Sunday, November 07, 2010

A small personal note on customer service in Australia and Britain

A Sunday morning reflection

I have spent time in England on three occasions -- including a Sabbatical year. There are a lot of similarities between England and Australia (the constant flow of English immigrants to Australia helps ensure that) but I noted one major difference: How customers are treated in shops, cafes and the like.

I am always pleased by the almost universal cheerful and friendly service I get in such establishments in Australia but in England customers tend to be treated like a bad smell. Just getting staff to recognize your presence is not always easy. Hence the old tradition of the "floor walker" -- immortalized in the TV comedy series "Are you being served".

Fortunately, however, most small businesses in England (particularly London) have now been taken over by people from the Indian subcontinent -- and all it usually takes to get good service from them is a smile.

But how did the English become such unhappy people? It seems to go back to a sense of entitlement. They mostly seem to think that they should not have to work at all -- and routine work in particular is greatly disliked. And the millions of Brits who have never worked and live on welfare payments is some testimony to that. "Pommy bludgers" are also a byword in Australia: Australians who see much of the English almost always end up seeing them as being in general work-shy.

So whence the sense of entitlement behind all that? It seems to be partly the result of official British propaganda, which the English are very good at. They are very good at trumpeting their own virtues in particular -- sometimes in an understated way but propaganda can be all the more effective for that. Even Hitler admired British wartime propaganda -- and he knew more than a little about that subject.

British government propaganda these days is nowhere as jingoistic as it once was but memories of empire persist and Britons almost universally believe that Britain saved the world from Hitler. The fact that over 80% of German wartime military casualties were on the Eastern front is rarely mentioned. It was Russia that defeated Hitler.

But perhaps the biggest source of the sense of entitlement is the welfare State. Since 1945 Britain has had an extensive and generous system of welfare payments which make work optional. Successive Britain governments have made it clear that Britons are ENTITLED to support from the government, come what may. So no wonder that those who do choose to work for whatever reason feel that they should not really have to.

It seems to me that Britons who have some go in them tend to emigrate -- to Australia, Canada, the USA etc. Britons abroad and Britons in Britain sometimes seem like two different races to me -- JR

Australian investors snap up U.S. homes for cost of a car

These very cheap houses will generally be in predominantly black areas and it was the inability of blacks to pay for their accomodation that was central to the big financial meltdown in the first place. One can only wish the best of luck to the investors concerned

MUM-AND-DAD investors are buying bargain-priced houses in the United States for the cost of a new car.

They are cashing in on a combination of a rising Australian dollar and a depressed US property market which has seen recently built five-bedroom houses in cities such as Atlanta, Georgia, selling for as little as $35,000 - or the price of a new Holden Commodore.

They are also avoiding excessive stamp duty costs on buying property in Australia.

More than 200 people attended a seminar about buying US houses at Adelaide's Hilton Hotel last Monday.

The cheap US prices have seen a surge of Australian agents setting up businesses promising to match buyers in Australia with potential US rental properties.

Vincent Selleck, of 888 US Real Estate, based in NSW, said he had seen a "dramatic increase" in inquiries since the Aussie dollar reached parity with the greenback.

With the dollar reaching a 28-year high of $US1.01 on Thursday, Mr Selleck expected interest to continue climbing.

"Investors are now seeing incredible value buying in America where they can get homes that were $300,000 in 2007 for $35,000 with cash (rental) returns between 15 to 25 per cent net after expenses," he said.

He said most Australian investors were buying houses, townhouses and apartments where "the cash price today is a fraction of their former value or cost of replacement" in the expectation of a US economic recovery and appreciating US dollar over the long term.

While the median Adelaide house price hovers around $400,000, houses in the popular tourist destination of Miami are selling for as little as $14,000.

The US property market devaluation came on the back of the sub-prime credit collapse, which sparked the global financial crisis in late 2008.

One South Australian investor to take advantage of the "great investment opportunities" in the US is Sue Wright who, with husband John, is building a property portfolio to fund their retirement savings.

Mrs Wright said "outrageous" land tax and stamp duty costs in SA encouraged the couple to "capitalise on a perfect storm of conditions" and invest in the US, where property taxes were relatively cheap.

Mrs Wright's first experience investing in the US had encouraged her to look at buying more properties, and she attended this week's seminar at the Hilton Hotel by finance advice firm Knowledge Source.

"We started investing in properties in Adelaide in 2001 and have four now but I've never seen such economic conditions in my lifetime and after our superannuation went backwards we thought investing in the US was such a great opportunity," the 60-year-old said.

The Wrights bought a duplex in South West Florida - each semi-detached having a double garage, three bedrooms and two bathrooms - via an internet based real estate company for $US96,000 ($101,000) in March.

They rent it out for a net $12,300 a year.

"We thought we would sit on it for a few months and see how things panned out, and we have had no trouble with the tenants so now we are looking to invest in more properties," said Mrs Wright, who runs a small painting business.


Gillard dismisses Clinton 'tongue slip'

An amusing episode but emblematic of the slight grip that most Americans have on matters outside their own borders

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has downplayed a faux pas from the United States' top diplomat. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused a small stir in Wellington when she accidentally referred to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key as "Prime Minister Rudd".

In the faux pas, Ms Clinton wrongly referred to Ms Gillard's predecessor Kevin Rudd but Australia's incumbent prime minister was unfazed. "Not of any interest or consequence to me, just a slip of the tongue and there we have it," Ms Gillard told the Nine Network today .

Mr Key made light of the incident at the joint news conference last week by referring to "President Hillary Clinton".


Spanking children OK with nearly 90 per cent of Queensladers

ALMOST nine out of 10 Queenslanders support smacking children. The Sunday Mail-Nine News State of Families Survey has revealed that 85 per cent of people agree parents have the right to smack their children, with more than a third in "strong agreement".

The new data comes in the middle of an explosive debate about physical discipline, reignited by comments last week from international singer Pink. "I think parents need to beat the crap outta their kids," she said during an interview. "I think that the whole spanking thing has gotten all PC."

More Queensland men than women support smacking – 50 per cent of men surveyed "strongly agree" that parents have the right to smack their children, significantly higher than females at 33 per cent.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Dr Joe Tucci said he wasn't surprised by the results, but didn't agree with them. "It doesn't surprise me that parents want to keep the perceived right to discipline their kids," he said. "They think they have the right to self-regulate, but smacking is not the answer.

"I'd be happy if 100 per cent of respondents insisted on parents being allowed to discipline their children, discipline is absolutely essential, but not by physical force. "It is impossible to draw a line in the sand to separate smacking and assault. There is much research to highlight that physical punishment can hinder a child's development."

The Queensland law on physical punishment by parents has been labelled a joke. The foundation and many other child welfare groups have lobbied for many years for clearer guidelines.

"The law at the moment is a farce," Dr Tucci said. "Basically it says if I hit someone else's child I will be in more trouble than I would be if I hit my own. Why should my own son or daughter have less rights than any other child?

"Under section 280 of the Queensland Criminal Code school teachers and others in authority have the right to use force with a child. Luckily, bodies like education departments and child welfare agencies have had the sense to override the law by banning such action."

Section 280 states: It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent, or for a schoolteacher or master, to use, by way of correction, discipline, management or control, towards a child or pupil, under the person's care such force as is reasonable under the circumstances.

But as a Queensland Police Service spokesperson said: "Each circumstance is considered on its merit."

Dr Tucci said "reasonable" was open to too much interpretation and shouldn't give parents a loophole in court in serious cases. According to the Commissioner for Children and Young People and Child Guardian Elizabeth Fraser, debate should focus on the best method of discipline from a child development perspective rather than parents' rights to discipline.


Single-sex classes gain momentum as schools opt to segregate

EDUCATION experts say the trend of single-sex classrooms for young students is gaining momentum and works, but the State Government has left the matter up to principals as the debate heats up in primary schools.

Parents at Milton State School are rallying against a proposal to segregate students into gender-specific classes next year – a program that has been on trial in other state schools for some time.

But the State Government keeps no centralised data as to how many schools across the state are trialling the program, nor its success in those schools.

Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg yesterday called on the Government to monitor the scheme more closely and move away from such an "ad hoc" approach.

Education Queensland defended the dearth of centralised data, saying decisions about same-sex classes were best made at a local level.

Single-sex classes are being run at Miami State School on the Gold Coast, Earnshaw State College at Banyo and Victoria Point State School. In all of these schools, parents have the option to keep children in mixed-gender classes.

Victoria Point State School has had single-sex classes for about 10 years. Its principal, Lex Bowden, said same-sex classes consistently achieved better academically. "We also get (fewer) problems with behaviour," he said.

Griffith University education expert Alan Edwards said single-sex classrooms had gained in popularity recently across Australia and the US. "The theory about boys and girls learning differently has gained momentum," he said. He said feedback, generally, was positive.

Miami State School has also had boys-only classes for three years. Next year, principal Anthony Green is considering adding a 4/5 boys-only class.


Green gain from Labor party pain

Arbib, together with Karl Bitar, is held responsible for urging Rudd to make the fatal mistake of his prime ministership. This was Rudd's decision to abandon the fight for an emissions trading system.

That one decision fractured Rudd's personal approval ratings, savaged Labor's share of the vote, demolished Rudd's credibility, and sent half a million disenchanted voters into the waiting arms of Bob Brown and his Greens party. This decision destroyed Rudd.

Arbib stands accused of urging Rudd to abandon his election promise to take the counsel of pragmatic politics, to walk away from "the great moral and economic challenge of our times" because focus groups showed that it would be too hard to fight an election against Tony Abbott's attack that an emissions trading scheme would be "a great big new tax."

A section of the Left sees him as having handed Labor's idealism, its soul, and its progressive voting base, to the Greens.

Gillard has moved back to the Left to embrace climate change, but Brown doesn't think it will work politically for Labor: "They will try to take some of the steam out of the Greens cooker, but they can't do what we can do because they're too tied to vested interests."

Even after moving to act on climate change, even after announcing a more humane approach to refugees, Gillard's government has not won any credit in the polls. But the Greens' share of the vote has continued to gain. Now the Greens are enthused about their prospects at the Victorian and NSW state elections. They hope to win lower house seats in both states.

If Labor continues to stagnate and the Greens continue to build, Labor ultimately will lose its ability to run as a stand-alone party able to govern in its own right.

"We have shown we're not the Democrats," says Brown. "We have broken into the House of Representatives. We have the highest share of the vote for any minor party since World War II. We aren't there to keep the bastards honest" [the famous slogan of the now-defunct Democrats]. "We're there to replace the bastards."


What Happens if you Order a Bacardi Breezer in Outback Australia‏

For the benefit of any American readers: "Poofter" is a derogatory word for a homosexual

1 comment:

Paul said...

Buying a property for a bargain price in the US is only viable if you can afford 24 hour security guards to defend it. I suspect many of these "investors" have misunderstood the depth and intensity of this new depression in the US.

(oh, and "poofter drink". That's funny, and so true. I've always called breezers "tart fuel")