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.