Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Revealed at Last: TheTrue Nature of Britishness

There's been a lot of discussion about 'Britishness' in recent years - that eminent North Briton Gordon Brown (remember him?) took a suspiciously lively interest in the subject for a while. What is it, the question went, that defines British identity? Various answers were given - all of them pretty nebulous and open to question - but now, I'm happy to report, there is a solid, concrete answer. (It came up on Radio 4 early this morning in a piece about Argos having announced its latest healthy profits.) The one thing that distinguishes us Brits from lesser tribes is this: we are happy to 'shop' at Argos. We and we alone thrill to the 'retail proposition' that is Argos: pay, take a chitty, go and queue at a Generation Game-style conveyor belt till what you bought eventually emerges from the maw of the stockroom. Argos has been a big success in this country and, understandably, the company thought it would be a straightforward proposition to 'roll out' its 'business model' over half the globe - but no, whatever country they tried it in, the answer came back loud and clear: What the...? You're kidding, aren't you? Johnny Foreigner, it seems, just can't see the unique allure of the Argos experience - he doesn't get it. Well, it's his loss... Meanwhile, Britons awake! Assert your national identity - get down to Argos now!


  1. Nige have you gone mad??? Argos is surely our closest link to joyless wartime rationing and those fabled communist department stores with one mouldy carrot on the shelf.

  2. Well quite - I reckon we probably loved rationing too (while moaning about it - that's the British way).

  3. Is it possible its popularity lies in giving you all the opportunity to a utter a stoic "Mustn't complain" in two queues rather than just one?

  4. A friend of mine runs the British operation of a French fashion brand.

    He reckons the biggest difference between the two countries is that in France you just need to display one size of each garment as the shopper will be happy to ask the assistant to bring out their size - or the assistant will be quick to offer to do so.

    In Britain, however, you have to display all the available sizes as the shopper won't ask for a size that isn't on display - and the assistant is unlikely to offer to fetch one. A bare minimum of human contact is preferred by both parties.

    I conclude that Argos works in Britain as you can purchase something from there without having any human contact whatsoever. I can confirm this is the case as I recently bought a kettle there the other week. An entirely human-free experience.

  5. If Argos sold chips while u wait I would be tempted.

  6. Sounds like the old Foyle's system.

    Alas, Foyle's is now just a very large bookshop where one takes books to the till and pays for them, as one does everywhere else. How ordinary.

    (And the staff are just ordinarily unhelpful, rather than spectacularly so as they used to be.)

    But I think Nige (and Gaw too in his deeper analysis) have misidentified the nature of Britishness. It is undoubtedly displayed in this example, but it lies not in any special liking for the retail proposition that is Argos, rather it is a tolerance (even an active appreciation) of idiosyncrasy. Argos is idiosyncratic, so we like it. Simple as that.

  7. Argos is genius: catalogue shopping except you have to go and pick up the stuff yourself, thus removing the key attraction of catalogue shopping.

    In my experience, hardly anyone who remembers rationing isn't nostalgic about it.

  8. Argos is very curious, much like the British. Or vice versa.