On Irish and American Customer Service

My Irish friend Sarah recently wrote a post about a trip to the USA, and the stark difference between customer service in Ireland and stateside:

In Ireland, no matter what shop you go into, the main purpose of the assistants is to make clear that you needn’t think you are any better than them just because they are on the other side of the counter. Refusal to make eye contact, flinging change on the counter (or managing to put it in your hand without looking at you which takes considerable effort) grumpily announcing that all sizes are on display and consciously avoiding one’s attempt to attract attention.

The Irish folks in the comment thread unilaterally agree. All of my Irish friends would regularly complain about the service in Ireland. They sometimes found the service in North America a little ingenuine, but they preferred too much help to not enough.

There’s tangible evidence of this attitude implicit in the way Irish clerks greet you in many shops. They say “are you okay, there?” I never really knew what the correct answer to that question was. If I needed assistance, I think I was supposed to say “no”, as in “I’m not okay, I need your help finding hot pants”, or whatever.

The subtext of “are you okay, there?” is, of course, “do I actually have to deign to do my job and help you?”

I asked several Irish people why there’s such a lousy attitude in the service industry. Nobody gave me a satisfactory answer.


  1. LOL – my second day in ireland, i went to a sandwich shop and the woman behind the counter asked me “Are you ok?” and I said “Yes.”

    What else was I supposed to say? She gave me a funny look and turned away. It was only then that I realized what it meant.

  2. Rubbish Darren. The Irish have a fantastic attitute to giving good service. They just aren’t as superficial and ingenuine as their North American counterparts.

  3. Brian: Well, there’s at least a half dozen Irish folks on Sarah’s blog that agree with me. And I certainly could cite another ten Irish people with whom I’ve had conversations on customer service, and they’ve agreed that US service superior.

    That’s all anecdotal, of course, but I’m not sure there’s any empirical comparative evidence out there.

  4. Darren: Fair point. Mind you, many irish people, will assert that every other country has better this, that and the other, than their own country ( and thety’re often right). But those same people wouldn’t dream of living in another country, despite their moaning.

  5. Always fascinating. It reminds me of how I read in a couple places before going to the Philippines that service, especially to foreigners, can be persistent, sometimes even intrusive, but always polite, and that’s exactly what I found when I got there. It also fits with the personalities of the Filipinos I know.

  6. I used to work in a retail shop in Gastown and I remember coming up to one fellow to offer him help. He went as fetal as it is possible to do without actually falling over and said, “I’m from New Zealand. We don’t have shop assistants like you there. Just leave me alone.” And all I’d said was Hi! He spent two hundred bucks on t-shirts, I think because he felt guilty.

    Also: why do you buy your hot pants in Ireland? Everyone knows that you should get them in Italy.

  7. Hi Raincoaster
    Not sure about your man claiming to be from NZ. I am an ex-pat Scot living in NZ – have been there 10 years and have seen many, many shop assistants. Did he have a French accent and was he clutching a replica World Cup?

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