Friday, 4 October 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock

The loner comes into town and already he is asking too many questions. Questions like, "Where's the lavatory?" and "Can you recommend a decent place to eat?" In the case of Spencer Tracy as a one-armed stranger in that movie, he might be asking, "Where's the fork buffet?" "Do you sell single gloves?"

How we treat strangers is a reasonably good indicator of the temper of a town. My guide rule for traveling abroad is, how do the locals react when things go wrong?

Italians are frustrating in the extreme, but it is true that once they get to know you there is an emotional bond. There is a reason why Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi are such bosom pals. They are both emotional types. They may also be bastard types, but they appear to engage in the man-to-man bonding that nearly reaches, but just stops short of homosexuality. (As far as I know). Germans do a lot of sneering, but they must always make sure the rules are stuck to. Have a minor tussle with officialdom, and they will do it by the book. I find that re-assuring. If you ask for information, you will get it, and it will be truthful and accurate. Make a mistake, and they will gently let you know, but also they will tell you how to do it right.

This kind of thing is important if you find yourself in a jail cell through no fault of your own. In some places, they will do their best to effect justice, and in others they will simply shrug and leave you to rot. It is a kind of sobering thought that within Europe, you can experience both ends of the spectrum. Spain is an example of the bad end and Switzerland is an example of the good one.

Britain is interesting in this respect. Officials and the Police respond generally well to politeness. If you are thinking of coming here, remain polite and pleasant at the Border. If you call a member of the Border agency an asshole, expect him to spend a great deal of uncomfortable time examining yours.

I have been stopped by the police three or four times in my life. Twice for traffic violations and on both occasions I simply said, "It's a fair cop" (which it was). They like that kind of response and hey, you have to fess up and move on. I think a lot of this is my own personality. I avoid physical confrontation and I don't believe in treating people disrespectfully. It seems to work.

But what do you do when it is clear as day that the other one is at fault? My problem is that I only think of what I should have said, half an hour after the event. My mind does not run on real time.

My trick is to be prepared in advance. I do a lot of phoning organisations, public agencies and call centres. Not for a living, you understand, but because my life seems to be full of a hundred niggling things that need to be put right. Call centres of course, are by far the least pleasant experience. This is because people who work at them are stupid, or they could not care less, or they do not have a grasp of basic English or English culture. And quite often, they routinely lie. Examples are legion, but recent ones include our bank, who, having been informed of Mrs Weasel's trip to Moldova (I suspect they did not have a clue where Moldova was) made sure that her debit card would not pay her hotel bill.) Fortunately, we had pre-empted this possibility by carrying cash, but as you see, their lips move, they say all the right things, and then nothing happens. In another instance, I had a personal apology from the said bank because "unfortunately, one of our operatives fell short of our high standards of customer care." He actually told me a lot of lies.

Recently, there was a reported case of a woman at a supermarket check-out who was refused service by the check-out operator because she was on her phone at the time. People who work at these places aren't robots - though they may feel like it. Ignoring them while they do their job, scanning your stuff, shows contempt. It shows that you are too busy, too important to give them the time of day.

There is a balance to be had in our human transactions. "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." It's a reasonable aphorism to go by.

In other news, it has been a bad week for me. Dr Weasel has been away on one of her foreign jaunts, I have partially lost a front tooth and have had to have an extraction of my wisdom tooth. This is going to cost me £500 to have repaired properly, even at NHS rates. I ruined Ten quid's worth of steak by accidentally leaving it out of the freezer and the car is a collection of must-do jobs. I also seem to have had more than the usual number of opportunities to screw up online transactions, and then finding that the remedies were non-existent. There really are a lot of very badly written websites out there.

Well, never mind. I shall spend the weekend in the company of Jack, Jim and Johnny, take in an F1 Grand Prix and get into some good books. Funnily enough, I am feeling quite chipper!

No comments:

Post a Comment