Monday, 21 March 2011

An uncomfortable free drink

A funny thing happened the other day on the way into work. When I went to pay for my coffee the person behind the counter (who I think is the manager) basically said it was on the house. Or rather, what they actually said was 'I'll buy it for you'.

I assume this was a kind of loyalty reward, as I go in this particular place (which is one of the chains) quite a lot. So presumably it's meant as a 'thank you, regular customer'. Or, if you're more cynical, it could be an attempt to at triggering a feeling of reciprocity.

The thing is, it actually made be feel a bit uncomfortable, especially the way it was described. I know the 'rules' of buying a coffee, and who is supposed to do what. But this experience subverted them. The person I buy the coffee from said that they were buying the coffee. So I ended up with a 'gift' rather than a 'purchase'. I don't know if my uneasiness was a sense of disenfranchisement (at least if I do the buying I am in charge), or just because the structure of the interaction was different to what I expected and the roles played unclear. In a way it doesn't reflect well on me, because it seems I would have rather the employee behind the counter had played the role of 'employee behind the counter' properly rather than attempting to behave like some sort of real person.

Nonetheless if it was meant to make me want to go back it definitely didn't work. I felt a bit like someone sitting in the front row of a comedy show realising that the comic on stage does audience interaction. And that, obviously, is one of the most terrifying experiences possible.

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