Does it have to be this hard? Neil Breen on Australia's diminishing service culture
Neil Breen’s five cents’ worth
It was in a supermarket during a recent eight-day trip to Georgia in America’s Deep South when it hit me. And it was a shock. Australians are becoming really uptight.
Throughout my life I have rolled round the world in the belief Aussies are laidback people, way more chilled than others. The French are stuck up. The Poms, whingers. Americans, brash and in your face.
Not a lot troubles us here in Down Under. We’d give you the shirt off our backs.
Well, it may have been true at some point, but it’s not any longer.
We recently booked a table at a new restaurant. Supporting local business and all that. We were told we could come at either 6pm or 8.30pm —- not negotiable — and needed to give credit card details over the phone because, “We make the food and if you don’t show up we’re going to charge you for it”. Well, thanks for the warm welcome.
Which brings me to Publix in Georgia. It’s a supermarket chain just like Coles or Woolies — stock standard.
My friends and I bought a few things and it came to $33.43. I had $33.37 and said to the server, “I’ll have to give you a $50”.
“No, you won’t, y’all,” she replied. “I have a pocketful of dimes. Here you go. I keep ‘em for times like this.”
Then a young lad handed us our bag of shopping that he packed for us. They still do that there, with a massive smile on their faces.
The same thing happened at a service station, when I only had a $50. The guy behind the counter simply said: “A few cents won’t kill me.”
At a restaurant we changed the time of a booking four times. It was never a problem. Good old-fashioned service with a smile. One of our party said: “Do you think people in the South are always this friendly?” We all agreed that yes they are; Southern hospitality is a real thing.
Laidback, cruisy Aussies sadly are no longer a real thing.
When was the last time you had amazing customer service in a supermarket in Australia? How have your cab trips been? What about driving on the road? Do other drivers put you first when you try and merge? Has the local council been helpful lately? Has the bank been understanding? Someone offered you their seat on the bus? I could go on.
How did we get into this situation?
Firstly we’ve been poorly led, by our politicians and our big companies, including media companies. Nastiness rules. It pervades politics and leadership. The federal election is a race to the bottom.
People feel disconnected from our institutions. Power companies rob us blind and would cut you off sooner than help you. Telecommunications giants work on separating you from your money rather than connecting you with a friend. The council hopes you make a mistake parking your car so it can fine you.
There is a disdain for menial jobs — both from the people doing them and people interacting with them.
I worry we are never going to get back to where we should be. Where a few cents here and there won’t kill us.