On the Beach

Friday, 13 July 2012

The other way around

Some South African friends of ours are doing a tour of Britain and France and blogging about it as they go. I am finding it fascinating to read because I am interested in their travels and increasingly intrigued by how one views things, depending on where you come from. And even if you look the same, sound similar (ish) and have lots in common, so much of your worldview comes from your starting point. In my case: a muddled, mostly European (occasionally African) background and in their case, well-traveled South Africans.

There are some things that we agree on, some universal truths. To buy coffee in France, especially Paris, you need to ensure you seriously refinance your home. We agree that northern European weather is terrible, on the whole (who wouldn't?!). We agree that what is described as "Luxury" accommodation in some parts of Europe falls rather short of that standard, we agree that parts of northern Europe need a technology upgrade. We also think that there are too many people, too many tourists. I think these are all fairly commonly accepeted.

But what is most interesting is what we view differently, 2 small things that I picked.

Firstly, our friends remarked on the fact that in the UK you need to get out of your car, refuel yourself and go inside to pay. They thought that perhaps this wouldn't work in SA because although people might be happy to refuel themselves, they might be sloppier about the paying part.

I have mentioned before that in South Africa, you pull up into a petrol station, someone greets you, puts fuel in your car and then takes payment. I think this is MARVELOUS! Putting petrol in my car is not a highlight of my day, ever, so having someone do it is a treat. And if I can remain parked on my bum while I pay through my window, so much the better. It provides employment and I must say it never occurred to me that this is a security measure- to make sure I pay and don't take too much petrol. But perhaps it is, just in my glee and laziness, I never thought about it that way.

For me, in the UK the lack of a petrol pump attendant is another example of companies "cutting costs" (the amount of CCTV cameras in each petrol stations means I wouldn't exactly be successful in flight), the fact that I have to queue to pay in the shop, removing offspring from the car (and the drama associated with that) while someone ahead of me in the queue is busy doing their weekly shop does not make me feel very excited about the process.

The other thing that jumped out at me was the fact that they thought that being able to scan your own shopping in Waitrose or Sainsburys, was quite cool (although this was tempered by the fact that they knew that people had been "randomly selected" to have their trolleys or baskets checked one too many times).

 When self-scanning started in the UK it seemed like a good idea. Until you realised that the scanners didn't work quite often, that the queues for self check-out were often longer than for a regular till. When they did work, they could be terrible sensitive, demanding that you "replace the item in the bagging area" in a loud voice while a red light flashed over your head. It was never clear to me what the bagging area was although I am convinced it covered a precise area no bigger than a postage stamp. At this point, the machine went into meltdown and one of the elusive members of staff had to come and do something magical only for the damned thing to do the same thing on the next item. Once again, the self-scanners, in my opinion, are a cost-cutting measure- fewer members of staff, fewer wages, fewer costs- nothing to do with making life better for the customer. Give me a Pick 'n Pay till and packer any day over that.

But it all depends where you come from...


  1. Yes indeed, we view things differently.

    Just to mention, at most service stations you can now pay at the pump using your debit card, only rarely do I have to go inside to pay.

    I like the fact I put the petrol in, many people get ripped off at the pumps in SA - they know a few tricks those attendants!

    They fixed the self-checkouts at the supermarkets, not nearly so sensitive any more. Most people are happy with doing their own, and once you get the hang of it, its quicker. (I agree, Pick n Pay girls will knock the spots of any Brit cashier any day)

    Another thing, we have Polish shops. Smaczny Polskie produkty - tak? Bigos, pasztetowy,ciasto (without all the sugar), klopski, sernik,...Lubię bardzo Polsie jedzendie.

    And of course Poland itself is not far away at all, just over two hours and I can be in Krakow or Poznań, a bit longer for Gdańsk. Next month we're off to Warszawa, new year Sandomierz. :-)

    Of course I don't miss parking attendants, being nervous at traffic lights, not being able to go for a walk at night. In three years here I haven't met a single person that has been burgled, mugged or hijacked. I know that makes life boring, but for some reason I prefer it.

    Twoj artykuł jest bardzo interesująncy, dziękuję. Pozdrawiam.

  2. Hi Graham, Thanks for your comment. I wrote a reply which was so long the system would not take it, so it's up as another blog post, sorry for the long treatise. Brevity is not my strong point.

    Pozdrowenia z bardzo deszczowego Kapsztadu.