English people do complain, despite the stereotype. But on the whole we do it once our restraint can hold back the tide of frustration and annoyance no longer, and all of our complaint is released in a puff of furious air at ‘the final straw’ – usually something much less notable than the first thing that began to grate on our nerves.
Hence shouting at train conductors, bus drivers, post men, anyone with a modicum of authority but a totally indirect and unresponsible relationship to the source of our anger. Well, that’s what it’s like for me, at least.
Complaining, though, isn’t about blowing your top. It’s about calmly and confidently explaining your disappointment to someone, with an expectation – but not a red-faced demand – that they do something about it.
This weekend I was in Bristol. While my girlfriend attended a conference I checked into the wonderful hotel I’d booked for us, hoping it would make a somewhat tense weekend less of a stress. I’d requested an early check in, but the desk didn’t think that would be possible. Doesn’t matter, I thought, it’s beautiful outside. I’ll go read.
Three hours later the room still wasn’t ready, so I pressed to see what could be done. “Oh, no, wait sir, something has just become available,” I was told. Brilliant. Except, bollocks, because the room I’d effectively forced upon myself (not, bear in mind, the room I would have otherwise stayed in) was internal facing. The view was less a, well, view and more an oppressive and claustrophobic close-up of a courtyard roof.
I couldn’t get pissed off, after all, since I’d requested another room so as to check in early. But I wasn’t happy with the place, and there’s no chance it’d help Gf relax and destress from her work. And yet having already made a demand, I felt terribly unable to begin making further demands.
Man up, I thought. You’re not making a demand, you’re just making a complaint. I’m not happy with the room, and that’s it – if it comes to anything, well, great. Far better than following the English pessimism of not complaining because “it’ll do no good”. I was going to just call up, casual like, and tell them I wasn’t happy.
15 minutes later and I was moved to a room with a fantastic view right over the water. There was no arguing, no shouting, no demanding. Just an honest complaint, and a really helpful person on the phone trying to do what she could for me. After all, I’d paid, hadn’t I? If I wasn’t happy I ought to say something, otherwise I’d be the fool.
Sadly, commenting the next morning during check-out that some cupboard handles were a bit loose, the TV didn’t work and we only got one robe didn’t result in us getting a discount. Still, worth a shot, eh?