Most of us in South Africa (at least, most of us in the middle class suburbs) live in fortresses- behind eight foot walls, palisade fencing, remote operated electronic gates, movement triggered spotlights, armed response teams, alarm systems, car immobilisers and smash-proof windows… and most of us think that’s enough to make us safe. Most of us think we’re careful enough and that we keep an eye on our surroundings… but do we really? Most of us are careful who we give our details to over the internet and so on as well, and think that’s enough.
Well, lemme argue my case, shall I?
I stopped at a supermarket to buy bread and milk one afternoon and the cashier asked me where my son was. I blinked at her, smiled, said he was at home, and then I forgot about it. I stopped at the same supermarket (probably the next day or a day later) and a different cashier asked me how old Damien was- he was with me- I told her he was 16 and she commented on how much he’s grown. This struck me as, what’s the word, a little personal? I dunno; it seemed almost invasive.
I know a lot of people disagree with my “attitude” when it comes to people who provide me with a service- in that I don’t WANT to be their friends. I will be polite but that’s where I draw the line. I don’t discuss the weather and I don’t go out of my way to tell people to have a nice day and so on. Please and thank you is about it. I also don’t chat to the people in line with me if I can help it, and I get annoyed with complete strangers who talk to me out of the blue.
Then with the cashiers asking me personal questions- I realised that my parents and myself have been using the same supermarket, café, video shop, garage, doctor, bottle store, chemist, etcetera, for more than twenty years. And despite my habit of being simply polite and no more- most of the people who work in these places have also been there for 20 odd years, and as a result have gotten to know who’s connected to whom. In fact, one of the cashiers at the same supermarket once asked me if I still lived in the same flat! I was more than a little stunned as I realised that someone- someone I wasn’t even on a first name basis with- knew where I lived! And then I did the math (so to speak) and I realised that the cashiers know who my mom is… who my granny is… and who Damien is. And since I don’t like being too friendly I get annoyed when the people who work at the places I frequent start treating me like an old friend… maybe its just good customer service in most people’s eyes- but these are people I hardly know- who know an awful lot about me!
Extreme as it may sound, I have decided to shop and fill up my car elsewhere- and I’ll be making sure I don’t frequent the same place too often either.
All I want is polite customer service; I sure as hell don’t want to make friends with the woman who bags my groceries or the guy who fills my car and cleans my windscreen.