Chip shop etiquette


The British do not like to complain.  There seems to be something in our national psyche which makes us prefer to put up with things than to lodge any form of complaint.  If we do speak up, we tend to apologise, no matter how little blame can really be attached to us in any given circumstance – “I’m terribly sorry, but my vegetarian soup has chicken drumsticks in it.”  We love to grumble, whinge, whine and moan amongst ourselves, but actually complaining, engaging with the source of our frustration in any way, well that seems to be beyond us.

I found myself in two situations in fish and chip shops recently which made me think about this strange national characteristic.  On the first occasion, I asked for a plain sausage and a portion of chips.  Come to think of it, I almost always ask for a plain sausage and chips, being a creature of habit.  I was therefore vaguely surprised when a battered sausage appeared, but I chose not to say anything.  My mind merrily started justifying this – I don’t actually dislike battered sausages, they only cost marginally more, and I probably ought to be less predictable.  Any reason not to say anything about it – why complain?  More recently, in a different establishment, I had the usual exchange.  The sausage (plain, this time) and the chips appeared, and the man behind the counter asked “salt and vinegar?”  “Just salt, please,” I replied, as I loathe even the smell of vinegar.  “Just salt?  OK, boss.”  The salt was shaken, but then as fast as lightning, the vinegar came out and the vile acid started to spread across my chips.  Alarmed, I cried “no, just salt!” but the damage was already done.  The man stopped in his tracks, murmured an apology and started to wrap the chips up.  I think I must have gone into full-on panic mode at that moment, and was unable to keep my horror from registering on my face and a further squeak from escaping my lips.  The man looked up at me, and our eyes locked for a while, before he eventually asked whether I wanted a new portion.  I was deeply relieved, and assented.  Of course, in true British fashion, I also proceeded to stammer some sort of apology and found myself nervously laughing about how much I hate vinegar.  I thought it best not to comment on the fact that my new portion was somewhat smaller than the original one had been.  And I couldn’t get out of the shop fast enough.

Isn’t it strange?  I truly cannot stand vinegar at all, but if he hadn’t asked if I wanted a replacement portion, I would probably not have challenged it, and would have walked out of there with a portion of chips which I wouldn’t want to smell, let alone eat.  We really are deeply programmed to avoid confrontation.  And yes, I did feel guilty over the wasted chips, even though it was not my mistake.  I really am exceptionally good at feeling guilty.

    • Trish
    • November 19th, 2010

    Well fish and chip shops can be quite strange places, can’t they? I can remember in one being laughed at by the bloke serving me because I had asked for my fish and chips too politely 🙂

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