“I wish to register a complaint …!”

 So goes the opening line of one the all-time great Monty Python sketches – “The Dead Parrot”, and it got me thinking about the differences in standards of service between England and America.

It has to be said that we Brits are lousy at service of most kinds…. it’s just not something we do at all well. I began thinking about what the causes of this might be, and can perhaps nail it down to two things in our psyche….

The first thing probably harks back to the old class struggle, and that “service” is supposed to be something that butlers and servants do, and not ordinary people… Unlike some other cultures – particularly those in Eastern Asia – service in and of itself is not seen as a worthy cause, and something to be given with a considerable amount of pride…

However – the main thing is probably that unlike the title of this entry – we British simply aren’t very good at complaining ! We seem to stoically accept bad service – almost as a form of penance, though for what I’m not exactly sure…. There is a kind of “…. mustn’t grumble…. ” attitude, and people are reluctant to point out the blindingly obvious – that they have received singularly poor service !

When my wife moved to London with me when we first got married – she was a veritable fireball on issues like this. Americans aren’t at all used to poor service, and will quickly point this out on those rare occasions in their own country where this is meted out… I lost count of the number of times that we ended up getting free meals because of it ! She would ask to speak to the manager, and let them know in no uncertain terms that the service that day had been far from satisfactory, and what did they propose to do about it…. Things we Brits could easily have asked ourselves if only we had the nerve !

It’s not only in restaurants that service is so much better – in ordinary retail stores as well they seem to genuinely want to help you, and don’t regard it as a favour to you for having done so….. They frequently spend a long time assisting, with no guarantees of a sale afterwards – a refreshing change from being served by someone who has no real knowledge of the goods they are trying to sell, and almost regard you the customer as something of an imposition…

In restaurants I have wondered whether the change in attitude might have anything at all to do with the tipping standards prevalent. In the UK it is customary to start consideration of what to tip at 10% of the bill presented, whereas here it is 15%

Whatever the reason, this standard of service – which I’m sure most Americans (quite rightly) take for granted – makes eating out here a much more pleasurable experience.

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