Saturday, April 29, 2006

I See Humbug Everywhere - even at the hairdressers and the coffee shop

This is hardly the place to comment on insincere solicitations, courtesies etc but since I am part-owner of this blog I am able to do so if I choose to do so, so there.

I have long employed oblique responses to standard questions and pleasantries from purveyors of goods and services. My aim, as a customer, is not to cause gratuitous offence, but to subvert a routine and insincere exchange.

My all-time favourite can only be used at the hairdressers. In response to the hairdresser's standard question: "How would you like your hair cut?"; I usually reply "in silence". This always produces a wary response from the hairdresser, and happily, the hairdresser does not engage in the usual mindless chit-chat and I can have my hair cut in peace. This is not a Jef Clark original, but I don't remember where I first saw this practice described. Highly recommended for those of you who find chit-chat tedious.

I am currently working on a repertoire of responses to an irritating innovation in coffee vending. Over the last year or so, a number of independent coffee shops, and two chains of coffee shops, have brought in the practice of asking the customer his or her first name when he or she orders the coffee. This startled me the first time it happened, and I meekly gave my name to them. When my coffee was ready, they called out "Jef" and I was required to collect my coffee from the counter.

One of my responses to this impertinent question at my regular coffee shop is to simply give one of two different names every time I go there. Staff who have served me a number of times finally asked why the two names. In response to the question I exhibited extreme surprise and manifested a little frisson of fear. I then said that they must sometimes serve my twin brother, and that I wished to avoid running into him at all costs due to a family quarrel. I then scuttled away.

Another response is to wear an earpiece in one ear, and feign a degree of deafness when they ask the standard question. I then speak in an over-loud voice in reply. Then when my coffee is ready and they call my name out, I ignore it. One of the servers is sure to come over to my table and personally deliver the coffee.

A very simple and convenient tactic is to give an unlikely name. A name which is so unlikely that the server will experience a degree of distress in calling it out. So far, "Rapunzel" has been my most inspired alias. It's certainly a head-turner. I am currently working up the courage to award myself a knighthood. "Sir Jeffrey" is sure to cause a ripple in the quiet routine of Gloria Jean's.