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British values and complimentary coffee at Waitrose Supermarket

A bizarre incident happened this week that became an issue of some reflection upon so-called British values and its common virtues.

 Whilst on my usual journey to work in a tiny claustrophobic little village in the heart of Hampshire, that’s famous for something or other during WW2 and has a Conservative members club with a shield of arms; it goes without saying there’s a beautiful river with a tiny bridge where the residents go for pleasant walks, and only one homeless person squatting down the alley behind the Aldi. So very lovely and clean – mostly.

I work as a PT assistant manager for a charity shop, which is the easiest job I’ve ever had, I live with my parents, earn less than 10k and have all but given up trying to get a career or full time anything, as I’ve come to the conclusion that for the majority of people and employers the concept jobs/careers are now represented as  ‘lifestyle choices’, as in ‘what do you want from this’, or ‘what can you bring’. And these are some very complex philosophical questions which require answers besides simply: ‘money to buy stuff, or live somewhere’.


Anyway, that morning I’d made the intelligent decision to stop off at the Waitrose to help myself to a free complimentary coffee before commencing the day’s shift of standing, carrying donations and smiling at people stupidly.

I often shop at Waitrose to buy small things like coffee, beer, pastries, but not as often as Tesco or COOP, because I don’t feel welcome in Waitrose. The staff there, mostly beautiful teenage girls, older women with glasses and retired men from Commonwealth countries, appeared to hesitate slightly before greeting me with their rehearsed smiles, as if I was a little too young or a little too unshaven to be shopping there. Maybe it’s just because I hate shopping in supermarkets and the Tesco staff seem to realise this and get paid less to care.

I’d refilled the cup I’d brought with me from train station (I need atleast two cups of coffee to start my day). Standing by the exit, I was approached by an elderly lady who I’d appeared to have offended somehow. In a clear and polite voice she spoke to me: ‘Excuse me, you do realise that you’re supposed to shop here first and pay for the coffee’. She stared at me blankly, and I felt a flush of anger at this assertion, which was in fact true since I did not possess a Waitrose store card or a Waitrose Styrofoam cup, as I was too lazy to get one and not prepared to buy one, but since  I’d spent money at Waitrose previously, logically I was entitled to as many complimentary coffees as I wanted.

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Frowning, I did my best to give her a look of absolute outrage and indignation, but, still panicking, the situation demanded a rebuttal. ‘I bought this yesterday’ I then said in my most authoritative tone, an explanation that quite clearly made no sense whatsoever. ‘Nonsense, you’re being dishonest!’ She practically spat, her face twisted and wrinkled, and had probably felt more insulted by my feeble lie than the theft of the free coffee.

Awkwardly (or cowardly) but with some grace (briskly?), I turned and walked out, half expecting the woman to come charging after me, wailing and attempting to stop this dreadful act of sedition. I left  without looking back, heart in my throat, adrenal pumping, and wondered to myself why the woman had taken it upon herself to intervene, and then no doubt spoken at length to the security staff (and possibly even the local police) giving them a detailed description of my appearance. Was it my age, beard, beanie hat and jeans that gave me away? I was obviously not a local resident with an average income of 40k.

Why did she care so much and how did she know I didn’t have a storecard, or that I perhaps thoughtfully recycling a cup because I cared about the environment? I would never confront a criminal or accuse someone of stealing in public. So did she really like Waitrose, or just hated anyone who didn’t normally shop there because they can’t afford it? It must’ve been the beard and beanie.

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