The thing about shop staff is that they used to know their place. And their place was behind the cash till getting on with the important business of telephoning. The phrase "Can I help you?" was purely rhetorical. Waiting staff, too, had the art of avoiding diners' eyes down to a tee. It took minutes of training to work in the leisure industries, and they took pride in their skills. Everyone aspired to the practised indifference of the staff at Woolworths.
No more. Now they aspire to the robotic charm of Disneyland. The Americanisation of retail is spreading apace, and to the British shopper, accustomed to proper service, this is a development that breaches our comfort zones. The glazed eye, the fixed grin, the enquiries as to one's well being: they bring out an insane desire to say "Actually, I have a screaming hangover and I'd rather you didn't talk to me."
Just to point fingers for a moment, I'd say that the My Kinda Town restaurant chain, proprietors of Henry J Beans and the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, started undermining the fabric of our society with the phrases "No problem at all", "Is everything okay here?" and "Enjoy your meal." Now you can't buy a cup of coffee without being assailed by cheesy familiarity: the otherwise admirable Seattle Coffee Company, who deserve love in buckets for bringing the vanilla latte to these shores, obviously sustains its staff on a mixed diet of valium and cocaine. I wouldn't mind, but they're not sharing.
Is there not some middle ground? A world where you can buy things without either being curmudgeoned to death or contracting into lifelong friendship? America's other great export, after all, is serial murder. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.Reuse content