Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Crude to Be Rude

I was motivated to write this in reaction to something I witnessed today at my local Tesco's at Notting Hill Gate. In fact, I've witnessed similar incidents more than once: Customers deriding the staff who are only doing their jobs. It's dreadful to watch and, as a former member of the service industry, makes me very, very angry. In my previous part-time job, I was told to 'shut up', called 'stupid', and had my accent insulted. But I'm an educated woman with plenty of other options. I didn't need that job and could just laugh it off.

Most of the people who work at my Tesco's branch are immigrants. They probably don't have a lot of other choices available, and they likely don't make much money. They can speak English (at least all the ones I have encountered over my many visits there for the past five years). Yes, they do have bit of an accent. But it's not exactly a hindrance to scanning a grapefruit. Yet the number of times I have seen customers mock their accents or speak in loud patronising tones is cringe-worthy. And I'm certain those being mocked don't find it as easy to laugh off as I did when it happened to me.

I was standing in the queue with my £3 bottle of wine (among other things) when two men entered the store -- a big guy and his side-kick (possibly his son, but if so that's really messed up). Big Man jumps the queue -- a sin comparable to serial murder in British society -- and heads straight for the middle-aged Asian woman behind the till.

'Why couldn't 'e buy them cigarettes?' Big Man asks loudly in a strong East-End accent. He points toward Side Kick who's busy examining the floor.

The woman explains quietly and politely that it's Tesco store policy not to sell cigarettes to anyone unless they can prove they're over 18. I steal a glance at Side Kick, who looks about 16 max.

'I can't understand a word she's saying,' Big Man shouts back to Side Kick. Side Kick shrugs and the woman, now red-faced, repeats her explanation. The queue, by this time, has now grown exponentially and of course everyone is desperately trying not to look at the scene unfolding in front of us.

Big Man shakes his head. 'Nope, still don't get it.'

It's like a scene straight from 'Little Britain'. By this time the poor woman looks like she's about to burst into tears, and I'm about to clunk the idiot over the head with my wine. I don't want to break it, though.

'She said: HE CAN'T BUY CIGARETTES UNLESS HE CAN PROVE HE'S OVER 18!' I say loudly and clearly to Big Man before I can stop myself.

Big Man swivels to face me. He stares for a second then shouts over to Side Kick:

'Why does everyone in this bloody store have an accent?'


Catherine J Gardner said...

Go you!

Kristy Colley said...

A phrase comes to mind. "Common as muck". And muck, indeed.

catie said...

Oh what an asshole. (Apologies, I *am* American after all). Cheers to you for standing up to him. I probably would have lost all self-control and smashed my unpurchased wine against his head.

Anita Davison said...

Brave girl, Marsha, I am afraid I would have been the one pretending she wasn't there, but I would commiserate with the Aisian woman once he had gone. Trying to explain common sense to knuckledraggers never ends well.

Marsha said...

He was a 'right tosser' as people here would say. I wish I could take credit for being brave, but the words were out before I could even think about what I was doing!

Lulu said...

And yet you refrained from hitting him over the head with the bottle of wine. That is what I call practicing restraint.

This is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. I see it when I fly. People are downright rude to the flight attendants any more.

Nixy Valentine said...

I'm really surprised! With London the way it is, I'm shocked anyone notices accents.. there are so many.

This is one of the reasons I don't think I could work in the service industry anymore. I don't think I could refrain from telling people to fuck off when they're rude!

Peter Spalton said...

What a lovely story and so true of London and many other towns in England. Can't speak for the rest of the British Isles.

The punch line was good and you were strong and brave.

Good for you.