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Have you ever faced this problem whilst shopping?

You go to the counter and request such-and-such an item, only to be asked if you have the item. Perhaps I’m out of touch with the world of commerce, but I don’t remember paying myself for items I already own.

For example, in search of a hot drink, I went into a cafe and asked the barrista if they had the syrups (vanilla, hazelnut, etc) used to flavour coffees and other sweet drinks. The conversation went like this:

Me: ‘Hi there. I was wondering, do you serve those syrups for drinks here, I think they’re by Monin?’

Barrista: ‘Errr why, do you have them?’

Me: ‘No…. do you sell them?’

Barrista: ‘No.’

I thought this was a one-off, until I took a trip to the post office. Because I needed to put stamps in the envelope I was sending, I left it unsealed so I could buy the stamps, insert them into said envelope and send the twice aforementioned envelope.

Me: ‘And this is going to London. Can I use some sellotape to seal it? I did lick it, but it’s still flapping open.’

Cashier: ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have sellotape. Did you bring any sellotape?’

Me: (confused stare) ‘No… ‘

I had to bite my tongue and not sarcastically snipe that I didn’t usually carry around a tape dispenser everywhere I went. In the end, after an exchange where I refused to buy a roll of sellotape from the shop because I already had sellotape at home, the cashier reluctantly used as few Air Mail stickers as possible to seal the letter.

Clearly I had outrageously presumed the post office would be willing to spare a piece of sellotape, dispense a single staple, or lend a biro – but that was a flagrant overestimation of the kind of service being offered by the Royal Mail today.

But, at every transaction, you will be interrogated about your postage desires. Would you would like your mail tracked? Does it needs to be insured? Does it need to be signed for? Are there any items worth £50 or more? Would you like it to arrive by 1pm on Wednesday? Would you like to to arrive by 9am tomorrow?

Although I would never expect anything more than an icy stare from anyone at the post office, elsewhere it has become a habit to ask customers ‘How are you today?’ It is meant as a nod towards friendliness. But to me it is more of a nod towards inane, meaningless encounters with assistants who have had their common sense replaced with catchphrases. As a shop girl myself, it is difficult not to fall into the trap when the company gives us so many questions we should ask the customer.

But at least I have never, with a smarmy cheeriness rarely encountered at quarter to five on a damp Tuesday, asked a customer ‘Have you had a busy day?’ As a convalescing depressive who spends most of the day doing jobs that can be done in front of the TV, I could only resentfully answer in the negative.

But before I begin to sound too scathing, I would like to praise the service of my local pharmacist. They don’t bounce about with false jollity, they don’t have different faces for the counter and the practice area. They recognise the failings of their service and that of the surgery they are linked with, and do their best nonetheless. They recognise me as a regular customer but don’t shout out, Miss Spencer! Your anti-depressants and laxatives!

And best of all, when I go in with my prescription, they don’t ask me if I’ve brought the ingredients with me.

 

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