There is a fabulous deli within walking distance of my house where I love to go and browse and buy things from the French girl
behind the glass counter who wraps my packages so neatly and precisely in butcher’s paper.
But also working there is a sales assistant who stands at the cash register near the doors at the entrance of the deli that I’m starting to avoid. Before I’ve even walked through the automatic glass doors or even made eye contact he yells out at me in a voice loud enough to startle my heart as much as a paramedic jolting me with a defibrillator, ‘so how’s your day been so far?’ It might only be nine o’clock in the morning.
But even if I do manage to scurry past avoiding the heart-starter, he then yells at the back of my head, ‘so what have you been up to today?’ And I would have just dropped Alfie at school. So in the middle of being served I have to turn around and say, ‘the usual’. And then I can resume ordering things from the lovely French girl like pancetta, prosciutto, stuffed bell peppers or Maggie Beer Pheasant Farm Pate.
A few weeks ago he pounced on me as I walked in and said, ‘so how was your Easter?’ and I hurried on saying, ‘fine thanks’, but he followed me on to the pasta section and continued to ask me questions like, ‘so how’s your day been so far?’ and ‘what have you got planned for the weekend?’
Then after I had everything I needed I went to the counter at the cash register and as he was ringing up my purchases he asked, ‘so how was your Easter?’ I just looked at him. Not five minutes before he had asked the exact same question.
And this is the problem. The questions roll off the tongue but you know they’re not genuine. He clearly couldn’t be at all interested in my Easter or he would remember he just asked me about it just a few minutes ago. These questions come across as a front for being friendly but in reality are just platitudes.
And the guy in the deli isn’t the only guilty sales assistant.
A few days ago I went into a store shopping for sportswear (not that I play any sports). I was managing quite well on my own when a voice talked to the back of my head asking, ‘so how are WE today?’ I looked over my shoulder to see the other people she was also addressing but no, I was standing there alone. The question she asked didn’t even make sense. Why did she use the plural instead of the singular? Perhaps the sales assistant is like the Russell Crowe character in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and she too can see people who aren’t really there.
And everything I almost touched resulted in the comment, ‘that would look good on you, you know what I mean?’ And everything I took to the change room resulted in the comment, ‘that colour would look good on you, you know what I mean?’ And everything I tried on resulted in the comment, ‘that looks great on you, you know what I mean?’
It’s like they’ve been trained to drive away business.
I don’t mind talking to sales assistants. I am quite happy to make conversation. But I want some sensible and genuine questions or statements like, ‘is there anything I can help you with?’ or ‘please let me know if I can be of any assistance’.
There’s nothing wrong with that!
But this afternoon I have to go back to my favourite deli to buy the fabulous pork and fennel sausages for this wonderful pasta and I’m hoping ‘So-how’s-your-day-been-so-far’ is either on annual leave or lying back in bed too crook to get to work.
Here is my Top 10 list of helpful hints for sales assistants:
1. Wait until the customer has entered the shop before you yell at them.
2. Don’t talk to the back of the customer’s head.
3. Don’t be too familiar – perhaps what they did on the weekend is none of your business.
4. If you do ask a familiar kind of a question that the customer is good enough to answer, at least pretend to listen to their reply.
5. If you must ask them how their day has been so far, ask only after midday.
6. The ‘you’ in ‘how are you’ is useful. It can be singular and plural. ‘We’ as in ‘how are we’ is not.
7. Questions like ‘can I be of any assistance?’ are more appropriate than ‘so what have you got planned for the weekend?’
8. Never ask the same customer the same question more than once that day.
9. Not every sentence has to be finished with, ‘you know what I mean?’
10. Silence is golden.
Pork and Fennel Pasta
Degree of difficulty: 2/5
Expense: An inexpensive, fabulous mid-week meal – you can omit the chilli and the fennel seeds if your children are fussy eaters and the pasta will still be delicious.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion finely chopped
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 tbspn fennel seeds
1 tbspn finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tspn chilli flakes
500g (about 5) pork and fennel sausages
a generous glass of dry red wine
400g tinned crushed tomatoes
1 tbspn tomato paste
2 tbspns chopped continental parsley
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about five minutes or until softened. Add garlic, fennel seeds, rosemary and chilli flakes. Cook for a few more minutes or until fragrant. Squeeze sausages out of casings and add to frying pan and try to break up any clumps. When browned add red wine and allow to bubble to evaporate the alcohol. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Season. Add parsley. Meanwhile bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add 1 tspn salt then add pasta and cook until al dente. Serve pasta on warmed plates, top with pasta sauce, some extra parsley, some grated parmesan cheese and some crusty bread.