An irritation of modern life is that it's hard to conduct a transaction now without the person serving you trying to sell you all kinds of crap that you don't want, don't need, and have no interest in. You could make good money selling badges to people going in to W H Smiths that say 'no, I don't want any half-price chocolate, I just want this fucking newspaper'.
One of the worst offenders is the Post Office. You take some time out of your lunchbreak to stand in a queue for a while, you finally get to a counter and have your parcel weighed, or whatever, and then the person behind the counter asks you if you have a credit card, or a mortgage, or life insurance, or whatever because 'today we're talking to our customers about credit cards/mortgages/life insurance/whatever'. You avoid the temptation to say look, I don't ask my credit card company to sell me stamps, so do me a favour, and just let me get away from here with some time to spare to eat a sandwich, so instead you just politely say 'no, I'm fine thanks.' And that's an end to it.
Or at least, it would be if the Post Office actually valued their customers as people, rather than valuing them like a con-artist values his mark. The smiley-faced counter staff ignore you, of course, and press on, as if you hadn't spoken. 'It's just that we're offering a special rate and...blah blah blah'.
Today though, was something else.
My mum died last month. It's the way things are that when someone dies, as well as grieving, you have to get on with a lot of very mundane bureaucratic form-filling. It's dull, it's frustrating, you really don't want to do it, but it has to be done. And it's best to get on and do it. Today I had to spend an hour in a bank, closing down accounts, and then go to the Post Office to post something to my mum's life insurance company. I had to send it special delivery, so I needed to queue up and see a member of staff.
The man behind the counter who weighed it and stamped it had obviously read the address, because when I had paid he said: 'See that this is to a life insurance company, and we're talking to our customers today about life insurance and --'
'It's just we wondered if you have life insurance--'
'Look, I've just lost someone close to me, which is the reason I'm posting this stuff, so trust me, now is not the time.'
What would you say at that point? Would you apologise? Or just end the conversation? Say thank you, and hope that an awkward situation goes away? If you've answered yes to any of those, you're not cut out for the high-pressure sales world of Post Office counters.
What he said was, 'OK, would you prefer to make an appointment to discuss it, then?'
I had really two choices at that point. Turn around and walk out, or do something that would lead to me getting arrested under the Public Order Act. I walked out. Part of me - the seething, furious, sweary, counter-thumping, display-trashing part of me - regrets walking out. Part of me knows that I could not have stayed there and done anything other than very counter-productive things, which would have ended up with me as the person in the wrong, and weakened my case.
So, formal complaints are now in, and I am not in a cell, and I have dealt with it all very maturely and blah blah. How terribly grown up.
I'm interested to find out whether it's Post Office policy for their staff to read the address of letters they are being asked to post, and to do a sales pitch to the customer based on them, so I have asked that question, and to check the answer I've asked for bunch of documents under FOI. I think it's very wrong if that does turn out to be the case, as I'm supplying them with that address to provide the service I'm paying for, not to use it as a chance to up-sell me on all kinds of shit I don't need or want or care about.
I know it's Post Office policy for them to encourage their staff to not take no for an answer, and to go on and on about said shit, even if the customer is patently uninterested, because I experience it every time I go in there. I also know that they do have a policy which says that Post Office staff 'deserve to be treated with respect'.
And I don't disagree. They absolutely do. Which is why it would also be fair if the Post Office also treated its customers with equal respect. And by that, I don't mean putting a pointless poster on the wall and a statement on the website with the usual anodyne platitudes about we value your blah blah blah while acting in a way which makes it patently obvious that you do not give a flying fuck about your fucking customers if you can screw another sale out of them.
So, no. I don't want any life insurance. I don't want a credit card or a mortgage or car insurance or home insurance or van insurance or motorcycle insurance or pet insurance or a cash ISA or broadband or telephone. I really, really don't. If I did, I would ask you. But I don't. I JUST WANT TO POST A FUCKING LETTER.
Might get that put on a tee-shirt.
Oh, and I'd like to be able to do it without some twat using my mum's death to try and sell me life insurance. Is that too much to ask? Looks that way.