They like their customer service targets in Tesco, greetings, offers of help with packing, general chat and goodwill, length of wait at a till. You can mark them for it if you fill in a customer service survey for extra club card points when you get home- something you can do on every single visit. Every little helps. Except sometimes it isn’t that simple.
It wasn’t busy in the store. There were no queues and the front of store assistant was hovering around, making work for herself cheerfully.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes thank you.”
The middle aged lady, standing at the next till, almost due to be served was waiting patiently, minding her own business, until the assistant decided to mind it for her. Her face was set in an expression that had seen too much trouble and her long, dark, greying hair had made its way out of her head with no help from a hairdresser.
“There’s a self service till if you want to move across to save waiting.”
The woman gave the assistant a look full of hate that would have felled a prizefighter. She spoke out loudly.
“I can’t read, love.”
The assistant made herself scarce very quickly and the woman caught my eye. I’m sure that she interpreted my shocked face as a reaction to her words, but it wasn’t. It was a reaction to needless, mindless, well meaning busybodying.
I really hope that the woman was just putting the assistant in her place. Three quarters of a lifetime without the comfort and assistance of words would be a hard thing thing to bear, especially when people won’t leave you alone to use the coping strategies that you have built up to manage in a world which is oozing with them. After all, the most likely reason why a person has failed to learn to read is that nobody taught them properly. Generations of intelligent, thoughtful people mostly got by without the benefit of literacy, but back then society was organised with that in mind.
You can’t take account of something of that kind by assessing a bunch of customer service surveys. Only by using your common sense and thinking of people as real, living beings rather than units to be herded to a till as quickly as possible.