The British must be the most polite people on Earth. Dealing with them at just about any level, from having the gas connected to tr ying to see a doctor, is like being gently hit over the head with a softcover edition of a Debrett’s guide to etiquette. They fob you off with such charm and good manners that it’s not until several minutes after you’ve left their office or put down the phone that you realise.
My family and I recently moved into a rental property at Fulham, south-west of London’s CBD. For the past six weeks much of our time has been taken up with phone calls to our estate agent Curtis. Our conversations with Curtis follow a very similar path. We tell him all the things that are wrong with our flat. He oohs and uh-huhs with maximum gravitas and promises to see to the issue “as a matter of urgency”. We don’t hear from him until we call with our next complaint.
It’s the same with the electricity suppliers, who’ve managed to lose all records of our very existence so many times that I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually a figment of my own imagination. Yet they’re so earnest and charming in our dealings that we’ve found ourselves apologising to them for their incompetence.
Best of all, though, was last week when I found myself on a British Airways flight stuck on the tarmac. Nothing too unusual about that. Many’s the time I’ve listened to a Qantas flight officer explain away such a situation with a brief, “Sorry about this. We’ll be up and away as soon as we can.” Not from an Englishman. “Yes, we’re professionals, but we’re travellers too,” said the pilot. “We’ve been where you are, we know how you are feeling. We’re hurting just as much as you.” He then continued with all-tooregular heartfelt updates describing in minute detail what the problem was and how it was being rectified.
Thankfully, “as a matter of urgency”.