“Answering back”

You have to answer a great deal more questions as you get older, don’t you agree? Of the personal kind. By complete and total strangers.

Of course, they’re not being nosy – it’s for your own good… For example, over the last few weeks I’ve been learning much more than I ever thought I would about Mortgage Lending Customer Services (my friend has just become a Mortgage Adviser). I – at a blissful distance from all things mortgage having never been anywhere near getting one – was plain shocked to hear of the really quite intimate, some might argue intrusive, questions they are obliged to ask of customers.

I cannot imagine anything more tortuous than being locked into a 3-hour telephone conversation (or worse, in a room with) one of these dry buffoons (my friend excluded – she really does work with buffoons), having to discuss the many levels of possibilities of me having children over the course of my lifetime. Are we planning on getting married, Dear? Or are we going to split up, do you think that’s a high likelihood? What holidays are we considering? a) I think I’d feel like saying it’s none of your business, and b) I don’t actually know the answers myself!

The niche subject of Mortgages aside, has it always been this way – this weird level of intimacy in customer services? Or is it a new development? It seems like all service staff go through some kind of bizarre programme where they are trained to be overly personal with you whilst managing to maintain a total lack of personality. As a result, any hope of genuine interaction stands no chance, as they are too busy reciting their spiel jargon for the customer to actually get a word in edgeways. At best it’s uncomfortable and at worst, creepy line-crossing and it actually ends up being hard work for you the customer, as well as the automaton at the till.

No longer can you just swan up to a cashier with your music still playing in your earphones, smile a hello and pay for your newspaper, say thanks too loudly on account of the music and have the entire achieved with limited verbal communication. Now, we have to constantly be on hand to answer a range of unexpected and always-differing questions depending on the establishment you happen to be in. It’s most noticeable in coffee shops, and it is also in these places that the forced level of intimacy gets ridiculous. No, I don’t actually want to give you my name – I just want to take my drink in anonymity and get out of here!

Overall I feel slightly tense whenever going to pay for things. It’s pot luck whether I’ll actually be able to hear what they’re saying on account of them reeling their script off so fast without actually engaging with me, plus there is often much-too-loud music playing for no apparent reason, so that most of the time I am literally guessing what I’ve been asked and attempting responses accordingly.

But the worst form of all this has got to be charity street hawking which for me, provides a loosely professional premise for people to impress their obnoxious, overbearing personalities on unsuspecting, innocent town folk. Under the guise of charity, no less.

I am of the generation for whom shaking the change bucket is a breach of the law. For me, charitable support and giving is a very personal thing. I don’t want to talk about it out on the street. I certainly don’t just want to pot luck it, depending on what charity happens to be represented that day. So you can imagine how well I (do not) cope with the hawkers. A someone who does actually work in the charitable sector, I am at ease with my charitable giving and do not expect to be hauled to account for it – in public, multiple days a week like I’ve accidentally found myself in Groundhog Day – by some arrogant squirt working on commission. It’s just one more assault on city dewllers trying to get about their day and instead find they have to navigate the gauntlet of forced friendliness. The tactics of these people seem to be clowning and flirting with you – waving manically from across the street. Their palms outwardly spread as if to say oh, come on!

Neither of the above is a meaningful, genuine way to communicate with a grown adult but I suppose it is harmless overall. What is totally unacceptable is the abuse that I and everyone I know has experienced at the hands of these buffoons. I’ve had f**k you muttered, loudly, behind my back as I’ve waked away from one of them. My sister even had one follow her down the street after she refused, politely, to interact with them.

I mean, how bloody dare they?

So – questions from my money lender? Yes, I’ll answer them begrudgingly, even if I’m having to make up the answers. But questions from jumped-up charity charlatans? Think I’ll keep my earphones in, thanks.

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