained.

Griegson's robust missives have inspired the rest of his family and friends. His young daughter, Zoe, recently wrote to Waddingtons complaining about a game which had fallen apart. "I have lots of apprentices and my family are getting very good at it," he says. "After all, complaining is the most fulfilling activity which any human being can perform."

He may have a point. After all, McEnroe's force of personality has now earned him a successful broadcasting career. Perhaps if Borg had taken up complaining he would have ended up with more than a swimwear company using his name to market their underwear.

`The Joys of Complaining' is published this week by Robson Books, price pounds 8.99.

To: Paul Walden, joint managing director, The Flying Music Group, London W11.

Last night my wife and I went to see the Monkees 30th anniversary concert at Wembley Arena. Our tickets cost pounds 46 and we were deeply disappointed. As a prelude to the Monkees arrival on stage a video was shown featuring the famous song "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees". This number included the following words: "We're the young generation, and we've got something to say". I hate to be pernickety, but the young generation they were not. The boys had been well preserved with a blast of embalming fluid, but to describe them as the young generation was a gross and fraudulent misrepresentation. I would be grateful if you could arrange for each member of the group to provide my wife and I with a written apology, cheque for 46 quid and an assurance that the two offending words will in future be replaced with something like "old geriatrics".

Dear Mr Griegson

Thank you for you letter. As all of the matters that you mention require direct input from the group themselves, I will pass on your letter for response.

Yours sincerely, Paul Walden

PS Due to their advancing years and the speed that they are able to function these days, it may be some time before you receive the benefit of a reply.

To: Terry Leahy, Managing Director, Tesco Stores

I am a vegetarian and a monkey. It therefore follows as a matter of axiomatic logic that I like to indulge in bananas. I enclose for your attention what appear to be examples of Tesco's finest. As you will see, however, one of these bananas is more than just a fruit. It appears to be home to an animal. Given my anti-carnivore inclinations, I am less than happy to discover such high meat content in what, on any view, would normally be regarded as a non-meat product.

Dear Mr Griegson,

I have now received the report concerning your bananas. The specimen was described as a "silk-encased foreign body". This has subsequently been examined by an entomologist who reports as follows: "The specimen was identified as the remains of a pupa and cocoon of the moth species Antichloris. This is a harmless tropical moth whose larvae feed on the leaves of the banana palm. The occurrence of these on imported bananas is reasonably commonplace." I have told our technologist, who will make sure it is fully investigated. As a gesture of goodwill, I enclose Tesco vouchers to the value of pounds 15.

Yours sincerely, Frances Hickling, Customer Services Executive to the Board

To: Marco Pierre White, The Criterion, London W1

A few weeks ago my wife and I treated ourselves and six friends to an excellent meal at your restaurant. The atmosphere was both congenial and vibrant. The food was succulent, fragrant and yet at the same time deliciously sophisticated. The service capped it all: the waiters managed to combine unobtrusiveness with efficiency. However, the occasion was married by a detail I can only imagine will horrify you. When it came to coffee on of the items on the menu described itself as expresso. As a lover of all things Italian, I am fairly sure that the correct spelling is espresso. Doubtless you will want to take a quick butchers at the menu to double- check my observation.

Dear Mr Griegson

Thank you for your letter. I read your comments with interest. We have now acted on your recommendation and rectified the situation.

Marco Pierre White

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Early Years Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Early Years supply teachers neede...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    KS2 Teacher required from October

    £90 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Hull: Key Stage 2 Supply Teacher requ...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor