Friday, June 25, 2010

the complaints department


“The complaints department is closed” is a phrase so over-used in our house that our son has started to use it as a retort. “Come on and eat your lovely dinner?” I plead. “The ‘COMPLAINTS department is CLOSED!” he says. I expect he’ll get the hang of ‘Eff off” like a normal eight year old anyday now.
Perhaps it because I am an ungracious reciever of complaints that I’m not a great complainer myself. I am a mutterer and so is my husband. We mutter over our lousy meals and our bad service, we sigh loudly in supermarket queues and splutter in quiet incredulity to ourselves over unavailable sundries. But actually forming our mouths around a public cricitism – well that’s just taking things a step to far. “Not worth it!” is the defence we non-complainers use and yet it is, usually, worth complaining. I know this because I have two English friends who are both magnificent complainers. One is mistress of the stiff letter to supermarkets in particular; “Imagine my disappointment when I drove an hour out of my way to your North London “Superstore” which purports to stock “everything” and discovered that there was no marscapone cheese. Not so “super” now eh?” For a number of years she managed to knock 30 per cent off her food bills by simply outwitting this well known superstore for not stocking culinary essentials such as anchovy paste and rocket pesto. The other friend goes more for the brute force of a hystrionic housewife. In Britain there are people trained to deal with people like her. Her proudest moment was in a well known chain where her failure to procure two jumbo packs of own-brand frozen cocktail sausages for an imminent barbeque send her into a furious frenzy drawing a well-mannered young man fresh from a Customer Services management course from out back. He foolishly suggested that she might buy fresh cocktail sausages.“Do I look as if I am MADE of money?” she shouted at him waving her brand new Nissan Jeep car keys gripped in fists made of expensively french manicured nails at him. ‘And,” not content to leave it at that she added, “You have a very poor selection of shortbreads!” Not ‘no shortbreads’, you understand, but a ‘poor selection’. That sort of detail seperates the men from the boys in the world of customer complaints.
This friend moved from London to Mayo a year ago and staff in her local supermarket have never seen her like. One day their customer services man tried to placate her over a “sub standard” bouquet with some free carnations. “Carnations!” she cried “Are you trying to insult me?” He returned with two bunchs of top-of-the-range lilies and was rewarded with the petulant shrug of a bad girlfriend.
Until relatively recently the complaining Brit was a rare abomination but my friend is spear heading something of a revolution. The area in which she lives is positively crawling with disillussioned English people who can’t afford to live in Surrey and have moved to Mayo instead. They complain about the weather and the smell of sileage and the fact that there is no Marks&Spencers – all of which is very, very annoying. But they also complain about the inflated price of things and there being no marscapone cheese and bad service. They ask for ‘skinny latte’s’ in café’s which are still struggling to come to terms with the concept of the cappuccino. And because they are so good at complaining it means the nice local people don’t have to. The other day I noticed my local café advertising chi-chi breakfast options. There is every possibilility that a Mayo café owner decided there was a market for organic porridge with fresh-fruit compote all by himself – but I like to think there is some repeatedly complaining Brit maurauding through Connaught towns demanding low-cal options for us all. Re-balancing the scales of history – one complaint at a time.

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