Try to count them on your way to work tomorrow. First it’s the lift telling you off: ‘Caution, doors opening’ ‘Doors closing’ then at the tube station it’s ‘Walk, do not run down the escalators’ ‘Stand on the right’ ‘Hold the Handrail’ ‘No Smoking’ (as if we didn’t know) ‘Mind the Gap’ ‘Stand behind the yellow line’ ‘Make sure you have your ticket ready’ and once on the tube, my personal favourite, ‘Please keep your belongings and clothing clear of the doors’ as if anyone, ever, intentionally offered up their bag or coat to the filthy tube door’s impatient rubber gums. And if you were in any doubt, they back up their helpful travel tip with another yellow sticker that shouts: ‘Items trapped in the doors cause delays’. Well I never.
Having your face welded inside a software developer’s sweaty armpit every morning clearly isn’t insulting enough. Avoiding eye contact with your fellow sardines is particularly tricky when the only distraction is the plethora of sticky admonishments warning you not to play dare with the doors. Which, of course, makes you think of little else.
Flying is no different. Despite the fact that smoking on board has been a hanging offence for a quarter of a century they still love to threaten us with it, as if we’re all furtive pipe smokers, desperate to light up at any opportune moment. It’s a safety issue you see, and above all else your safety is their number one priority. The fact that they once actively encouraged smoking back in the eighties, parading up and down the aisle with a tray of duty free Rothmans, is neither here nor there.
Look, I get why the occasional ‘No Smoking’ sign can be useful, but when every Chief Cabin Officer’s announcement must warn us that smoking is verboten I’m starting to think I’m missing out on something here. Maybe this smoking malarkey has got something going for it?
On the ground it’s bad enough. Families heading for a week in Spain, over excited and perhaps a little anxious, are constantly warned by the voice of god that ‘unattended bags will be removed and may be destroyed’. Little kids cannot help but have nightmarish visions of their Disney themed luggage being detonated in nearby concrete bunkers. What a lovely welcome to the big wide world that is.
It’s the relentless state-sponsored finger wagging that’s ultimately so demoralising. They assume we’d all be walking around aimlessly bumping into things, spitting, obstructing entrances, running across railway tracks and opening aeroplane doors at thirty thousand feet with an enormous cigar clenched between our teeth…unless their sensible voice of authority stepped in to save us.
The Health Service (in the broadest sense of the term) is one of the worst offenders. Even my local pharmacy has signs warning ‘all children must be supervised’ and the water cooler must only be ‘operated’ (sic) by those over eighteen. I can only assume, god forbid, that some naughty three year old had some serious fun in there once. And I’m very sure it upset the cheery staff (teehee).
But no, this is not just another anti-authoritarian rant because, believe it or not, there’s an industry out there that does people management very well actually, and it’s one we can all learn from. And guess what, it’s good old retail! Yes, the shining example of how to gently manage and control the marauding masses of dribbling morons is our poor, hard hit high street. There may well be a ‘No Smoking’ sign on the door of Costa or McDonalds but there certainly isn’t one stuck on every goddamn table, and yet somehow we cope without lighting up or jamming our coats in the door. Never have I heard the public address system at Sainsbury’s or Waterstones threatening to blow up my backpack. Nor do they have barbed wire or security glass around the checkouts, funnily enough, despite handling tens of thousands in cash. You won’t find armed guards at the exit either. So, why is that, I hear you ask?
Well, quite simply, because they don’t want to piss you off. You are their customer and they want you to keep coming back and they’ve been on a course (probably) that told them that pissing customers off is not good for business. So the next time you read a sign telling you off remember that it comes from a place that doesn’t trust you, doesn’t respect you, and frankly would prefer that you never return.
Retail, on the other hand, intrinsically understands that if you treat people like adults most of them will act as such. The evidence is clear. If this wasn’t the case, our stores and shopping centres would be lawless, violent, smoky, litter-strewn, drug-addled hell holes. Thankfully, our shops aren’t like that. Outside however, now that’s a different story.
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