Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Some things I love about America....

I walked into the Post Office today to mail a letter and there was one man in front of me, who wanted to buy one 'mailer' box ( a box with pre-paid postage on it). It should have been a simple transaction, but the man behind the counter took it into his head to ask him about a million questions. Was it really the right size box for what he wanted to send? Did he not want to look at other, cheaper, options? What was it that he was sending? Did he need additional bubble wrap? and so on and so forth.

I suppose if I had been in a real hurry I might have found this annoying, as he was holding me up, but instead it occurred to me that this is one of the things I love about America*. The personal touch really is still there in customer service. Some people say that it's all just fake, all this 'have a nice day" business, and sometimes that's true, but on the whole, people really are genuinely trying to help. Contrasted with the surliness that is so much a feature of service in the UK these days, it's refreshing.

Americans are, on the whole, very positive. Have a workman round to your house to sort out a leaking washing machine or dripping tap and he'll be polite, helpful, chatty and full of different ideas or solutions for sorting it out. This is not to say that it will definitely work - it may well not. But the attitude is good. No sighing grimly and shaking his head as he tells you it's going to be expensive and difficult to fix. That 'computer says no' attitude that Little Britain captured so well just doesn't exist so much here (although there are exceptions, notably the IRS and the Department for Motor Vehicles).




Both The Doctor and I have found that there's a 'can-do' attitude here, too, when it comes to our own work. Yes, there's generally more money around, and that helps. But people are less likely to moan about work, and to suggest new ideas and get on with things than at home. And I love the way that Americans are anything but understated. Last week, I went to an ad industry awards do in Manhattan for work. I've been to countless affairs like this back in London, and they tended to be fairly stuffy - a dinner in a hotel ballroom, with everyone seated at round tables getting steadily more drunk, while some hired 'personality' tries (and usually fails) to be funny about the industry and hands out the awards.

In New York, it was more like the Oscars. All the food and drinks happened in a cocktail hour before we were called to attend the ceremony itself, which took place in a theater at the prestigious Lincoln Center. The winning ads projected were onto a big screen in slickly edited montages, as at the Oscars or Baftas, and the Master of Ceremonies was an actor who has appeared in some of the funniest ads over here. In England, all this no doubt would have been thought rather 'over the top'. But you only have to look at the differences between the UK and US X-Factor to know that it's just the American way. In America, everything is a production and you can never be too enthusiastic. And you know what? In spite of my outer calm British reserve, I rather love it.

*This post was prompted by a post over at The American Resident, in which Michelloui asked fellow expat bloggers to share their positive thoughts about living overseas.

14 comments:

Iota said...

Funnily enough, I was thinking along similar lines today. It was Field Day at school, and I was thinking how good Americans are at being enthusiastic and fun. Brits are good at formality - but they need to get into the 21st century, I think.

Knackered Mother said...

I was in LA a few years ago with work and thought exactly that. Was it real, all that 'have a nice day'? And most of the time I thought it was. I love that.

Conuly said...

No sighing grimly and shaking his head as he tells you it's going to be expensive and difficult to fix. That 'computer says no' attitude that Little Britain captured so well just doesn't exist so much here (although there are exceptions, notably the IRS and the Department for Motor Vehicles).

My sister forgot to file taxes three years running and it finally caught up with her. (I kept warning her this was going to bite her in the butt!) Even though the IRS gets such a bad rap, my motto has always been that rules are only as good as the people enforcing them. If you're nice to the IRS guy, he'll be nice to you.

And sure enough, it was an easy fix to set up a payment plan for those missing taxes. The IRS doesn't want to cause you problems. They don't want to send you to prison - that costs money. All they want is for you to pay your taxes. If you show you're making a good faith effort to comply and acknowledge it's not their fault, they can work with you.

Not sure about the DMV, though.

Expat mum said...

I definitely think Americans get the link between customer service and company profitability more that Brits do. Even if you're a lowly junior sales assistant, what you do can make or break a company in terms of return customers.
On the other hand, given as how I glimpsed a script (yes, a script) at a local store the other day, reminding the checkout clerk to ask customers if they needed an umbrella (it's rainy season here) or some sunblock (?), it's not all "from the heart". They are definitely out to sell something, and you can tell when they really couldn't care less whether you say yes or no.

MsCaroline said...

There are definitely times when the American penchant for hyperbole makes me crazy, but you're right, we are generally a friendly (ish) lot. Of course, there are plenty of times when 'friendly' and 'enthusiastic' can turn into 'superficial' and 'overblown' as well. Must say, though, I have never had a positive interaction at a US post office. UPS or FedEx stores, yes, but the real government post office workers I have run into always act as though they're doing me a favor or else I am infringing on their other important tasks. Of course, given the fact that the Post Office is in terrible straits in the US and it's anyone's guess as to whether the workers will have jobs for much longer, I guess you can't expect them to be cheery all the time....

Mystica said...

It is nice, very nice to read as you say positive views on an expat's life. So many people stress on the negatives when they are expats. It can never be the same as home so I say stop grumbling.

Elsie Button said...

we definitely need more of that here... wouldn't that be nice :) x

About Last Weekend said...

It is easy to live here on a day to day basis because people expect things to work. In the end after 15 years of living in London I was always prepared to take things up a level to get some service, which made me become a bit of a shrew.

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - they do indeed. We need a big dose of American enthusiasm sometimes.

KM - it isn't always real, but there are plenty of people who do mean it.

Conuly - I'm just annoyed with them at the moment because we tried to file our NY taxes early but they didn't read our explanation for something, asked us to send it again (which we couldn't) and then fined us for being late. Grr.

Expat Mum - that doesn't surprise me at all. But I suppose at least they are trying....

MsCaroline - I've also had grumpy post office people, so I suppose I particularly noticed this guy. He just seemed like he was geniunely trying to help - but maybe he was new!

Mystica - I agree!

Elsie - I definitely noticed the lack of courtesy in London - although in the country, it wasn't so bad....

ALW - You also learn the art of complaining living in New York. The customer is always right!

Mrs. Munchkin said...

I arrived here from The Potty Diaries....

Being an American and soon to be expat (in Russia), I love reading about your thoughts on life in America. You have quote a sense of humor! I enjoyed reading about your experiences that many, including myself, take for granted or think nothing of....

AliBlahBlah said...

When I first moved to the US I thought that people following me round a clothes shop and offering to 'start a room for me' had identified me as a potential shoplifter. Being from England it never occurred to me they were simply being helpful!

I would have to say the flip side to this is the INS/Immigration, at least in LA. OMFG. At one point when I asked a question the INS worker just glared at me and pointed to sign that said 'we are not a service to you. we do not answer questions'. Have a nice day!

Circles in the Sand said...

So, so true! I loved this about America and it's one of the top things that people really miss about the States when they live overseas. You might have just read this on my reply, but in case you don't see it, it's looking more and more like we going to spend part of the summer in America! We're looking for a summer rental in Minneapolis. m will be with us for a couple of weeks, then I'll be solo with the boys, until about mid August when we'll try to get to London dodging the Olympics! I'm SO excited to get back to the US!!!!!! Also, I meant to comment on your last post but ran out of time- ouch!!!!!!! I really felt for him! I really hope he's ok now! Poor, poor boy xxxxx

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Great post. It reminds me that after living in the UK for so long, whenever I visit the States I always have a day or two of frowning consternation with the in-your-face-friendliness or insistence-to-help the Americans have, until I suddenly have the clairty that actually, it's quite nice to be treated like someone worth spending time on. That's the point when I sigh and smile and turn to my OH and say 'Isn't that nice?'

Anonymous said...

Wow - customer service up north must be soooo much better than here in Texas. We first lived here 15 years ago and were blown away by the customer service, but this time around we've been here almost a year and it's become very european! At least in the uk you expect it to be bad, but here I had expected it would still be good, so the fact that it's deteriorated so badly makes me sad.