Saturday, 14 January 2017

Car Wash

Although we haul out the hosepipe and wash the car every now and then, we usually use one of two local hand car-washes. Both are inexpensive and they do a good job. The guys who actually do the washing seem to come from eastern Europe. My language skills are miles away from being able to say exactly where.

Hardly unusual of course, immigrants doing jobs local people don’t want. Maybe other car washes are different, but in ours the guys work hard and do a good job. As I sit there in comfort while the car is washed and waxed I can’t help noticing how unlikely it is that British people would work so hard and be so thorough.

Traditionally one explains this via some kind of economic story as if to sterilise the situation and isolate it from the uncomfortable complexities of human behaviour. To my mind we should also focus on what it is to be British and take into account commonly observed British behaviour. ‘Idle’ is a word that springs to mind. There are others.

Yet the word ‘idle’ doesn’t grab hold of the whole issue. The British predilection for comfortable bumbling means few of us are able to wash cars for a living. It isn’t a job we won’t do, but a job we cannot do. Looking down on the job, peering at it sympathetically through streaming car windows, another story may be unfolding before our eyes.

Too many of us seem to have lost the habit of working hard and well. Not all and perhaps not even most, but too many. Perhaps we'll never have to relearn it at some point in the future, but that seems unlikely.


Sam Vega said...

Lots of interesting issues here. My considered view is that the English haven't lost this ability to work hard and well; we just do it more efficiently, and intermittently. We put enormous effort into getting that top job (or top sexual partner, or status symbol, or project completed). The rest of the time, we don't need to. Because we don't do it so often, and it's not (usually!) done in grimy forecourts, people don't see us doing it. The Eastern Europeans are just the same. Remove the goad of poverty, deportation, and pariah status, and they would start to look for ways to take it easy. When the soapy Pole climbs the greasy pole, so to speak.

A further little anecdote, if I may. Last autumn I needed to get the car clean. I drove to where I remembered seeing a little hand-printed card offering such a service in a warren of back streets and industrial estates. A lapse of attention meant I missed the signed turn, so, cursing, I took the next road instead and tried to navigate my way back to the car-wash company. No need to panic: every third business consisted of toiling immigrants working at cleaning cars while slack-jawed indigenous types gazed on them with what looked like pitying incomprehension. Something's going on, all right...

James Higham said...

Poland? Or have they all gone home?

Clacket said...

I love your thoughtful blog, but this truly is Economics 101.

Tell me it ain’t true…

You have divined the phenomenon about 20 or even innumerable years too late. Flabby fat cats, flattered by nothing more than happenstance, a very recently acquired sense of entitlement and advantageous exchange rates, can’t imagine getting their podgy hands dirty. On the other hand, the skinny kids, pound by little pound, get wealthier. Eventually you will end up washing their cars and in turn get fit or starve, albeit probably noisily and ungraciously. History surely teaches us that you can only be so fat arsed for so long. It is, after and above all, competitive.

Don’t see the problem. Economic gravity will sort all. Surely?

Anonymous said...

Not far from here a hand car wash wash was raided by whoever raids these things. No surprise to find the washers were in effect slaves paid very little and living many to a room in a house rented by Mr Big who held their passports. At least that was the report put out. Much pontificating and breast beating followed but within a few days the washers were back.

I suspect that within a few years the boot will be on the other foot. Britons will be the illegals holed up in some grotty squat in Frankfurt washing Mercs and Beemers or humping bricks. Here local farmers can no longer hire Romanian or Bulgarian fruit and veg pickers. They won't work for wages that are now 20% less in real terms.

Michael said...

There was a similar issue back in the seventies with window cleaning.

As a luxury, we have a window cleaner every two months. He's a local family man, they've all lived here for ages, and he's the most amenable friend we know in the business!

He has to have all sorts of 'elfunsaftee' stuff, for which he happily works extra hours, and everyone I know wishes him well - and so do we...

But then we do live in a village...

wiggiatlarge said...

We have several in our city, the best one is on the Ipswich road and is staffed by I think Bulgarians, the governor is not a youngster yet works with an intensity that has to be seen to be believed, and they are not bad lads as at Christmas they gave a whole days takings to the special needs centre next door.

As for cheap Polish plumbers, long gone, all those who started cheap and climbed the greasy pole ! are now the same price as any other plumber.

A K Haart said...

Sam - "We put enormous effort into getting that top job..." I didn't. Have I missed out on something?

James - I've no idea, not enough language clues for me.

Clacket - I'm pleased you like the blog and you may be right. I recently watched several discussions between an economist and a behavioural scientist about the intractable problems economic theory has dealing with the unstable and nonlinear nature of behaviour, especially economic behaviour. I think manual car washes may be an example if their spread was not predicted beforehand and was perhaps unpredictable anyway, but the possibility is now obscured forever by hindsight.

Roger - the two we deal with look like extended family concerns. None look anywhere near meek enough to be slaves. While sitting in the car I'm reminded of rats in mazes - we are the ones with a high carb diet and not enough stimuli to solve the maze.

Scrobs - ours doesn't seem to bother much with 'elfunsaftee' stuff. Mind you he fell off his ladder not so long ago.

Wiggia - Turkish barbers are the thing round here. Will they last as long as Polish plumbers I wonder?