Service Culture

I have heard multiple times that outside of the United States there isn’t the same “service culture” we are accustomed to. When we initially heard this it’s easy to assume it is a basic as the difference in service when you go to a restaurant or coffee shop. There isn’t the expectation that a tip will be given and there isn’t the same level of service from the waiters. Back home it seems someone is checking on you every 5 minutes, if you’re at a big chain restaurant your soda is probably refilled before you even finish the first one (oh Red Robin I never knew I’d miss you). Here you get your menu and wait for someone to take your order, once your food and drink arrive you are on your own until you’re ready for the bill. Constant checking in to see if you need a refill, not going to happen. This can actually be good and bad. You aren’t being constantly sold on the dessert or another drink; it’s nice not to constantly have to tell someone “no we’re fine thank you”. On the other hand if you are in a hurry you will be waving the water down for your bill and then to have them take your money etc.  So yes it’s true the service standards are different.
Now living here I have started to realize exactly how much “service” or convenience we really do have in the States and how different things truly are. There are the little things, at the grocery store you not only don’t have your items bagged for you but you get an annoyed look from the teller if you are taking too long. Forget being able to shop at any time, most retailers close by 6:00 and if you do need help you have to hunt down an employee for assistance. The people aren’t rude or unfriendly you just aren’t catered to in the same way we would expect back home.
Today I got the first pedicure I’ve had since moving here. There aren’t nail shops all over where you can stop in for a quick pedicure without an appointment. I had to make an appointment at a spa and even then I think the $20 ones are actually a little better. As I was there I realized that you don’t hear as much about waxing, the aesthetician said women just don’t seem to get as many indulgent treatments on a regular basis. I also have not yet met a Mom who has someone clean her house. You don’t see cleaning vans driving around, no Molly Maids or similar services. I was having coffee with a Mom and asked her so what do you do to treat yourself? She looked at me in confusion and said “you don’t”.
Now some of this might be the difference between one income and two income households. Even in Seattle if I didn’t work I don’t think I could justify having Concepcion continue to come to the house, but man do I miss her sometimesJ. Also, if we lived in central London and I was asking single women I’m sure brow waxes and pedicures would be much more common than the Friday Mom’s coffee group surrounded by toddler and babies.
I’ve realized that the downside to all of this convenience is the speed at which money can be spent without even trying. I could swing through my drive thru Starbuck on my way to meet a girlfriend for a pedicure after work and even stop at Target for that one thing I sort of needed. It’s all so easy and so fast and can be so expensive. I’ve learned that you have to really want to spend money here. On Sunday Jamie and I took the kids to Café Nero, a coffee shop, in a neighbouring village to have coffees and Kellen got a treat. There are no parking lots, instead you park or take a bus and then walk around the village getting any errands done at the same time. This also means that we actually sat there and had a coffee together and enjoyed the time just sitting. Not driving thru on our way to Target.
We have gotten very used to saying the things here are different, not better or worse but just different. Like all the other things that are different the lack of convenience has actually turned out to be good and bad. On a Sunday afternoon everything is closed so you have to sit back and relax, but the downside is you better not plan on accomplishing anything on Sunday because everything is closed. I really enjoyed getting a pedicure today, I probably won’t get another one as soon as I’d like and I miss the cheap little place down the street from my house that will take you even if you get there at 7:00. But I’ll also enjoy spending my £25 on something a little more important.
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