Monday, 17 August 2009

Oh, to be in England

I`m in England for the summer hols. Actually I`ve been here a couple of weeks already but it has taken me that long to recover from the journey. Not the flight but the train trip from London Liverpool Street to Norwich. The rail staff at `One` which is the company which runs the trains along that line were on strike so there were only 3 trains in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.

I am always amazed when my students return from homestays or summer courses in the UK and enthuse about it. When I ask them to explain they say it`s all just so historical. "Like when we went to the toilet you had to pull chains to make it flush!!" and "The trains are just like in Harry Potter! You have to open and close the doors yourself!" and "Everybody`s really snotty like Snape!" What I consider to be the worst aspects of British society and behaviour, they think is a manufactured tourist experience. It`s only those who stay long-term who come to realise that Chavs aren`t people going to a fancy dress party.

Another cultural point that occurred to me on the train journey, was the difference in attitudes towards the recession. Here in England, the companies` reaction is to raise prices and the employees` response is to strike for higher wages. It`s all about maintaining short-term profits. In Japan, companies are more likely to lower prices and hold "Thanks" sales (to thank customers for their continued patronage). Their idea is to keep their customers` loyalty during the lean period and then put their prices back up when the economy recovers. And Japanese workers have been taking short-term pay cuts or losing their bi-annual bonuses on the understanding that the company will make recompense when sales recover. This idea is a long-term strategy to forgo short-term profits so that they will still be in business when the economy recovers AND maintain a loyal customer base. It`s an idea that `One` should think about adopting to thank rail passengers for all the inconvenience they have caused. A `Thanks for bearing with us` sale of cheap tickets or commuter card discounts. Otherwise `One` is going to represent the number of passengers they will be left with.