Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: KEITH HANN

IF anyone thought to revive that great 1970s sitcom Are You Being Served?, the first thing they would need to revisit is the title.

Because the universal greeting in the nation's shops, pubs and restaurants has now become "Are you all right there?" To which a male speaker will almost invariably append the word "mate".

I am led to believe that the correct conversational reply to this gambit is "I'm good" (short version) or "Yeah, I'm good, mate" (in full).

The problem is that, in reality, I'm very far from good. Because only five words into my nascent relationship with whichever shop assistant, barperson or receptionist is addressing me, I find myself in a thoroughly bad mood. I want to respond by pointing out that theirs is a blanking stupid question.

Because clearly I am not all right, in the sense of being in full possession of everything I could possibly desire. In fact, though it may come as a surprise to them to learn this, I find myself in want of a newspaper, drink, meal, ticket, check-in or some other trifle of that sort.

Which is why I have taken the trouble to present myself at their place of work and join a dispiriting queue for their attention. Having finally reached the front of that, I would now very much like them to provide whatever product or service their employer is offering speedily, efficiently and with the modicum of respect that is due to the customer who ultimately pays their wages.

Which might be more evident if they kicked off the exchange with something more along the lines of "How may I help you, sir?" This wish apparently marks me down as stiff, formal, old-fashioned and undemocratic - all of which I am happy to accept as perfectly accurate descriptions of my character.

I can still remember vividly the first time a shop assistant addressed me as "sir" rather than "son", in Turners' camera shop in Pink Lane in 1968. It put a spring in my step for days. I little thought that, 45 years later, I would have regressed to being classed as some spotty minimum wage employee's "mate". No wonder I do more of my shopping online every month. …

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