Friday, 12 February 2010

Cheese and Computers

They may start with the same letter and they both might stink at times, but more people buy cheese than computers.

Sometimes it is as tough business to buy cheese as it is to buy computers, though. After having taken a number from this almost invisible little thingy located on the counter at the opposite end of the queue, I queue. Initially I thought this number’s task is to define my place in the queue so that I would be allowed to roam free until it is my turn.


Roaming is heavily frowned upon. On my way to the end of the queue I try to get a peep at the cheeses, to see if they have what I want. Need a big chunk of mature Gouda – in the shelves they only have these pharmaceutically small doses of awkwardly shaped cuttings. Cheese is all very yellow, thus the first attempt of predicting my success of actually getting what I want failed. However, I have a rough idea of how the counter is organised now, so I sneak out of the queue with this embarrassed grin on my face, bowing submissively sidewards, and trying to find the holes which are displayed in some queues at about waist height when all the attendees have about the same height and feature an hour-glass figure. But usually my queue consists of alternating pear and apple shaped people, perfectly matching into one another’s gaps like a jigsaw puzzle, to thoroughly deny any glimpse of the goods of my desire.

I guess I very much resemble a hunchback on begging tour. I’m sure if I would carry an empty paper cup people would put coins in it.

Having failed again, I sneak back to my place only to find that the gap has closed – by now my blushing matches the colour of the alarm light on a burgled house and the annoyed shovelling of feet and trolleys banging into each other make the according noise when reluctantly the rear half of the queue edges backwards to let me in.

… and of course they don’t have what I want, as I find out 20 minutes later.

The other version is that there is no queue, but three people behind the counter. One is cleaning, one is slicing something, one is chatting to the others, one has to attend to the meat counter, and one has to get something from the stock room. No, I didn’t miss-count. They multiply while I’m waiting and their biggest skill is to ignore me. It needs at least a crowd of three to get noticed.

But see! Cheese is cheap – well, cheap-ish depending whether you buy continental or not – however, computers aren’t! Whether you buy continental or not.

While with cheese I still can go back to the shelves and grab some of the awkward pieces, or I can re-invent my recipe and buy some other cheese – the store still makes the business. And even if I would make a mistake in buying the wrong thing, it would be a small loss in money and we might have to eat tomato sauce instead of cheese sauce – which is healthier anyway.

Computers are different: One wants to get it right first time. One can’t just replace one product with another as one goes along.

The other day we eventually wanted to buy my little travel computer. I had put a lot of thought into what I really need and Detlef had researched it thoroughly. We went to John Lewis, London, Oxford Street … and had to queue. Well, that is not an unusual thing to happen since every computer department of any shop only has exactly one person who knows remotely about computers. All the rest of the staff is just for show and only knows how computers look like. Their job is to point to the only person who knows.

We didn’t need to know. We knew already – we came to quickly spend a lot of money on a certain product.

So we arrived, waited until a shop attendant became available to either show us to the shelf or to the one person who knows where the shelf is, but he showed us to the service desk where we could put down our name – their version of drawing a number – and then, as opposed to the cheese counter, we were free to roam.

We didn’t want to roam – we came to quickly spend a lot of money on a certain product.

Having waited until a group of vacant shop assistants had gathered behind the service desk, customer names were shouted. Now it turned out that it makes absolute sense not to allow any roaming whatsoever. Customers don’t seem to have a sense of direction and while roaming they just drift off into ‘never again land’ – and so did we. We wandered off without the burden of having to carry anything, and wandered straight into the next Coffee Nero for some cappuccino and chocolate cake.

I still don’t have my computer, I’m now going to wait until my next trip in February, by then the prices might even have dropped, and I will buy via the internet.

One would have thought that shops know by now what is needed to make a customer happy and to put them in buying mode. They spend a fortune on the right fragrance and music for their shops and refurbish it all sparkly, and then one unfortunate little manager can spoil it all by reinforcing a list – how silly is that?

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