Old folk at lunch

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A small personal note on customer service in Australia and Britain



A Sunday morning reflection

I have spent time in England on three occasions -- including a Sabbatical year. There are a lot of similarities between England and Australia (the constant flow of English immigrants to Australia helps ensure that) but I noted one major difference: How customers are treated in shops, cafes and the like.

I am always pleased by the almost universal cheerful and friendly service I get in such establishments in Australia but in England customers tend to be treated like a bad smell. Just getting staff to recognize your presence is not always easy. Hence the old tradition of the "floor walker" -- immortalized in the TV comedy series "Are you being served".

Fortunately, however, most small businesses in England (particularly London) have now been taken over by people from the Indian subcontinent -- and all it usually takes to get good service from them is a smile.

But how did the English become such unhappy people? It seems to go back to a sense of entitlement. They mostly seem to think that they should not have to work at all -- and routine work in particular is greatly disliked. And the millions of Brits who have never worked and live on welfare payments is some testimony to that. "Pommy bludgers" are also a byword in Australia: Australians who see much of the English almost always end up seeing them as being in general work-shy.

So whence the sense of entitlement behind all that? It seems to be partly the result of official British propaganda, which the English are very good at. They are very good at trumpeting their own virtues in particular -- sometimes in an understated way but propaganda can be all the more effective for that. Even Hitler admired British wartime propaganda -- and he knew more than a little about that subject.

British government propaganda these days is nowhere as jingoistic as it once was but memories of empire persist and Britons almost universally believe that Britain saved the world from Hitler. The fact that over 80% of German wartime military casualties were on the Eastern front is rarely mentioned. It was Russia that defeated Hitler.

But perhaps the biggest source of the sense of entitlement is the welfare State. Since 1945 Britain has had an extensive and generous system of welfare payments which make work optional. Successive Britain governments have made it clear that Britons are ENTITLED to support from the government, come what may. So no wonder that those who do choose to work for whatever reason feel that they should not really have to.

It seems to me that Britons who have some go in them tend to emigrate -- to Australia, Canada, the USA etc. Britons abroad and Britons in Britain sometimes seem like two different races to me -- JR

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