Macaroni and cheese

No – this ain’t a recipe for it. This is about the service surrounding it. It’s a long one. I’ve taken several weeks drafting this (working on average a few minutes each week). It is such a difficult story that I could not put it down all at once. I really had to do it a bit at a time.

The story

I go to a local supermarket fairly regularly with my daughter for a meal. Their cafeteria is not the best but we both like the macaroni and cheese they serve there. BTW I’m qualified in business and my teenage daughter is studying business. Hold on. The story will come. Just relax.

So on this occasion (Saturday 2008-11-15), we go to the counter and work out rather quickly that she’ll have the macaroni and cheese and I’ll have the fish and chips. Normally M&C would go with other things like vegetables and chips, as full meal. But we don’t want full M&C so I ask a tall female attendant behind the counter "How much is the M&C?". Why would I ask this? Because there is no sign above the food counter where the prices are normally displayed. The female person responds in English in what sounds like a German accent, "You’ll have to look at the board for that" – pointing me to a large board of prices to my left at about an 8 o’clock position, roughly 5 metres away, at about 40 degrees elevation.

So I read the board diligently. I cannot see M&C priced on it. I look back at the female attendant and say "I’m sorry I don’t see the price on it, can you help". She’s looking away at the board and rocking with arms folding. Rocking? Yeah – like when you partially flex your knee and push on it intermittently. You know – its like she’s tapping to Katy Perry’s

Hot n’ Cold or some crap.

She repeats that the price is “there” – with this strange downward flick of the wrist while keeping index finger extended. I look again over ‘there’. By now probably 60 seconds has elapsed, which you could imagine felt like an eternity. So I look back to her and say, "I’m sorry it isn’t there…in any case I only want to know what it would cost if you could serve us the M&C on it’s own." She then tells me that the M&C comes with chips and peas etc. So I repeat myself, "I want to know the price of the M&C on its own". She looks at me blankly and repeats something about peas and chips. By now probably 2 min have gone.

So I politely and firmly say to her, "You’re clearly not understanding my English, I’d be grateful if you could find someone else to assist." She looks displeased and goes off to find the cashier who is about 5 metres to her left. The female cashier (i.e. AttNo2) arrives within seconds.

Me: "I hope you speak English because I was unable to communicate well enough with the person to your left, who was not understanding my English".

AttNo2 says "Yes I do, how can I help?"

Me, "I’m trying to find out the price of the M&C on its own"

AttNo2: "Normally it is served as a meal and that costs £4.49, but I can do it for you for £2.00 on its own."

Me: "Thanks, that is a what I was trying to find out"

AttNo1: Now appears visibly disturbed…utters something and storms off.

Me: [To AttNo2] “That was rude of her, I’d like to speak to a manager of this facility.

I give him the above story, and explain to him that AttNo1 was rude and lacked basic linguistic competence in English, to inform me of the price of M&C on its own.

Manager: “To be fair she only recently started and probably felt upset by the way you pointed out her lack of English.

Me: “It matters not. She was clearly in difficulty and did not seek help. I had to tell her to seek help and when she returned her response was rude.” [And BTW how does he know anything about the ‘way’ I might have pointed our her lack of linguistic competence. Was he there? No. Was he within earshot? No. Could it be an assumption of some kind, based on the fact that I was confronting his bullshit…oooh and confrontation is not allowed in England?]

Manager: “Well all I can say is that she was new…”

Me: “Are you trying to defend your staff”

Manager: “Yes! I have to defend my staff!”

Me: “I’m not happy with you and I’ll speak to your superior…you’re defending staff in poor customer service.”

He goes off. You might think that that was the end of it. No.

I remain there determined to get my M&C at the £2.00. So a third attendant – a male – AttNo3.

So I go through the same thing again with him as with German sounding female. This male sounds Italian and he’s go the same problem understanding "..on its own". So, I gesticulate and use simple words to communicate that I want M&C on its own. [Well as I’m writing this I’m now in a state of doubt – which is silly really – as to whether ‘on it’s own’ is too complicated English]

AttNo3: “I’ll ask my boss” (i.e. the same Manager who’s defending his staff).

Me: “Thank you.”

AttNo3: “I can’t serve it to you like that.

Me: “Why?

AttNo3: “Because my boss says I can’t.”

Me: “I’m confused. The cashier (me pointing in her direction i.e. AttNo2) just said we could have it for £2.00.

AttNo3: “Well I can’t serve it to you because the boss said so.

So what happened next? You’d think I might give up. Not me. I then complain outside and ask speak to a floor manager, to be third by AttNo4 that, “They’re all in a meeting” – and of course not sure when they’ll be out. Amazing isn’t it – this is England for you – meetings don’t generally have a start and end time. And…and..this is a Saturday so the meeting could go on forever – eh?

AttnNo4 explained to me that the canteen is not really run by them, but by a contractor. Like now I’m jumping for joy – that really helps me – huh? This is how she explains it “I’m not trying to be funny or to say that what you experienced wasn’t bad…..” Ok, you guess the next word……. Yup that famous “but” – this is the way the English talk utter crap. Ooooh now I’m racist for referring to ‘the English’. Gimme a break. That’s my perception of them and that is them culturally.  I don’t want to hear about bloody ‘but’. Crap service is crap services. I’ve experienced it and that’s that. I don’t expend so much time and effort in your bloody shop for the fun of it. I happen to have better things to do. So why did I spend so much time on it? Two reasons: 1) My daughter is a business student – so it was for her to experience what poor customer service is about. 2) I happen to like the cafe I have an interest in getting rid of wanking staff.

You’d think I would give up. I give them half an hour while I do some shopping. After that the meeting is not over. Surprise surprise. So I give a description of my complaint to the AttNo4. She taps in the stuff on screen and promises me a copy, after taking my address and phone number etc. Do I get a phone call? Your guess.

What happened next? I get a dumb letter in the post apologising for what happened and a card bearing £5 credit.

So what have I learned. Well first of all this was not in a Wal-Mart store (such as ASDA here in the UK). Nope Wal-Mart has much more respect for customers. They really believe and understand that the only reason they are in business is for the customer. No – I’m not one of those ‘the-customer-is-always-right’ sort of people, nor is Wal-Mart. Well what I learned more about is the big rip-off Britain. Basically the British and particularly the English don’t like to complain – relative to American folk (from what I’ve picked up). So English business enterprises get away with ‘murder’ – and they like it so. I am so thankful that Wal-Mart is here in the UK. I’ve never been treated with such contempt as above.

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