Thursday 22 March 2012

Guest Post: Hospitality is just not the forte of the British

Guest Post (ie article stolen from news paper and posted on this blog) time!

Because we've all been thinking it: Come London 2012 time, what the hell is the rest of the world going to think of the infamous British customer service?

Take it away Simon Kelner... 
I was in Manchester last night, on an intensely private matter. Oh, all right, I was at a football match. Anyway, I was staying at the city centre hotel where I am a regular visitor. In the relatively short time I have patronised this establishment, it has changed names – and, I assume, ownership – three times, and in its latest incarnation it went from a hotel with a short, memorable name – just four letters – to one with a cumbersome, Americanised moniker – three words, 18 letters.

But no matter. It is clean, efficient, friendly and good value. There is nothing special about it, apart from the fact that, in my experience, British hotels are generally found wanting in at least one of those four categories. And that's before we even talk about the overheated rooms with windows that don't open, key cards that don't work properly (sorry to be a parody of a grumpy old man, but how I long for the days when you'd check in to a hotel and be given a key that was actually a key), staff who don't understand the meaning of service, and a dining room where everyone talks in a conspiratorial whisper.

It is a truism that comedy works best when it is rooted in reality, so the success of Fawlty Towers was in some part due to the fact that we had all had experience of similar establishments. The truth is, I think, that the British are not very good at the service industry. Servility doesn't come naturally to us.

Compare the way, in America for instance, you are treated at anywhere from a hotel or restaurant to a dry cleaners. My favourite story of the British service industry happened early one morning at Gatwick airport. I was having a cup of tea in one of the terminal's restaurants and I heard raised voices from the serving counter. I looked up to see one of the staff with his arms round a customer's neck, dragging him across the counter. "If you do that once more," he yelled, "I'll [expletive deleted] kill you, you [two expletives deleted]." The customer skulked off, and when I went to pay my bill, I noticed that the member of staff was wearing a badge. It read: "My name is Michael. I'm here to help you."

I remember a conversation several years ago with Tessa Jowell, then a Cabinet minister who had responsibility for tourism, telling me at a Labour Party conference that she'd just had a deputation from British hoteliers wanting government help. She said they might have had a more sympathetic hearing if she hadn't been paying an extortionate amount for a tiny room at a hotel where she was unable to order a cup of tea on room service.

It does make me wonder what visitors who come for the Olympics will make of it. The overcharging, the inefficiency, and the fact that many hotels seem to be run for the convenience of the staff. How many times I've heard that triumphant message, delivered with unfailing good cheer: "Sorry, the kitchen is closed for the evening." Whatever else, don't expect Team GB to qualify for the final of the 100 metres hospitality.

Text courtesy i Paper

Tuesday 20 March 2012

What's with that briefcase?

Tomorrow is Budget Day in the UK, the day where the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the guy who looks after the economy, currently George Osborne) presents the budget plan for the nation to the House of Commons.   I've got a few things to say about what George is expected to announce in the budget, but we'll save that for another day.

More importantly for now, chances are if you live in the UK, you have seen a photo or news clip that looks similar to this:

Have you ever wondered what the deal is with that crappy old briefcase and why the Chancellors always like to show it off? 

It's called the budget box or the Gladstone box.  Basically, its just a briefcase that holds the budget papers, but that old one in the photo above is special because it was used from 1860 by William Ewart Gladstone until 1965 when James Callaghan decided it was time for an upgrade and used a newer but basically identical briefcase.  In 1997 Gordon Brown upgraded the box again, but in 2008 Alistair Darling went back to using the very original box (trying to earn some points with some people maybe?).  George Osborne kept using it when he took over, but has since retired the original 1860 Gladstone box due to its fragility.  Tomorrow, you'll see him with a shiny new briefcase full of budget papers and when you do, you'll know all about the history of the budget box!  You're welcome.

Did you know? 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is allowed to have an alcoholic drink whilst he presents the budget. This is the only time alcohol is allowed during speeches to Parliament. 

According to Wikipedia, previous Chancellors have opted for whisky (Kenneth Clarke), gin and tonic (Geoffrey Howe), brandy and water (Benjamin Disraeli), spritzer (Nigel Lawson) and sherry and beaten egg (William Gladstone).  Boring old Osborne apparently just has water.  What a waste!

Thursday 8 March 2012

2012 Beyond the Queen Awards!

Disclaimer:  if you are one of those expats who refuses to admit that anything in the UK could ever be as good as anything in America, stop reading now.   You are ineligible to vote in the 2012 Beyond the Queen Awards.

I thought we could play a little game and hand out some awards to either the US option for things or the UK option for things.  Sorry for the terrible explaination, but you'll get it as we go along.

Dominos Pizza.  A favourite in both the US and the UK.  Same logo, same quick service.  Different menu items. And the nominees are....
  • Brooklyn Style Pizza (US)
  • Pasta Breadbowls (US)
  • Deep Dish Pizza (US)
  • Double Decadence Pizza (UK)
  • Tandoori Hot toppings (UK)
  • Veg-a-roma toppings (UK)

Pringles.  Same lovely crunchy snack, same for-some-reason-exciting-canister-rather-than-bag containment method, very different flavours.  And the nominees are...
  • Mexican Layered Dip (US)
  • Loaded Baked Potato (US)
  • Honey Mustard (US)
  • Thai Sweet Chili (UK)
  • Prawn Cocktail (UK)
  • Curry (UK)

Discount "designer" department store type places.   Same double X, different second letter. And the nominees are...
  • TJ Maxx (US)
  • TK Maxx (UK)
Ps.  It appears that TJ and TK are not actually acronyms, but just arbitrary letters. Can anyone verify?

CiderMaybe not a very popular drink in the US, but there are still options.  And the nominees are...
  • Woodchuck (US)
  • Ace (US)
  • Aspall (UK)
  • Stowford Press (UK)

TV show that follows around generally annoying/stupid/spoiled/makeup caked people and passes it off as "entertainment".  Do any of these really deserve an award?  With reservations, the nominees are...
  • Whatever the latest Kardashian show is called (US)
  • Whatever show Snookie is on (US)
  • Real housewives of wherever (US)
  • Desperate Scousewives (UK)
  • Made in Chelsea (UK)
  • The Only Way is Essex (UK)

Intensifying adverb.  When an adjective by itself just wont do.  And the nominees are...
  • Totally  (US ex. "That is totally awesome")
  • Well (UK ex "She is well fit")

    Cast your votes below!

    Friday 2 March 2012

    Please keep your most annoying words over "there".

    I believe I have spoken before about my dislike for some British words - mostly the cutesy shortened words like "brekky" and "pressie", but I am embarrased to say that many of the most absolute cringe worthy words actually come from the homeland. 

    May I take this moment to plead with all British people to not look to America for "trendy" new words and phrases? Words aren't meant to be trendy. If it's trends you're looking for, wear some Gok glasses or something.

    In the same breath/keystroke, may I also beg all expats to make a concious effort to not import such words into the UK?  When you sell your furniture or terminate your apartment lease in America, please leave the following words with the new owners/occupiers:


    Fail. (as a one word sentence)


    I can haz.  Or whatever people say in that strange cat language.

    Any words coined by the idiots on Jersey Shore.


    Ridic. (thanks to T for the "proper" spelling of this non-word)

    It's bad enough that the American public has to hear these words/phrases. Don't you think that those of us who have moved away from America might be spared?  Maybe as a pity gesture for us leaving all of our friends and family (and Target)?  I think we deserve it.