YOU’VE just got back from your holidays. What’s the first thing you do? Put the kettle on? Count the bills on the doormat? Or jump on that travel website TripAdvisor and post a review of your hotel, outlining precisely your complaints over the lack of seafood on the all-inclusive buffet and the size of the towels in the bathroom?
If you did, you will be among friends. Even if you didn’t actually write anything yourself, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t check it out to see if anyone else has. It’s always gratifying to find that the nice couple you met from Birmingham shared your views on the squid. We’re all in this together? Complaining certainly gives us something to agree about.
Summer is peak season for what is rapidly becoming our national sport. What with the holidays, the weather and the children on the long break from school, there is plenty to whinge about. Although websites such as TripAdvisor provide the major arenas, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are even more invidious.
Has your day been a good one so far? Nothing much to worry about? If you feel the need to redress the balance, it won’t take long to log onto Facebook and find someone boring on about their weight.
As for Twitter. Never was a medium so suited to misanthropy. The recent trolling outrage was an extreme which represents only the tip of a particularly chilly iceberg. It’s shocking how much bitterness can be squeezed into 140 characters.
It’s not just online though. You hear it at bus stops and in supermarkets. Airport departure lounges are prime spots. It’s a very democratic activity, in all senses. There is something for everyone to have a go at. Whether it’s hotels, restaurants, train delays or the cost of a cup of tea, you will find like-minded souls happy to be unhappy with you.
Instant gratification has a lot to answer for. This, plus a general expectation that life should be perfect, now sends people into whining overdrive. At a music festival, I heard one woman complaining loudly to an official about the queues. Queues? What did she expect? What kind of person goes to a music festival and doesn’t anticipate a queue? Standing in line is as much a part of the experience as nasty toilets and over-priced beer.
It’s the same with those who turn up at the cinema to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster expecting a Zen experience conducted in total silence. I lose patience with these miserable souls, who tut every time someone near them so much as breathes loudly. Why bother going out if you’re not prepared to put up with other people?
I don’t mind other people too much. However, I’m the last person to put up with paying over the odds, shoddy service or rude shop assistants. When all three come together, it provokes a perfect storm of invective, as my mobile phone company found out recently.
As a customer, was I wrong to expect their shop to actually sell things? All I wanted was a spare battery for the phone I pay almost £500 a year to use. However, such a basic item is no longer available “in-store” and requires ordering online. Not much use when you are going on holiday next day to a foreign country. I told the shop assistant that my grandmother could get a spare battery for her wireless easier in 1947. I didn’t even get a blasted battery in the end, but I felt better for having my say.
Afterwards I felt bad for tearing a strip off the hapless lad in the shop. I pondered. Was I right to rant? Does modern life make us complain more? Is so much beyond our control that having a go is the only way to get a bit of power back?
Anyway, I digress. This is the problem with complaining. Start off on a thread and who knows where it will stop. If we’re all at it, all the time, genuine complaints just become part of the general cacophony of carping.
Of course, we should shout up about consumer injustice.
However, before we open our mouths we should think twice. Is that complaint really necessary? Is there is a realistic chance that the act of complaining will result in a satisfactory outcome? Will others benefit from the complaint you have raised? Will speaking up stop you from going outside and punching a wall instead and possibly breaking three fingers? If you can tick all these and still feel justified, go ahead.
If not, remember that always finding fault does no-one any favours. It makes us intolerant, introspective and mildly obsessive. This can’t be a good thing in a nation.
That slogan, “Keep calm and carry on”, seems to have fallen out of fashion recently. May I suggest we adopt another one? “Shut up and stop complaining”.
It will remind us not only that life isn’t meant to be perfect, but that no-one ever died because of a small bath towel.