Friday, January 29, 2010

It's Crude to be Rude

I wrote this post over a year ago, but the unfortunate trend of customers harassing staff still continues.

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?'


Kim said...

Well done you for saying something. When I was living in England, I stood up to a guy acting inappropriately on the bus once because no one else said a word. I'm sure I was regarded as the 'loud mouth American tourist' (even though I was living there), but it was infuriating that people just stood there and took it. Fortunately, the Irish don't stand for that kind of behavior in public, so they're more my kind of people!

Anonymous said...

Ha,ha! Good for you for putting your neck on the line and saying something. That was just like a scene from a comedy wasn't it? But sadly it's reality. It doesn't seem to matter how much time passes or where you live, racism still thrives. What a shame.

KimB said...

Good for you! I probably would have been too shy.

Beth said...

What a jerk. Good for you for saying something.

Fabienne said...

Well done. I think I would have done it as well, with my French accent.

Ann said...

Pat yourself on the back for this one. My children have all worked in the service industry while in school. It has made me very aware of customer rudeness. Needless to say I wanted to clock those rude so and so's who have berated my little darlings and their Irish accents. This has made me very aware I am dealing mostly students who are only trying to make a buck or two to put themselves through school. I hope given the circumstances I like you would have taken the high road.

A Heron's View said...

Unfortunately..... it is a very Brutish whoops British thing to look down upon we who speak English with a tinge of something else. It, I presume comes from having once had an Empire upon which the sun never set; the majority have yet to realise that this is no longer so.

Elle said...

Good for you for saying something back. I absolutely DESPISE rudeness. I've witnessed this myself and like you, say something. This happened on a bus a couple of years back when a young Asian man stepped onto the bus (said nothing) and an elderly - yes, ELDERLY - man started verbally attacking him. Just couldn't stand for that I'm afraid, so then he had me to deal with! ;)

Sadly, it's a common thing here in Britain :(