Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A whinge about nasty shop staff

Our nearest ‘big’ town (in that it actually has a Pick’n’Pay) is about 25km away, and that’s where we who live in this small village often have to go on errands – grocery shopping, to get stuff from the chemist, to buy printer cartridges, for art supplies, to get our teeth fixed, etc. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a thriving centre of commerce but it’s the closest we have to a Big Smoke, and for this reason I’ve developed a strange fondness for Malmesbury over the years.

It’s not a pretty town (although it does have some truly magnificent Victorian-era houses, unfortunately most of them sited on the main thoroughfare which is heavily trafficked by industrial transport including about 100 mountain-sized pantechnikons an hour), and the town fathers were clearly not generously gifted in the imagination department: Malmesbury is actually sited in a huge valley, at the very bottom of which a hot spring once emerged, miracle-like, from beneath the earth. But, alas, at some sorry stage of the town’s history this spring was callously channelled underground, and all that remains of it is a fabulously ugly mall-type development built directly on top of it and called, with awful irony, ‘Die Bron’ (‘The Spring’).

Having a fairly captive consumer market as it does – it serves several small villages and innumerable farms – Malmesbury doesn’t feel any sort of pressing need to go out of its way to provide tip-top service. So when I was in Clicks today and I got to the cash register with my basket of goods, and nobody – nobody – was there to ring up my purchases, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I wasn’t surprised, either, by the three shop assistants – clearly identifiable as such because they were wearing Clicks uniforms – standing around with their fingers up their noses. I sighed loudly and said, ‘So is one of you going to serve me? Or should I ring these up myself?’

They matched my sigh – oh, how wearying it must be when customers actually want attention – and one of them, his name badge revealing him to be called (with yet more awful irony) Meneer Geduld (‘Mr Patience’), trudged over to the cash register with all the enthusiasm of a teenager asked to tidy his room. With an air of heavy ennui he didn’t bother to disguise, he slowly rang up my goods - a relatively simple procedure that he nonetheless managed to take about three centuries to do.

I gave him my credit card. It was declined.

This wasn’t particularly surprising either. My finances spend a lot of their time in a state of hysterical chaos. But I’d taken the precaution of checking my bank balance on the Internet this morning and I knew there was cash in that account. Not much, admittedly, but certainly enough.

‘Try it again, won’t you, please?’ I asked.

By this time, three people were queuing behind me. (There were four tills, Mr Patience operating mine and the other three unmanned; there were also still two shop assistants standing nearby, chatting.) The customers waiting behind me perked up – a declined credit card passes for excitement in Malmesbury.

Mr Patience, whose forebears were either completely deranged or had a great sense of humour, irritably swiped the card a second time. Staring at the ceiling with monumental boredom, he said, ‘Declined. Again.’

By now there were five people behind me and an agitated murmur had started among them. I didn’t want to be responsible for An Incident in the Malmesbury branch of Clicks, so I asked Mr Patience if I could write a cheque instead.

He didn’t deign to answer. He just stared at me long and hard, then raised his eyebrows.

To cut a long and infuriating story short, I begged Mr Patience’s patience (har-de-har), then ran over the road to the bank, checked my balance (yup, enough money), ran back to Clicks and told him my findings, and asked him to swipe the card again.

In the interim (this is hard to believe but I’m not making it up), Mr Patience hadn’t rung off my sale – so once again there was a sizeable queue at the only till in operation. He swiped it again. ‘Declined. AGAIN,’ he said. Even though his demeanour communicated nothing but contempt, I could tell Mr Patience was quietly thrilled.

‘Look, ring off my sale,’ I said, ‘and let me go and do some other business in the town. I’m sure there’s just some sort of communication problem with the bank’ (which, as I said, was just across the road, and if that doesn’t make a baboon’s bottom out of modern-day technology, I’m a tin of sardines).

‘Can’t do,’ said Mr Patience, in that one phrase neatly encapsulating what should be Malmesbury’s motto.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, flabbergasted (although why, I don’t know). ‘Just ring it off so you can serve these other people, and keep my stuff here behind the counter, and I’ll come back in about 20 minutes and we can try my card again.’

Mr Patience hid a smirk (although not very well). ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘I’ll keep your stuff’ (clearly, a huge concession) ‘but I have to void this sale, and when you come back, we’ll just have to ring it all up all over again.’

‘Okay,’ I said. And I went straight home. I really hope it fell to Mr Patience to return all my non-purchases to their various shelves.

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ali g said...

Happened to me once.
Said there were definitely funds however I'd write a cheque instead and he could ring the bank to get it OK'd.
Showing his annoyance he said the bank wouldn't give out information like that over the phone.
Told him 'yes they will if I tell them to'
'Why would they do that?' he sneeringly asked.
Because I'm the f**king bank manager I said.

Muriel said...

O how marvellous! Almost makes me want to get a job in a bank in case that happens to me one day.

Lynne said...

Oh... this just sums up the Swartland attitude so perfectly! Don't you want to repost this on and I'll get some action from Clicks? Just go to latest thumzups and post,using the password edward.