Archive for March, 2013

Consulate rage


Went to the British Consulate two days ago to collect Zara’s birth certificate and got a bit annoyed because the outsourced security guards haven’t been taught basic English phrases.

I have no problem with outsourced security guards, but it’s not fair to put them on the gate of the British Consulate without teaching them how to interact with people in clear English.

The Nepali gentlemen who stopped me outside the consulate said ‘what you want?’. I replied that I was there to eat breakfast with the ambassador and was waved along – what is the point of stopping people outside the consulate, who are clearly going to the consulate, grunting at them to ask where they are going and then waving them on whatever response they give?

The African lady at the security counter, where I needed to sign in, kept telling me ‘you have come forward’. I had no idea what she meant. It turns out she was asking ‘you have come for what’.

I had come to visit the consulate.

I wasn’t being intentionally difficult. I have nothing against outsourced security personnel from G4S from other countries working at the British Embassy.

I just think it’s unfair to place them at the entrance of a British diplomatic establishment and not train them to communicate in the language of that establishment. It makes life hard for them and for visitors and it makes a terrible impression.

When I got to the waiting room it was packed, so I decided to come back another day and make sure I got there at 0800 sharp, when it’s collections only.

I arrived this morning to be told by the security guard that the consulate is shut all day ‘for a training course’. A small A4 piece of paper in a window informed visitors of this fact – no doubt it was there when I visited two days ago, but the sign is completely out of sight.

Closed for a whole day? No forewarning? No possibility of splitting the training course over two days and running a shift to cover the essential services people are relying on? Apparently not.

Perhaps there is some info on the website? No, there isn’t. Just a ‘mission statement’ that appears to have been written by the security guards –

‘We also help British citizens in the UAE and to Emiratis and expatriates living in the UAE wishing to travel and do business with the United Kingdom.’

What illiterate idiot wrote this and then published it on the website of the British Embassy?

The lady who processed the birth certificate application earlier this month was pleasant and efficient, but also morbidly obese, with ears covered in piercings and dressed extremely casually.

This all makes me irritated. A bit of effort would make a much better impression.

I am cross today.

A masterful response


Navigating cultural beliefs, religions, sensitivities, etc, can be tough.

I love this –

‘While I cannot definitively speak about the existence or nonexistence of black magic…’

The article.

The Oaf be gone


After I posted this, my father dropped a line to Heathrow customer services.

Below is the reply. May The Oaf be banned for ever more.

Let’s see what happens. Come the summer, I expect the guys to have, at the very least, spat out their gum and ironed their uniforms. The benchmark should be Dubai Airport staff, who always look great.

“Dear Mr Saul,

Thank you for getting in touch with us about the state of our security officers at Terminal 3.

We do expect all our staff to look professional, clean and smart at all times.

It was extremely useful to receive your feedback which I have passed on to the manager at the terminal. We will use your comments as a prompt to remind all staff of the importance of how they present themselves.

Once again I am sorry you both picked up on this. We always welcome and appreciate any comments which help us to improve our service, so thank you again for getting in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Katie Locke
Passenger Communications Advisor / Heathrow”

The Starbucks tax mystifying conundrum and UK tax obviousness


These are the questions I’ve been asking myself during during the recent UK press furore about taxation, Starbucks and Amazon, etc.

– Starbucks and Amazon are obeying the law – is this not obvious? It’s EU law that has to be changed. How many campaigning journalists pay more tax than they are obliged to?

– Costas were lauded, as were John Lewis, for paying lots of tax in the UK. Why did they do this? Surely they would have been better off doing what their competition did? So why didn’t they? If I were the CEO, I’d be saying to the CFO, ‘thanks for helping us avoid the bad PR, but how come we paid so much in the first place?’

– I find it suspicious that Starbucks claim to have made a loss for so long in the UK. No US, shareholder driven, ‘we pretend to love our customers but we are actually a brutal US corporation driven by quarterly numbers’ would put up with these figures. I’ve not seen an explanation for this, the conclusion one naturally draws is less than positive…

Most importantly –

– Why does anyone go to Starbucks or Costas or any of these places, to buy takeaway drinks anyway? I can understand why you would visit a cafe, sit down and enjoy the ambience, while away the time or drink something you really couldn’t get elsewhere. I can’t understand why you would pay a fortune to buy tea or coffee ‘to go’. If you really liked tea or coffee and were not a millionaire, surely you would make it at home or at the office and use better ingredients you’d like for a fiftieth of the price? It’s the equivalent of popping to your local pub every night to buy a tot of premium whisky and walking home with it instead of keeping a bottle on the sideboard and enjoying it in your living room, at your own convenience for nowhere near the same price. It’s idiotic.

On a side note –

– Can the government please make it easy to contribute to National Insurance if you are an expat? There are hundred of thousands of non-resident Brits who would happily pay into their ‘pot’ if it were not a bureaucratic nightmare. I have a National Insurance number. Let me pay into it. Without having to write to HMRC for a letter telling me how much I have paid, then call them back telling them how much I have paid, then providing more info they already have on who I worked for and how much I paid, after which they present me with a baffling array of options with no explanation of how I can pay or what I get back.

Stop whingeing about tax avoidance when there are plenty of people who would probably contribute if you made it easy!

– Can the government provide a simple scheme for expats where people voluntarily pay ‘tax’? Hire someone who gets people to donate to charity and stir up some patriotism. There are 100,000+ expats in Dubai. Get us all to pay ten quid a month and get twelve million a year out of us. Most of us pay more than that to charity muggers who grabbed us on Oxford St ten years ago and whose direct debit we’ve forgotten about.

– When I had no money and lived in England, I resented paying the BBC licence fee. I was an idiot. Let me pay it by direct debit now, from abroad and charge me extra and give me ‘iPlayer Abroad’. Give me a way to access the BBC, legally and pay for it.

Stop whingeing, stop being insular and start being creative. And stop blaming businesses that employ thousands of people for following the rules they were given to follow.

God bless technology


I think Zara has more photos of her from the first four weeks of her life than I do of the first 28 years of mine (at which point I got my first digital camera).

The quality of pictures from Mrs Saul’s iPhone stuns me.


Where Every Day is Special


During idle moments, I often find myself chuckling at the reviews of certain hotels in Dubai and Bahrain in TripAdvisor.

The hotel websites are also often unintentionally hilarious – and appear to date from 1997.

This is a classic example – surely the best ever image to grace a marketing publication?