If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that I spend a lot of my time observing other people – not in a stalker-esque way, just in a social-scientist way, looking at how others act and behave. I’m a stickler for manners and courtesy and, even though I don’t always express annoyance, you can tell by the furrow of my brow that I’m thinking it. So it comes as no surprise that I’m writing my first article for Yuppee on an issue of etiquette and courtesy.
Us Brits have always been a nation of reserved souls, more ‘shut up and get on with it’ than ‘get riled up and cause a scene.’ We all just want to get by and however much we think something is out of line, our inner reservations, embedded deep in our core, make us clam up and get on.
I had always thought this was the way things should be, the way we lived and just the way it was. However, my third year of university changed all that. I spend the year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where not only did I develop an affinity for whisky and plaid shirts but I also learnt about the value of complaining and making a tiny bit of a scene.
There’s no doubt complaining is an art form that is very difficult to get right; shouting and swearing, demanding repeatedly to see the manager when you’re already talking to her and sitting obstinately looking like you’re sucking a lemon aren’t tactics I’d recommend. Believe me, I’ve seen them all in action and it makes for a hugely uncomfortable experience for both you and those around you.
It was from these awkward moments that I learnt the proper way to complain or raise an issue with your dish that will invariably result in a happy conclusion for both you and the waitress; you have a dish you’re happy with and the restaurateur has given you a pleasant dining experience. Nowadays, if I ask for tomatoes in my salad when I asked for them to be omitted, you can be darn sure I’m going to call the waiter over.
It’s not just in restaurants that we are reluctant to stand up and make a complaint; I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve heard someone complaining about the service they’ve received in flight, at a tourist attraction or at an underground station. The crippling fear of causing a fuss or making a scene prohibits us from doing anything about that rude service or that hideously burnt chicken.
How do I know we’re all reluctant to step forward? Not only from the experience of myself, my family and friends, but from the internet, that magnificent communicator. Recently researching a family holiday, I spent a fair bit of time on Trip Advisor; often, the comments about a hotel or restaurant are replied to by the owner, who says what a shame it is that issues weren’t raised at the time so that they could be dealt with swiftly and to mutual satisfaction. Without feedback and comments, both positive and negative, how can a business or attraction be expected to develop and progress? I’m convinced that if everyone was more willing to speak their minds, there would be no need for those pesky feedback forms or questionnaires often sent out after flights or events.
The internet also makes it even easier to communicate ideas, thoughts and reviews from client to caterer; I recently tweeted a question to a London hotel and received a reply within minutes, as well as a follow-up email. Every business with a hope of survival has a Twitter account, so just pop them a tweet with a question or comment, perhaps even asking where a more formal complaint can be emailed and you’re bound to get results.
For those who prefer even more anonymity, email is your saviour; the beauty of being able to sit for half an hour agonising over how to start your message and how to phrase that you wouldn’t have fed that risotto to your dead dog is an absolute blessing. Emails that aren’t replied to within a reasonable amount of time – I usually give it a week – can be followed up and if the response has any trace of curtness or arrogance, do not reply, vow never to go there ever again and recount your whole experience in a scathing post on Trip Advisor.
It’s true that no-one likes to hear bad news, especially from someone who has paid for your aid or services, but sometimes these things just have to be said. You’ll probably be doing someone else a huge favour by informing the village bakery that their ‘nut-free bread’ is actually littered with pistachios and nearly ended your life. So don’t just sit there and moan about it; take that negative energy and turn it into something good, expend it in a productive way and make yours and the next person’s a whole lot better.