I ordered groceries for home delivery this week and this presented two points for the blog. The first is that I am English, I know that we knew that but this was true proof. The government need to forget any residency texts or history of the UK there are far easier tests. They have started of course with the queues at immigration in all of our airports, you think that is because they are short-staffed? think again. English queue patiently and that my friends is the test, those that jostle, push and shove are immediately marked as ‘not English’. There is another test, as I concluded yesterday, and that is the ‘being a nuisance test’. When my delivery driver advised me that there had been substitutions to my order he gave me a printed list and the option to reject or accept. There is no point in the exercise because I am English, when faced with this task I quickly scan the paperwork and agree to accept. In truth I did see familiar items on the list and checked that the brand hadn’t changed to something that I didn’t use. Putting my shopping away I discovered that the substitutions were not as expected. Of course I could have gone through the list line by line but that is just not the English way.
The second thing that I learnt from this experience is that the ‘shoppers’ at Asda are as mad as a box of frogs. My face wash was substituted for moisturising sun block, where is the similarity? The leave in conditioner had been replaced with shampoo, it is just as well I read the bottle or I would have foamed up in the rain. They appeared to generally substitute with products that had the same colour. There was no rational or logical argument for the substitutions many of which went straight in the trash as no use to me whatsoever. Speaking to Andrew last night I discovered that he had also suffered at the hands of the substitute loons and that in the past he had challenged them. Apparently he was told that there were no substitution rules as such it was just what the picker decided. I can now imagine a 50-year-old picker looking at the list that says “men’s face wash” and finding the shelf empty. A natural reaction would be to think “tart it wasn’t like that in my day” and throw in some moisturiser, it’s all too personal. I have to share Andrew’s older substitution though as an example of dogged determination. He had ordered a deep fat fryer and they were out of stock, the substitution offered was a frying pan, maybe that little human touch does serve a purpose, even if it is only comedy.
The English obsession with queuing and order is always fun to observe. My train services to and from Derby include an automatic and random seat reservation system. It does seem that somebody has programmed the preferences of this system incorrectly as its ambition seems to be to pack us in one space. The system slots everyone into one car in a Tetris type arrangement to limit empty space. It actually seems to fill a car at a time before using the next. But we all clutch our reservations and hunt down the seat that we have been assigned, because we’re English that’s what we do.
I watched a woman yesterday as she played the ‘reservation shuffle’. Firstly she went past her seat and looked around as if lost. This is the English way of letting somebody know they are in your seat. When it became apparent that they were not aware of their error she offered an “excuse me I think that’s my seat” this despite the fact that there area plethora of vacant seats. The man duly moved to the correct seat and our passenger took her allotted seat but it doesn’t end there. After leaving the station our passenger decided that the other seats looked better and moved to one with a table. The move accompanied by an explanation and justification to the strangers around her. Was she settled here, of course not and some time later she reversed to face the direction of travel, with the same proclamations loudly made.
For me this is a quintessentially English way of doing things. There is almost a moral obligation to sit in the allotted seat to commence and this is supported by indignation that somebody has not played by the rules. The subsequent moves each require you to explain why they take place to fellow passengers. Elsewhere in the world people would simply take a different seat if theirs was taken. If you asked somebody to relinquish your seat in the US they would point out that there were plenty of free seats and remain where they were.
A further example of Englishness was revealed on the metro. I used the circle line which is now run mostly with new rolling stock, this includes a grab pole in the centre of every vestibule. These grab poles are painted yellow so they are extremely visible but they are new, they weren’t there on the last stock. I watched a passenger charge into the saloon to grab his favoured standing place, its probably been his favourite for many years. You guessed it, he went face first into the grab pole which is akin to getting smacked in the face with a scaffold pole.
Now there are two English issues here, firstly we must remain calm and secondly we cannot berate others for our mistakes. To this end the gent simply removed his face from the pole and took up his standing position. No shouting or ranting and no attempt to check his injuries. A stoic face told us that this was all part of his routine. I only travelled two more stops with him but I surreptitiously watched and he didn’t even move to stem the small line of blood running down his face.
I take my hat off to those that follow these old rules so diligently but, as a weary world traveller, I must tell you that it wears off. I don’t play the reservation shuffle, queue politely or give up my seat and I most definitively would have cursed the grab pole.
Why do people find the most inconvenient times to be polite and does it only happen here? The English have an overdeveloped sense of politeness, have had for decades. Admittedly the younger generation have tried to bury it under nonsensical slang and profanity. But this is the land of the queue, the polite cough, order and manners.
This is not an easy one way street, this politeness is a complex social dance. It would seem that some people are dancing to a different tune though. When I purchase my rail ticket it is a transaction not a social interaction. We recognise each other now so we exchange a few meaningless words while the transaction is completed. But this is still a simple transaction, don’t misunderstand it, don’t build on it.
The young lad at the station has this all wrong. He tries to engage socially and that is a disaster because we have no easy way to reject this. We don’t have the tools to close a conversation quickly. When someone talks to us we struggle to turn away from them, it is impolite after all. Every Monday I awkwardly leave the station, unheard words hanging in the air and its not just me everybody gets the same.
It is the same in grocery stores, I want to pay and leave not discuss the day. If you engage in conversation with the person in front of me I am obliged to queue patiently. A quick few words during the transaction is fine. My friend Barbie even gets offers of toe curling apparently. But this is not a place to chat, to gossip or to debate. There are places for this and they are not in the middle of a bloody queue.
I am not being rude, if you want to hold a discussion let’s arrange a time and venue. There are well acknowledged standard phrases for these interacions if we use them and recognise them then life will be much simpler. When a shop assistant asks ‘how are you today?’ the answer is ‘ok’ or ‘fine’ don’t detail your medical or social history. The weather, an English staple, is best summised in a couple of words not a thesis on holiday destinations.
Let’s please draw a line between commercial and social interactions.
For some reason I seem to have Ms Nature’s full attention at the moment, if anyone out there is feeling lonely please let me know as your more than welcome to some of her time. I awoke this morning, got up and nearly collapsed, it would appear that the left knee is missing the attention and has decided to reward a quiet night by rejecting the task that it is employed for, of course today is the ‘ideal’ day to play up as I have 4 or so miles to walk.
I know, that’s just the knee and its not evidence of Ms Nature cackling and conspiring against me, but there’s more, there’s always more. During my regular snack stop at Westfield today I went to enter a door that was closing, I placed three fingers on the door to hold it and, well I should have thought it through shouldn’t I? The large, heavy glass door hit my finger tips and transferred its momentum into my stationary wrist, it was all I could do not to scream as my wrist and forearm realised that the door was far heavier than me! The pain was such a sharp shock that I actually thought I had fractured something, you see she was spying on me that damned Ms Nature.
On the subject of Westfield can somebody please tell them that this is England? We select a store, enter, browse* and purchase, we don’t respond to threatening attacks from sales people in between stores. Do I look that stupid that I can’t find a cell phone store? That stressed that I need a massage? Or that rough that I need a facial? The place is full of stores why do they need to send people out to stalls in the walkway to ambush people? The only thing this offers is an interesting judge of appearance, I have walked past the Times app stall regularly and they have never targeted me, a mistake given that I often read the hard copy, the Sky sales team seem to stalk me although I would never subscribe, take a look at who approaches you and see how people judge your appearance.
Top marks to Faiveley Dave today who was asked to come and see me, he has never met me but as he entered the office I was leaving and he held the door open for me. As I put my splinted arm up to the door he spun on his heals and said ‘ah Gavin?’ Who needs business cards when your disabled and have a good story?
*Browsing is optional