Jayne Dawson: Stop talking to me – I know you are not my real friend

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What do you think of the new level of corporate friendliness? Don’t know what I’m talking about? Think about it, I bet you’ll find that you do.

It’s the friendliness that goes that bit further, tips over from polite into something ...well what you call it depends on what you think of it.

I like politeness, helpfulness and a bit of human warmth in any transaction, but then, who doesn’t?

No one is going to say: “I wish that shop assistant had been a bit colder and more distant” just like no-one is ever going to say: “I wish I had spent more time in the office” though I imagine there will be plenty who secretly think that, because you know where you are in an office, don’t you? It might be unpleasant at times, but it’s mostly predictable, unlike life.

The way corporate friendliness has been taken to the next level wasn’t predictable, though. At times it can be quite startling.

Let me give you an example. At the supermarket, should I be using a checkout which offers human help, I am used to the occasional comment about my choice of product.

I don’t mind. I find it humanises the whole business to pass the odd remark about the loveliness of the bread rolls and such. I leave the supermarket feeling like I have dealt with a person and not a vast corporation hell-bent on making massive profit out of me. Which means their little small-talk trick has succeeded. I know that, but it’s fine.

What did come as a surprise was my supermarket encounter days ago when the young male cashier looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then declared: “I like the way your hair matches all your clothes.”

Yes, that’s right. I was dressed head-to-toe in battleship grey. Kidding! It was more of a drab beige ensemble.

He took me aback but I thanked him - what else to do - and carried on stuffing groceries into my carrier bags.

Afterwards it made me laugh. For quite a long time. I felt for that poor young man who, fresh off a training course and faced with a middle-aged woman with whom he had nothing in common, had racked his brains swiftly and desperately, and finally, from somewhere, had dredged up the topic of colour coordination.

He isn’t the only one. I have been questioned about my plans for the rest of the day several times; at the bank I have been asked if I intended to do anything nice with the cash I was withdrawing.

And here’s one you won’t believe. When my husband’s computer blew up at work, the IT repair man asked if he was planning anything good for the weekend. Yes! An IT worker attempting friendliness!

The thing is, I don’t like it. And I’ve asked and no-one I know likes it. I know these poor people are only doing what they have been told to do, but still.

My usual tactic is to stick a smile in place and say something on the lines of “nothing much”. I think most women do that. The ones who are blunter, they are usually men.

But it shouldn’t be happening. You front line workers out there, you are not my friend. I know that and you know that. You don’t care about my plans for the weekend, and I don’t want to divulge them to you, even if I can remember what they are, at that moment, surrounded by cartons of milk and tins of beans.

I want to say: “Lead me to your manager, I want to tell him that questions like that are inappropriately personal and you shouldn’t be forced to ask them”. But I don’t.

I want to say: “We have nothing in common except our transaction, so let’s both be helpful, cordial and polite but let’s just stick to that. But I don’t.

But I should.

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Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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