30.7.12

Why Greece Sucks #2: Nationalism

It's been a couple of days since the Olympics began in London, and it has been surprisingly quiet so far: no overcrowding on the tube, no massive crowds in Stratford, no accidents or ridiculous traffic on the roads to east London... Apparently, the Games --fingers crossed-- are running smoothly.

(Which means that I bought this "alternative method of transport" for nothing.)

It's been a huge relief, considering that we were all prepared for and expecting the worst. In fact, I was absolutely certain that August's post would be all about the Olympics, and me bitching about how the city has come to a standstill.

As it turns out, this month's post, coming a couple of days in advance, is inspired by an Olympics-related event, but has nothing to do with the Games themselves.



Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (lucky bastards!) may have noticed the article I recently posted about a Greek athlete who was expelled from the Greek Olympic team over a racist tweet.

The story is this: last Monday, Voula Papachristou (pictured above), a Greek athlete who was to compete in London 2012, tweeted a racist "joke" targeting African immigrants in Greece. The "joke" was:

("With all these Africans in Greece...
At least the West Nile mosquitoes will be eating food from home!!!")

As a result, the Hellenic Olympic Committee officials announced that Voula Papachristou would be banned from the Olympic team "for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement." (Chris Chase, "Greek Athlete Expelled From Olympics for Racist Tweet", Yahoo! Sports, 25-07-2012)

(I used a reference! I'm becoming a journalist!
It's a reference to Yahoo!, but whatevs.)

Responses to this have been mixed. Some, like the author of the article I linked to above, believe that while the comment she made was tasteless, she shouldn't have been refused the opportunity to compete, since she spent four years preparing for this moment and politics should have nothing to do with it. Others, like myself, think that she was rightfully removed from the team as, despite the questionable application of Olympic values in contemporary times, she still was a public figure representing a nation and by allowing her to compete the Hellenic Olympic Committee would be condoning her behaviour. Then there are those who say that she did nothing wrong and that her expulsion was unjust, unfair and "racism against Greeks".

Let me start by explaining why I firmly belong in the second category, and then I'll get to the point. The people who belong in the first group contend that it was just a joke and that her punishment was too harsh. First of all: was it just a joke? There is photographic documentation that proves Mrs Papachristou has been retweeting posts made by Golden Dawn, Greece's favourite neo-nazi political party. (I don't care what you say, spell-checker, I will not write "nazi" with a capital letter. Fuck you.) Secondly: sometimes I make racist jokes myself. I'm not a racist; that's what makes it funny. But you know what? I don't post these jokes on Facebook, because I have the required IQ to know that would be a tremendously stupid move. People online can't know your intentions; on the internet, you are guilty until proven innocent. Mrs Papachristou seemed to be lacking that common sense. Finally: this might come as a shock to many, but participating in the Olympics is not a right; it's a privilege. There are certain rules to abide by, and if you fail to do that, like Mrs Papachristou so foolishly did, you have no one to blame but yourself. She was stupid and/or racist, and she paid for it. I have no sympathy for her.

(Also, she didn't like my page on Facebook. She was practically begging for it.)

The sad thing is, one of the reasons so many Greek people have been supporting her is because they recognise a part of themselves in her behaviour. Who hasn't cracked a racist joke? So it's wrong now to speak out when immigrants are flooding into your country, raping, killing and stealing your money or jobs? And why is she the only one paying for a silly mistake, when so many Germans have spoken against us Greeks in numerous occasions without any repercussions or consequences? These are few of the excuses I've heard over the past few days from people I know not to be racist, including my friends and my own mother.

Around this time last summer, I was writing my dissertation on the Greek riots of 2008. One of the things I mentioned constantly throughout it was that, and I quote, "the majority of Greeks, regardless of age, class or background, have a notable sense of national identity." 

I also asked the following question: "It is a common saying in Greece that while Greeks were coming up with the concept of civilisation, the rest of the world was still hanging from trees like monkeysand yet, in the past decade, the country has consistently been faced with situations that demean its history, its pride and what Greeks expect it to stand for: democracy. The Hellenic ideals, an inheritance from Greece's rich past, have been betrayed by the present nation. What does it mean for a Greek to be Greek, then, when this inconsistency between the past and the present is taken into consideration?"

Of course, there's nothing wrong with national pride, although you didn't actually have anything to do with where you were born and by which parents, or with what your ancestors achieved, so being proud of your origins, to me, sounds a bit like being proud that I have two feet, two eyes and one nose, or being proud that my neighbour won a medal. (Assuming my neighbour has the same nationality as me, of course.)

(Then my other neighbour, the immigrant, came and raped, killed
my medal-winning neighbour and stole his medal.)

My problem with Greek pride is the way it manifests. There is a fine line between national pride and nationalism, and many Greeks tread on it carelessly. A few examples:

Example #1

Last month we had the Euro 2012 to keep us busy. One of the matches with the heaviest political undertones in the tournament was, without a doubt, the match between Greece and Germany. They say that football is the opium of the people, and it's true: after Greece's failure to vote for an anti-European (and therefore anti-German) party in June's elections, the country's only way of showing those horrible Germans how we don't bow down before bullies was to kick them out of the Euro.

After we lost 4 to 1, this picture started trending in social media, posted by Greeks:


The message of this is clear: we didn't actually lose against Germans! Germans are so worthless that they have to give their nationality to anyone in order to form a proper team. Ignore the fact that most of these players were actually born in Germany, and the rest moved to the country before they were 10 years old. Ignore the fact that some of them even have one German parent. (And if they didn't, would it really matter since they were raised in the country?)

I understand those Greeks' confusion. In other countries, immigrants actually get a chance to integrate after they move in, instead of instantly being thrown to the brinks of society. In other countries, 5-10 years are more than enough to obtain the nationality -- you don't find yourself in danger of deportation after 21 years in the country because you didn't work enough for a year due to an illness, like Albanian journalist Nikos Ago.

I have a French friend in London, who is originally from Africa. As an immigrant in France, she has faced a good deal of racism over the years. (Yes, other countries aren't perfect either.) Nevertheless, she is a French citizen and many French citizens who have no other origins accept her as such. Her cousin, on the other hand, who lives in Greece, has often reported to her how difficult life is.

Come to think of it, almost all the immigrants I've met in Greece who were well integrated came from European countries or the US, and the only non-white person was a high-school friend of mine, who was half-African and half-Greek. (That half-Greek was what made her acceptable, apparently.)

Example #2

This is a personal experience, and I'll leave the names out. A Greek couple visited me a couple of months ago in the UK; the wife is a blond girl with incredibly pale skin, while the husband is fairly dark, going far beyond what English people would call "olive-skinned". (Of course, according to how races are perceived in Greece, both are Greek, so they are both "white". But I digress.)

Well, while we were walking, the husband mentioned that not many people in the UK could guess where the two of them came from. (That's not surprising at all, considering that English people seem incapable of believing there might be people from Greece with as white skin as their own.) The husband in particular was troubling for them: some thought he was Spanish, while others assumed he was Pakistani.

Then the wife said with a chuckle: "Of course, he prefers to be considered Spanish."

It was a throwaway comment, and I thought nothing of it at the moment. Then I came home, and it returned to me: why would it be better to be thought Spanish? The answer was obvious, of course: Spaniards are Mediterranean, and European. If Greece considers some countries to be its sibling nations, those would be Cyprus, Italy and, to some extent, Spain. Pakistan, on the other hand, is a source of immigrants for Greece. Why would a Greek person want to be associated with them? Their perception is better than that of Albanians (the aforementioned thieves, killers, rapists), but it's still pretty bad: they "smell", they are "loud", and while most are harmless, some of them are "sexist" and "dangerous". In comparison, Spaniards are European and part of the "western civilisation", and therefore superior.

Of course, I'm not accusing the couple of harbouring such views. That's exactly the problem: this attitude is so ingrained within Greek mentality, it becomes a subconscious response. 

This post is getting too long already, so I'll try to cut myself off before I write an essay. My point is, Greek people are and always have been a proud nation. Even now that we are Europe's financial bitch through nobody's fault but ours, many Greeks believe themselves to be superior to people with different nationalities because of our history (even though there's nothing to be proud about after the student revolution of 1974), our beautiful islands and climate (even though modern Athens looks like the bastard child of the city it once was and an abandoned factory, and as if geographical luck is something to be proud of) and... what else? Is there anything else? Let's ask Katerina, the Hellene.


Oh, yeah. We're also Hellene, not Greek. There's this common misconception in Greece that the word "Greek" is an insult; in fact, when I was in sixth form, our Latin teacher informed us that it derived from the Turkish word "Grekos" which meant "slave". (It was years later that I discovered it was actually a Latin word, based on an ancient Greek word Greeks themselves used to describe their origins. You'd think a Latin teacher would know that.) Anyway, many Greeks hope to replace "Greek" with "Hellene", which is the modern Greek word for "Greek" ("Έλλην"). Meanwhile, nobody addresses the fact that we still call the French "Gaulish" in modern Greek. But that's another kettle of fish.

The problem, for me, is not just that Greeks' national pride is severely misplaced; as the rise of Golden Dawn proves, it is also incredibly dangerous. And when we condone or excuse the actions and/or words of people like Voula Papachristou, we become accessories and condemn our country to a modern 1940s version of the country we supposedly hate so much, Germany. If that's not ironic, then I don't know what is.

I sincerely hope that the European Commissioner for Human Rights who plans to investigate Golden Dawn will find it illegal and remove it. Even if that happens, however, it won't also remove the party's mentality from the 500.000 people who voted for it. Therein lies the real problem.

16.7.12

Why Studying German Sucks

It's that time of the month again, when I get to complain about something.

(I was looking forward to this moment.)

As I mentioned in my last entry, I have been incredibly busy as of late. I have been working, writing my novel and training in order to volunteer in the prison service. I've also been setting up a website for my webcomic, Ignore Him Street. (LIKE IT!) Finally, I just resumed studying German and began studying Spanish.

Ever since I was a child, I've loved learning foreign languages. I am a native speaker of Greek, I speak English quite fluently and I can hold a conversation in German. I quit German two years before I graduated from sixth form, because my parents insisted I should focus on getting into a good university if I want to get a real job someday. (Insert laugh somewhere around here.) I have regretted this decision ever since.

(This has nothing to do with this blog entry.)

Which is why I recently booked a summer course, picking up from where I left off, and I decided to be bold and start another language as well. (¿Qué pasa, pendejo?)Both courses started last week, and that brings us to today's topic.

Before I start, let me get this out of the way: I am quite aware of the irony in complaining about a language being too complicated when my native language is Greek. I get it. "It's all Greek to me" -- yes, haha. The difference is, Greek is basically useless. It's a language spoken in two tiny countries and it's not an asset to anyone who speaks it, unless they're applying for very specific jobs. (Like, "primary school teacher in a Greek school abroad" specific.) The same cannot be said for German, however, which is one of the top ten most useful languages. (English, French, Spanish, Chinese... Maybe Arabic, I guess? I can't think of any more.)

(Gaelic?)

So yes, Greek is difficult, but nobody has to learn it except Greeks. (Ancient Greek is also difficult and a lot of people learn it, but they don't learn to speak it. There's a difference.) And yes, nobody's forcing me to learn German -- I want to, because I love the language. But I can still complain, because that's what I do.

So, let's start.

1. Der, die, das.

I blame ancient Greeks for this. I can just imagine them sitting at the agora in their chlamydes, coming up with words to express concepts.

- Freedom feels like a she, doesn't it?
- Yeah, I concur. How about truth?
- Oh, that's a she as well. God?
- Oh, that's definitely a he. But we can have a she version as well.
- How about journey?
- Hmmm... Tough one. How about neutral?
(Assholes.)

2500+ years later, here we are and many modern languages have two or three articles. For German, it's three: der, die, and das. Unfortunately, unlike with other languages, for a big percentage of German words it's simply impossible to guess what the article is. Sure, there are rules, but they're so fucking complicated that even grammar books concede that you just have to learn most articles by heart. That's 12.000+ words. By heart.

2. Dativ and Akkusativ.

All right, so the article thing applies to Greek as well. I don't know if it's easy to learn the Greek articles, but since the most common mistakes immigrants in Greece make in Greek have to do with the articles, I'm guessing not. But here's another remnant from ancient Greek: dative and accusative. In Modern Greek, we got rid of dative around the 1970s. You see, the language was quite complicated as it was and dative basically served the same purpose as accusative, and we just had to learn when to use each, so we decided that fuck that shit. Somehow, Germans being the overachievers that they are, they kind of skipped that memo.

And there you have it now: when there's two objects in a sentence, one takes dative and one accusative. When you use prepositions, specific prepositions require dative and others require accusative. Then there are the prepositions that are cool with both, and you just have to check the verb to see, does it imply motion? If so, you use accusative. If not, you use dative. (Usually.) Then there are prepositions that mean one thing with dative, and another with accusative. Has your head exploded yet? Imagine trying to finish a sentence when you have to pause and think, "Shit, does that verb imply motion?" or, "Fuck, does hinter take dative, accusative, or both?"

(Here's an image from Ignore Him Street to take your mind off things.)

On behalf of all German language learners everywhere: Gee, thanks a bunch, ancient Germans!

("Bitteschön!")

3. Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän.

You know how sometimes in most languages you want to describe something complicated so you end up using a lot of words to get the point across, like "danube steamship company captain"? Yeaaaaah... Apparently Germans don't really like long sentences, so their solution is to just stick words together like train wagons. So this is how you end up with words like the one titling this paragraph. Of course, it doesn't help that many German words are naturally long, so sticking them together makes a bad thing even worse... but 41 letters? Honestly? That's about 10 letters short of twice the alphabet.

(Well, I just googled "longest Greek word" and it's apparently 170 characters, so... AT LEAST WE INVENTED SOCIETY! [/typical Greek person's response to criticism])



4. The Schmetterling Effect.


There's this meme going around online that makes fun of German words:



Personally, I find it kind of tasteless. There are a lot of Greek words that sound ridiculous (ochaderfismos = nihilism, peripatodromos = walkway, skupidodenekes = rubbish bin, etc.), but nobody considers the Greek language ugly. On the other hand, most people I've told that I study German over the years have responded with: "To me, German sounds awful!!!"

I will concede, however, that many words are so... schmetterling, that you cannot memorise them. I mean, when I was younger I always forgot what "buchstabieren" meant, it took me years to get used to it. (It means "to spell".) Or "Gemüse". (Vegetable.) Or Geheimnis. (Secret.) It certainly doesn't help that many words are so similar. (I always confuse Geheimnis with Gefängnis. One is secret, the other one is prison.)

And finally...

5. Y U NO GREEK? OR LATIN!

For all the influence it's had from ancient Greek, you'd think that German would at least have a respectable amount of ancient Greek words, just to make it easier for us Greeks to learn their language. Alas, it seems that Germans hated us long before the economic crisis, since the amount of Greek words in the German vocabulary comes down to I-don't-know-how-many-but-not-many.

According to research I just found online, German (like English) is a Germanic language (no shit!) which has "borrowed heavily" from Greek and Latin.

Nevertheless, unlike with English where it happens all the time, I very rarely read a German word and think, "ha! That's actually Greek." You know what that means? More words to learn.

(Woe is me.)

Aaaanyway, I wish good luck to you all German language learners. I know it's tough, but we'll make it through. Klar?

16.6.12

Why A Zombie Apocalypse Would Be Great Right Now

OK, so it's been a long while since my last post and I could probably come up with a thousand excuses about that, but it would all boil down to one simple fact: I've been busy, and I've been spending my free time doing other things. Also, I've been trying to abstain from bitching too much.

(How I look like most of the time lately.)


I have, however, been thinking about the blog often. My flatmate asked me the other day if I still maintain it, and I said "yes". I also feel bad for all the masses out there checking this page every day when they wake up in the morning, just hoping against hope that I've posted something new and awesome again. I'm sure that you've all lost sleep over it, and for that I apologise profusely.


Anyway, from now on I promise to try harder to satisfy your needs for some bitching in your lives. If my free time has been limited so far, it's only bound to get worse: I've just completed my training for volunteering in the prison service (and I'll hopefully start within the next two months if all goes well), I'm starting an advanced course in German and a beginner's course in Spanish in a month, and I still work full-time and write my book in my spare time. Therefore, I think the most realistic promise would be a post a month.

(Please deposit the fucks you give in the comment section.)

So...

Before I get to the topic of this post, a side note: remember my official complaint to NatWest? (If you don't, you can just scroll down a bit. It's hard to miss.) Last week I found out that I've received £210 in compensation for the service I was provided with, which the bank itself conceded was "well below the standards" any customers should expect. Suffice to say, I'm incredibly happy about it. See, people! Complaining does pay!

(One of the top results when you google "Complaining pays".
Your guess is as good as mine.)

Now, the actual topic. 


I'm assuming that none of you live in a cave or under a rock, and you have thus noticed a few articles like this surfacing the web. On the off-chance that internet reception is good enough for my blog in caves, however, the gist is this: some guy in Miami took a drug called "bath salt", then he proceeded to strip naked and attack a homeless man by chewing his face off. After that, this being the era of sensational journalism, a few more articles surfaced, covering similar cases of zombie-like behaviours.

The situation must've been pretty bad, since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency in the US, felt the need to make a statement, clarifying to the public that there is no such thing as a "zombie".

(And I got all excited for nothing.)

I will not focus on the case of the zombie man himself and his victim. I saw the pictures, and they weren't nice. In fact, if you're on a diet, I'd say seeking them would be a smart way of making sure you don't break your no-food rules. (I'm not linking to them. Seek them yourself. The Sun published them on their website.) And it's not my intention to make fun of a person who'll most likely suffer for the rest of his life from now on because someone else just decided to abuse a drug and turn them into a snack.

But I've got to say, for all the news and speculations about a zombie apocalypse brewing across the ocean, I'm slightly disappointed that there's a perfectly reasonable, scientific explanation behind the event. If you ask me, a zombie apocalypse would be just the thing the world needs right now. Here's why:

#1. Most TV Shows Are Boring Right Now.

Community has no Dan Harmon anymore. Misfits originals Simon and Alisha have departed. The entire cast of Being Human has been replaced. It's been about four series since Skins was still watchable. We won't have new Doctor Who episodes before August. The 2011-2012 season in the US has concluded, and it has been a mediocre one, all in all. If you exclude a few popular sensations like Game of Thrones (which I personally only watched twenty minutes of before I grew bored, so I obviously can't judge) or True Blood (which became dull about ten minutes into the pilot and which, for some completely inexplicable reason, just refuses to kill the most irritating TV character ever off), there's not much on TV right now.

(We were all happy for about five seconds there.)

If nothing else, a zombie apocalypse would bring some excitement into our lives. We all know what a gruesome, voyeuristic species we are: that's exactly why we have come up with the concept of zombies, among other things. So what would happen if the zombie apocalypse in the US were real? Well, I don't know about you, but I'd buy a TV so I could watch from the comfort of my safe house in London until the virus somehow crossed over. (At which point I'd run for my life.) And I bet most of you would do the same. I'm sure that the entertainment industry would be delighted: it would be like a reality show taken to the next level.

(Think of the possibilities.)

Of course, that would be assuming that real life would be more creative than the writers of TV shows and films about zombies, which might actually be asking too much, but at least even the shittiest film would be ten times better if all the actors were zombies. Imagine, for example, Twilight, the Zombie Version.


...OK, this one looks the same, but imagine some other film. You get what I mean.

#2. The Financial Crisis.

But there are far more serious reasons to be rooting for a zombie apocalypse. If you've been reading the news, you might've noticed this pesky thing called "the financial crisis" that has been going on for the past three years around the globe. Apparently, it has been making people lose their jobs and commit suicides, and it has driven nations to questionable austerity measures to pay back their loans.

So how would a zombie outbreak help?

It's simple. Everyone's fired! Nobody has a job, and nobody needs money. You don't even have to go through all the trouble of thinking up a way to kill yourself: just get to the zombies and they'll do it for you, free of charge. And if you're hungry, you don't have to browse through the rubbish of other people like a poor person. Just raid a supermarket! All the cool zombie fighters do it.


If nothing else, a zombie apocalypse would put things into perspective. You think it's bad that you work like a dog for £6 per hour in a career that has nothing to do with what you studied? Try fighting off or escaping a horde of zombies while cornered in an alley, then come back and say that.

("You were right, Noel.")

And think about all the marketable skills you will acquire, should you survive the outbreak. Your CV will be spectacular afterwards:

ACHIEVEMENTS AND SKILLS

Computing Skills: Experience in basic Microsoft and Macintosh programmes and word processors, as well as a significant understanding of Internet Explorer, Access, PowerPoint and Excel. 

Willingness to learn: Have consistently showed interest in learning about the responsibilities of my supervisors and managers, e.g. promoting merchandise, handling complaints, chopping heads off zombies.

Self–Motivation: Achieved a 2:1 in my Bachelor’s degree while working for the duration of my studies to fund my Master’s. Killed more than 100 zombies on my own during the Apocalypse Months.


And don't even get me started on the elimination of the competition.

#3. It's 2012.


Cue ominous music.

#4. It's Summer of 2012.

Ominous music intensifies...



Seriously. I would much rather have to deal with a zombie apocalypse than with the Olympics. At least with the zombie apocalypse I wouldn't feel bad about wanting to kick people's faces if they came dangerously close. Also, I wouldn't have to use the tube.

Even if the Olympics still went though, however, a zombie outbreak would make them just about bearable. Imagine getting an annoying tourist customer at work:

*Noel cocks gun, aims at tourist*
Noel: "Oops! Sorry. Thought you were one of 'em walkers."
*tourist skedaddles*
Noel: "Next please!"

...Come to think of it, this is another reason to want a zombie outbreak.


(Can you tell I've been suppressing my need to complain for too long?)

Which brings me to my final, concluding argument...

#5. There's still too many Twilight fans in the world.



And in the words of Bender...


Convinced yet?

Before I conclude, here are some linguistic suggestions for the post-apocalyptic world:


PROPOSED POST-ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE VOCABULARY


undead end: an end of a road or passage from which no exit is possible due to a zombie horde blocking the way

deadlicious: a tasty human

human-eat-human: competitive

The list is a work in progress; you are welcome to add your own. 

22.1.12

Why NatWest Sucks: A Formal Complaint

I recently had a lovely experience with NatWest that I would like to share with you. Instead of following the usual format of my blog, however, this time I will just let the e-mail I sent them speak for itself. The reasons I'm being so public about this are two: (a) because some friends have asked me to read the e-mail I sent, so this is for them, and (b) because I think it's important to just speak up sometimes, when a company (or, in this case, a bank -- that is also obviously a company) treats you with such complete disregard. So, here it is, what I sent to NatWest:

"Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is Noel, and I have been a customer of NatWest since September 2010. Before I begin, I would like to apologise in advance for the length of this letter -- even though I have not yet typed anything, the nature of the complaints I need to do is such that this cannot possibly end up short. I promise to keep it as succinct and calm as possible, although I really want you to understand the level of service NatWest has provided me with in the past year and a half.

The first issue with my account arose in the beginning of last summer, when I visited the branch in Canterbury to inquire about my statements. You see, ever since May 2011, I had stopped receiving my statements at home, even though I had ensured in my online banking account that my preference was "statements via mail" numerous times. The employee was quite understanding, and assured me that I would be receiving statements at home by next month.

One month later, having received no statements, I returned to the bank -- only to be told the same thing as the previous time. "Don't worry, you'll get your statements," they said, and I foolishly believed it. 

In September 2010, I moved from Canterbury to London, so I informed NatWest in Canterbury of my change of address, and -- once again -- asked to make sure that I receive my statements from now on. Promises were made, then promptly broken. 

Fast-forward through the winter, the same ordeal was repeated on a monthly rota in various branches (Plaistow, Stratford Westfield, etc.) like a rerun of a funny (but utterly ridiculous) TV series episode. Then this month, I decided to try my luck with Liverpool Street. Jackpot -- they found what was wrong instantly: apparently, I had been sent a statement at my house in Canterbury in May 2011, which was then returned, so the bank marked my account as "changed address -- no statements", and every single employee I communicated with after that failed to notice. How this is possible, considering that I even changed address between May 2011 and January 2012... well, your guess is as good as mine. One would have thought that the change of address would have removed the "no statements" mark, or that at least one person would have noticed that this was the problem in the eight months of repeated queries, but then one would be assuming that NatWest actually cares about customer service.

Point #2: When I opened my account, I was offered the option to pay a monthly fee of about £7 in exchange for a list of benefits, including but not limited to a 16-25 railcard, mobile phone insurance and emergency cash. I opted for the benefits, but then in September 2011 I graduated from university, moved into a new house, jumped into the role of a bill-paying adult and decided that having access to a website with a surprisingly limited supply of films was not the highest of my priorities, so I visited NatWest Plaistow to cancel the benefits. "No worries," the lady at the counter told me. "It shows me here on the computer that you have a basic account already." Now I do not know what kind of virus the computer had that day, but two weeks later I received an e-mail informing me that my account would automatically be upgraded to Silver, the new version of what I had, apparently. So I went to a different bank, in Stratford Westfield, and the guy I talked to told me that, "yeah, it wouldn't show up on the cashier's computer because that type of account does not exist anymore." And he switched me to basic, just as I had asked two weeks before. I repeat: "It wouldn't show up on the cashier's computer because that type of account does not exist anymore." And I ask: so what?! The type of account does not exist anymore so the system automatically misinforms the cashier, and then the cashier misinforms the customer?

Anyway, that was solved as well, so I reckoned it was just another glitch. Now where my parents come from, people say: "one issue is a coincidence, two issues is a pattern." But I do not need to teach you sayings from foreign countries, because English has a nice expression as well: "third time's the charm." And behold, the charm:

Three days ago I was at a pub, and I tried to pay my drinks with my card. Unfortunately, the card machine said: "Not applicable." Figuring it was just a problem with the card machine, I paid with cash. Then the next day, I tried again at a different pub; the same problem arose. Having run out of cash, I ran to the nearest cashpoint -- only to discover that apparently, my card had been cancelled. Now that happened yesterday which, as you know (assuming people at NatWest know the days of the week, which might actually be asking too much), was a Friday. Since I was working this morning, I had to go to the bank in Stratford Westfield when they opened to sort it out.

The lady who talked to me was very kind. Only slightly apologetic, but then again it was not her fault. As she informed me, there was "no just reason" for cancelling my card. "These things happen sometimes," she said. "This is just NatWest's latest attempt at getting me to switch banks," I said. She ignored the comment; I guess I made her feel uncomfortable. I had this whole speech prepared for the person I would see; I would say: "Look, I know it's not your fault, and the last thing you need is to start your Saturday morning with a crazy twenty-something-year-old yelling at you, but you need to understand what your bank has put me through in the last year. If this is the type of service NatWest provides, if this is the best you can do, I need to know now so I can switch to a different bank that will take me and my needs more seriously." I did not say it, after all. All I did was ask: "Why?" It is a perfectly good question, I think. And you need to answer it to me. Why should it take eight months for someone to notice the reason I was not receiving my statements? Why should the cashier not be able to see that I had the old type of account? Why should my card get cancelled out of the blue for no just reason? Why should NatWest's customer service be so shoddy, poor and dysfunctional?

Before I hit "send", I would like to clarify that every single person I ever spoke to was kind, smiling and compliant. Some --like the lady who finally noticed the "no statements" mark, or the guy who switched my account from silver to current-- were even helpful. But even though nobody has ever disrespected me actively in any branch or not tried to assist me, I cannot help but feel utterly disrespected by the bank as a customer. I will repeat what I was going to say to the lady this morning but did not because she does not need to hear it, but whoever reads these complaints does: is this the best NatWest can do? If so, I need to know so I can cease being a customer.

Again, I apologise for the length of this letter. I understand that I have taken up much of your precious time, but I really needed to explain how terribly I have been treated by NatWest so far. I look forward to your answer.

Kind Regards,

Noel"

I will update when I receive a response to this. Till then, tata. (Unless I get to writing that post I had in mind about love stories that don't suck before that.)


11.1.12

Five Small Things You Do as a Customer That Make You Suck

Happy new year! It's been a while, hasn't it? I reckon it has, and it's about time I shared my new year's resolutions with you, among which was to change this blog's mission statement into something less negative and more jubilant, less about counting all the ways in which the world sucks and more about noticing the beauty in all the little --


Sorry, I couldn't even keep a straight face long enough to type this. Nope, I'm here to bitch again.

Well, not bitch. Give a lecture, perhaps? Or just be a self-righteous asshole? I dunno.

A while ago I mentioned that I got a temporary job in customer service, which would also explain the significant decrease in post quantity after that. It had been an entire year since I'd had a casual job that involved interacting with customers so the cultural shock that followed my return to the sector was quite strong. In a way, this has diminished now -- I'm used to the daily process of putting on a facade, jumping into "don't give a fuck" mode and pressing the internal button that makes you smile no matter what is being said. Nevertheless, there are certain things that still manage to annoy me, and I'm not the only one. If you have ever worked in customer service, you will recognise some of your minor (and major) annoyances in this post. If you haven't, you are likely to discover that small things you do without thinking twice about them make you a terrible customer. Without further ado, here are five small things customers do that make them suck.

#1. You place your money on the counter.

You're at the shop, and you've just picked up what you want to buy. So you take it to the cash register all excited about your new purchase, you hand it to the cashier, look at the little screen on the till that announces the amount of money you're expected to pay in order to become the legal possessor of the item, and the cashier extends their open palm for you to place said amount of money.

Then you place the money on the counter.

...


What you think your move means: "There you go."

What your move really means: "Oh, you silly cashier! Do you really think I'm going to put the money in your filthy palm? You're so beneath me that I refuse to accidentally touch your hand by placing the money on it. Instead, I will purposefully inconvenience you by dropping the money on the counter under your hand. That'll teach you a lesson for thinking we're equals."


Seriously, what makes people consciously ignore your open palm and go for the counter instead? Are there so many germaphobes out there? Or does everybody just not like touching strangers? (Both are perfectly valid arguments, but they still do not excuse rudeness. Just drop the money on the palm without actually touching the palm; it's not rocket science.)

#2. You enter the shop 30 to 5 minutes before closing time. (And forget to go away.)

It's been a rough week, so you decide to treat yourself to a new pair of jeans. Unfortunately, shops close at 9PM, and it's 8.45. No worries! Just run to your favourite shop right now; the doors are still open, that means you're welcome to take your time, right?

Alternatively: You're out with a friend, and you're walking around town looking for a place to go. It's too early to go to a pub (because you're the kind of people who actually believe there exists a "too early" for pubs), but you've got just about 30 minutes that you can spend in a nearby cafe before it closes. So you do just that. Then right when you're told you have to go because they're closing, you remember you need to use the bathroom as well.

...


What you think your move means: "Great! Made it just in time!"

What your move actually means: "Great! Made it just in time to make sure that the people who work here, who probably get paid minimum wage, will work extra time which they will most likely not be paid for so I can buy something I could've bought just as easily tomorrow/have a quick cup of coffee I will probably not even manage to enjoy because it's so quick! I am so proud of myself and my douchebaggery that makes me think about nothing but my own convenience. That's the spirit of capitalism, baby."

(What you deserve. Endless loop included.)

Dear customers of the world, remember: next time you're out and about to enter a shop or a store at the late hours of the day, just ask when they're closing. If your ass is still in there after the 30-minutes-to-go mark, be aware that you will exit with a heavy bundle of negative energy on your shoulders. And nobody likes that.

#3. You try to get rid of your change. (During peak hours.)


Back to the till. You've waited in the queue for a bit, so you've had enough time to think about what you want (hopefully), and now you've ordered it and it's your turn to pay. So you open your wallet, smile at the cashier, look at the coin pocket and exclaim: "Oh dear, that's a lot of change! Mind if I pay with coins?"

"No, ma'am," the cashier responds. (It's usually middle-aged women that do this, hence the stereotyping 'ma'am'.)

Then you empty the pocket. On the counter. And count. Slowly.

("£10.40, you said? 10p... 20p... 40p... 41p...")

What you think your move means: "Finally, time to get rid of all this change!"

What your move actually means: "Finally, time to waste everybody's time by counting all the coins I have on me while there are about fifteen people behind me on the queue waiting to pay at the same till as I! The world definitely revolves around me."


I get it. Everybody hates coins. They're heavy, they're bulky and they're inconvenient unless you're trying to pay your fare at the bus after you've realised your Oyster card is empty. This is why credit and debit cards are insanely popular, and people (myself included) use them for transactions as small as £1-2. But don't you think that if you want to get rid of your coins, you should do it at a shop that's empty? Why should you actively seek bad energy by making so many people hate you? We already established it, bad energy sucks.

#4. You start to order, and then you proceed to talk on the phone.

You've entered the shop, you've started your order, and then you remember that your girlfriend would like to eat as well. Or that your mum told you to call her to let her know that you got food. Or that your flatmate wants to know if he should order pizza for tonight or not. Or that your toilet bowl needs to know what to expect later today. So you grab your phone from your pocket, call whomever you need to call and you spend the next ten minutes discussing. Then you get to the cash register, and (a) change your mind about what you've ordered so far because your girlfriend/mum/flatmate/toilet disagrees, or (b) ask that the barista remakes your coffee 'cause it's probably cold by now.

...

Congratulations, you're an asshole!

(You.)

For added asshole points, do all this during peak hour. Or ask for something that will go to waste if you don't buy it, e.g. a toasted sandwich (that has already been toasted by the time you change your mind).

#5. You respond to 'hi' with 'just looking'.


You enter the shop. Not even five seconds go by and a member of staff has already noticed you and, like a vulture, they've walked towards you and said 'hi'. How do they expect you to have decided what you want already? You only just walked here!

("Leave me alone, I dunno what I want yet!")

Of course, the only logical reactions are either to let them know that you're not ready yet or to completely ignore them until you are, because neither of those are rude.

...


Newsflash: Most companies instruct their employees to acknowledge a customer's presence within 5 seconds. Employees don't give a fuck if you're ready to order or not, or if you're just looking and don't need their help yet. Look it up in the dictionary: "hi" is a greeting, and the only response it requires is the same or a similar form of greeting. A simple "hi" followed by looking away is all the employee needs to realise you don't need them just yet. They're humans, you know. They can read social situations. Stating the obvious makes you look like you're an idiot.

Also, bad energy. Just...


Aaaaaaaanyway, happy new year again. I promise that my next post will be less negative.

...