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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Thursday, 13 November 2003

Pret am Anger.

I visited "Pret a Manger" for the first time today; I had a pound or so burning a hole in my pocket, Beth - accountant in chief - had reported that the bank balance was looking fairly healthy, and I had the urge for a croissant.

I ought to make it clear that "middle-class commuter culture" holds little attraction to me - more on that later - it was simply the desire for warm, unhealthy French breakfast product, a curiosity about the quality of the cappuccino (I like to compare the quality of coffee when I'm out with what I can make at home for a fraction of the cost) and the fact that the bus arrived earlier than usual that inspired me to pop in as I wandered down Baker Street.

From the moment I approached the counter I was out of my depth; the woman in front of me asked for a "Tall skinny latte" - whatever one of those happens to be.

The woman who served me greeted me with an unnerving, vacant smile, and a strong accent: "Yes, please?"

WHAT? "Yes, please?" It's not as if I've just asked her if she'd like a custard cream. Why are they saying those words to me? "Yes, please?" It's meaningless. "Can I help you?" is far preferable. Even "What do you want?" makes some sense. I haven't yet formulated the correct response to the phrase "Yes, please?" - I'm undecided between a quizzical look, replying with "No, thank you" and walking away, or, erm, something else. Suggestions are always welcome.

It went downhill from there; another lady piped up with "can I take your order? You pay the other lady." (slightly better than "yes please", anyway.) "OK", I replied - "May I have a cappuccino and a warm croissant, please?"

Her response: "No, I only take the coffee order, you pay the other lady."

"Er, OK. May I have a normal cappuccino, please." She went away to prepare my drink, and I asked the lady to whom I'd first spoken "May I have a warm croissant, plaese?"

Employee: "Pardon?"
Me: "A warm croissant please." Surely that wasn't beyond her abilities?
Employee: "They all are warm." she gesticulated to the perspex display cabinet on the counter, which seemed to have no form of heating associated with it. I didn't want to make a fuss, but I could feel my frustration growing.
Me: "I'm sorry - this is my first time in this shop."
Employee: - (I was treated to a blank, uncomprehending expression.)

I have discovered, having ventured occasionally into a Starbucks for their expensive but enjoyably sticky caramel cappuccino, that making any kind of small-talk is beyond most employees' capabilities. They are probably used to dealing with the self-centred middle class oaf who starts their order with the completely incongruous "Can I get...?" and who has no interest in the human being behind the counter, so conversational English beyond this is probably something they simply don't do very often.

I received my drink - which was uninspiring and fast approaching lukewarm - and the food, which was fresh, but stretched the definition of "warm" to mean "not chilled". Maybe I should have asked for a hot croissant, but that carries its own risks and, I daresay, collection of uncomprehending stares.

If I'm honest, I was prepared to be disappointed with Pret A Manger, but, considering all the propaganda ("We're environmentally conscious, we believe in fair trade, we make all our food on-site and we love our customers") that covers the bags and napkins, and by the time I'd consumed their products, I felt more empty than before I'd entered the shop.

Never again.
(Am I a grumpy old man already?)

Posted by james at November 13, 2003 10:25 AM

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