I'm not a very good shopper. The only "retail experience" I enjoy is at the supermarket. It's a once-weekly opportunity to indulge in some anticipative bonding with my digestive tract. The rest is just stress.
Today I was sent to Walton town centre with instructions to retrieve a pair of Mrs Wallis' boots, which were being re-heeled at Timpsons. On the way I was distracted by an ancient Top of The Pops trivia quiz game, sitting in the window of our local Sam Beare charity shop.
Everyone has their weakness. Mine is a limitless capacity for consuming pop trivia. Who doesn't want to know which member of Duran Duran was made ill by drinking water infected with elephant wee, why Trevor Horn never got to produce U2, what The Smiths' manager said as he watched Morissey record the lyric to How Soon Is Now and how the drum sound was created by accident on Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight?*
So I was in the Sam Beare shop like a shot. I grabbed the box and took it to the till, with the exact money counted into my immaculately moisturised palm.
At the till, the nice foreign (South American? Mediterranean?) lady set me on my way by saying "have a lovely day".
Have a lovely day?
A lovely day?
I am on my own, in a charity shop, in Walton on Thames. How lovely can it get?
Deploying the sharpness of mind for which I am justly revered, I replied "and you" as I left.
I think I did so mainly out of cultural embarrassment. After all, "have a lovely day" might be a perfectly normal thing to say in a shop in her country (wherever it is). And, to be fair, she was really nice, so if she was prepared to wish me a lovely day, I was happy to wish the same for her.
I did make several other instant assumptions, mainly that as a volunteer in a charity shop she was doing something she actually wanted to do, and therefore was well on her way to having a lovely day anyway. I would never wish someone a lovely day when there was a good chance they were nowhere near getting one.
Now, Timpsons pride themselves on customer service. Everytime I go into Timpsons I am struck by how ebullient and knowledgeable they are about heels and batteries and keys. It takes a lot to care about that sort of thing. It also takes a lot to care about how your customer feels about their interaction with that sort of thing. I generally think heels and batteries and keys are mainly annoying, so gearing myself up to deal with someone who straddles the world of heels, batteries and keys like a knowledgeable Colussus takes some effort.
Having retrieved Mrs Wallis' boots and paid for them, I still wasn't prepared for the Timpsons man to suggest, as I left his shop, that I might like to "have a lovely day", exactly echoing the phrase I had just heard in the Sam Beare shop.
The Timpsons man was not foreign. He was an honest-to-goodnes, salt-of-the-earth heel-repairer, key-etcher and battery retailer. And now he was staking an interest in the rest of my day. It threw me a bit.
It didn't feel right to suggest to a man I just met that he too should have a lovely day, so deploying the sharpness of mind for which I am justly revered, I replied "Cheers" as I left.
Was this churlish? Was I wrong not to wish him a lovely day too? Maybe he was having a lovely day at work, surrounded by keys and batteries and heels.
Or maybe, once he had taken off his maroon apron at 5.30pm that evening, he would be off to a wedding in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, where he would enjoy the company and bonhomie of old friends, on a special occasion, in a magical setting. That would be lovely.
By saying "Cheers" was I reinforcing the inherent client/supplier relationship in every retail transaction? The idea that because I have money and you want to take it from me, you have to be obsequieous and I can act like an arse? You state, on the record, that you want me to have a lovely day and I am so self-obssessed, so uninterested in your poxy little life that the most I can bring myself to utter is an expression of thanks for a superfluous entreaty?
Also (and I have no idea why) I felt uncomfortable about wishing another man a lovely day. It just felt wrong.
"Have a lovely day."
"You too, boss."
"A day filled with love."
"For both of us."
"Kiss me, Timpson."
I wandered into The Works, attracted by the usual collection of books reduced from RRPs of £18 or £19 to £1.99. My kind of bookstore.
I picked up a book on grammar which I had once flicked through in a different shop, thought was brilliant, then refused to buy because of the cover price. Now it was going for a fiver, so I had it. I took it to the till. I paid my money. I took the receipt. The store assistant, as we parted, said "enjoy the rest of your day".
Enjoy the rest of your day?
There is an unwitting hint of the directive in that sentence, which isn't entirely welcome. And once more I am left speculating as to why someone selling me a bargain-bin book in a discount store would choose to chuck coins in the fountain of my immediate future.
Once is fine. Twice is odd. Three times is unnerving. Did I miss the memo which introduced a new paradigm of retailer/consumer interaction expectation? Is this unique to Walton? Why would three complete strangers gun for me and my prospects in such gushing terms for no apparent reason? Do they know something?
I tweeted about this experience earlier today, and a dear friend suggested the people I encountered in Walton High Street were merely being friendly and polite. This is fair enough.
However, I like to consider myself friendly and polite (esp when dealing with strangers), but I have never briefly met someone and then speculated that they might have a lovely day.
Especially without any inkling as to what the rest of the day might hold in store for them. Why would you?
*Answers on a postcard.