July 08, 2009

Perfect Strangers

We're on holiday in France and earlier this week our neighbour spotted the tennis racquets we'd picked up for the kids and invited me to join him for a game at the nearby courts. Now, I'm no tennis-player, and thankfully what he had in mind was more of a knockabout than a real match of any sort.

We've spent the last few evenings sending the balls back and forth across the net in mostly companiable silence. We break it occasionally to congratulate when one of us hits an elegant or well-placed shot although those moments are rare and for the most part the game is played silently and in the slow-motion prompted by late afternoon heat (and not, of course, by advancing age). Nobody keeps score and that seems to suit both of us just fine although we didn’t come to any formal arrangement about it.

We did exchange names on the second evening but that’s as much as I know about my neighbour. His children have struck up friendships with mine and could probably tell me more about my new friend but I’m not especially curious. There’s something very relaxing about our impromptu game; if one of us spots the other on the terrace, we gesture towards the court and off we go. We play for an hour or so before one of us calls time, or is called for dinner. Even then, we don’t rush off but play a few last rounds just for the fun of it.

No appointments, no commitment. Perhaps it’s down in part to our limited grasp of one another’s language but I think it’s more about the lightness of a very loose and friendly, no-strings arrangement in a world that’s often very heavy on schedules, contracts and the synchronizing of watches.

Maybe as brand-owners too we can get too caught up on the idea of lifetime loyalties when sometimes our customers are simply looking for a light and friendly exchange of goods or services. Of course, it’s not just the game with my neighbour that works on an informal basis here on holidays. There’s something very refreshing about strolling down to the bakery for bread in the morning and being greeted with a friendly smile by someone I may never see again or haggling harmlessly with a street-vendor over some seaside trinket.

It seems to me as I bask here in the warm holiday glow that sometimes back at the brand-factory we’re too concerned with customer relationship management and elaborate loyalty schemes at the expense of a simple, uncomplicated and smiling exchange with an easy-come and easy-go customer.

For the next few weeks at least, I'm happy to enjoy the perfection of strangers.


Kevo said...

Get back to work you lazy bastard

Emer said...

Ca va, copain!

Beir bua,a mhic!

Bonnes vacances!


Anonymous said...

Conor Tannam wrote at Facebook:

Well written, simple and yet poignant. As a student of language and the written word I'm impressed Ger. A story that one rarely hears in the current climate, the emphasis all too often being on economic woes.Refreshing to read a positive message online.

(Ref: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=233827130098&comments=)