Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain towards the end of January 2018 for about a month
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Crass stupidity at Somerfield, Nairn!

Somerfield is the larger of the two supermarkets we have in Nairn, but is of course now owned by the operator of the other smaller supermarket - the Co-op; it has a limited range of merchandise because of its limited floorspace - the prices aren't that great either. One might have thought that 'customer service' would be paramount, specially when rival Sainsbury may get final approval soon (I hope!) to open a largish edge-of-town supermarket here, or even to encourage people to do a little shopping here meantime, rather than popping off to Forres or Inverness for everything. But no, such considerations do not seem to apply in the surreal world of Somerfield.

So, what has set me off today? I was up in town a short while ago to do a little shopping; I did think when heading for the roundabout in my car that I might just carry straight on and visit Tesco in Forres, but decided to turn right instead and be 'loyal' and keep the small amount I planned to spend for a local outlet, although of course I bought things I don't really need in addition. In retrospect I should should have gone to Forres!

Bill potters around Somerfield, gets his Telegraph, his Nairnshire (the local 'rag', published weekly on a Tuesday [I was indisposed yesterday]), his Radio Times for next week's TV/radio listings) and continues around the store putting a few other items in his basket (some fruit, some mozzarella, some fish etc) and the fateful item - a bottle of sherry of the amontillado variety. At the check-out the young lady (I've already realised she is a rather sullen young person who gave neither the previous customer nor me the merest glimmer of recognition and whose name as shown on her name-badge I shall refrain from recording here, only 'cause basically I'm a nice guy[+]) picks up the bottle and rather than scan it, turns her head to attract the attention of one of the other check-out assistants (a middle-aged lady I've seen there before) and points out the bottle to her, the latter nods briefly and my check-out assistant proceeds to scan the bottle. I had, at that stage, no idea what was going on and asked her 'what was all that about?' in what I hope was a quizzical, but humourous, tone. She, without hardly glancing at me to respond then said "can only sell alochol to people over 18". No "I" or even "We" you notice - basically verbal 'texting' language in other words.

I then innocently asked her "Do you think I don't look 18?" - no response, other than a sullen shrug of the shoulders. I then said "Well, there must be a lot more[*] wrong with your eyes. I wish I was only 18, but sadly that's not the case." A sullen glare from the check-out assistant and more shrugging of the shoulders was all I got from her, accompanied fortunately by a chuckle of wry amusement from the next customer who happened to be a middle-aged sari-clad Indian lady who is, I have no doubt, a veteran of much more serious abuse than that to which I had been subjected in the name of 'just following orders' (where have I heard that before) and worse, without the exercise of any sort of judgement whatsoever.

For the record I am 57 years old, not 'old looking' for my age certainly, but I doubt that anyone on the planet could reasonably confuse me with a sub-18 year old! Perhaps in my mid-20s (33 or 34 years ago) that might have been a reasonable cause for doubt, but since I turned 30 even I, in my vainer moments, would be forced to accept that would have been fanciful. Like many westerners in recent generations I've never had to do physical labour in my life and as I have never smoked and drink alcohol fairly moderately I have probably 'aged well' - but unfortunately, and completely incontrovertibly to all but the completely sightless, not THAT well.

[+] But not that nice after all, I find. You can find her name easily enough if you know the alphabet as these are the letters of her name - 11 1 25 1 - according to their order in the alphabet.
[*] She wore spectacles, as do I.


  1. Bill,

    I think you will find that despite her incoherent mumblings she was in fact getting permission from another more senior member of staff to sell you your sherry as she was under 18 and not allowed to do so.

    Sadly shop assistants with indifferent attitudes exist everywhere

  2. Well, that's a novel explanation! If she's not able to sell product that customers present her with at the check-out then she certainly shouldn't be employed there! It was my age that was being queried, not her's.

    I know that there are laws about selling alcohol to underage people, which I think are sensible, but I do not think I fall into that category (regrettably) even in the most flattering of lighting.

    Indifferent attitudes - you are correct. But irritate enough of your customers and there are inevitable consequences. I will do more of my shopping in Inverness, Forres and Elgin now, not less, until there is a properly-run supermarket (i.e. Sainsbury) locally. It's that quaint concept little understood in certain Nairn establishments: "market forces".

  3. Hi Bill - iRight has beaten me to it. Cashiers aged under 18 need permission from an authorised member of staff to put alcohol through the till. It's happened to me a couple of times at Tesco in Ellon, as explained during the first instance by the very pleasant and under-aged member of their staff concerned.

    Despite the attitude and the grunted explanation, that's most likely what your 'happy to help' cashier was attempting to explain.

  4. Hi Richard,

    Well perhaps you and "iRight" are correct. However, a surly attitude is not helpful. I'm sure if a cheery, friendly check-out person had made clearer what was going on (if that is indeed the case, which I'm still not sure of - I do not think it my place to query a cashier's age!) then I'm sure the whole situation could have been more pleasantly dealt with. Inter-personal skills training cuts both ways; a friendly smile is all that was required. By the way, it is a curious thing (perhaps it's in the water), but shop staff in Elgin or Turriff - two places I know well - are invariably very helpful and friendly, but the closer one gets to Inverness the more churlish some shop people seem to be, not by any means all of them of course, but more than I've noticed elsewhere in Scotland (outside of Edninburgh, which is a different story); in factI really do believe that when I go down the hill at Brodie and cross into Moray from Highland you enter a whole different world, service-wise. I happen to have been born in Inverness, so whilst it gives me no pleasure to write this, in my experience it is true.

    Having said all that, I was perfectly pleasant in the shop - I even said a cheery 'thank you' to the young lady as I was leaving; naturally it was not reciprocated. No sorry, there really is no excuse for such surly behaviour in a customer service situation - I'll shop elsewhere next time. It really is not my problem and I feel no obligation to 'make allowances' for poorly-trained or poorly-motivated staff.

    Now, Bill has had his 'strop' ;)

  5. Proof that even one of the most civilised countrys in the world can house idiots such as her

  6. Recently I visited ASDA in Elgin on a Sunday. Remarkable how good morale seemed to be among the staff - not only genuine smiles and conversation with the customers but between themselves as well. Not everyone's idea of a dream job but the ASDA workforce seemed happy with their lot.

    It is surreal and tragic to see the Somerfield hired guns in dark suits doing their best across the road at the Public Inquiry in the community centre to try and deny the folk of Nairn a decent supermarket and decent service.

  7. It's spot-on Graisg what you write about the friendliness, without any loss of speed, of the check-out people at Asda in Elgin. I used at one time to shop at the Safeway there, too, and they were always pretty good as well, although the Asda top them I'd say.


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