eBay and the English: Why We Just Don’t Work

eBay. Brilliant idea. Big pats on the back to the chap who founded it (Pierre Omidyar, fact fans); not that he needs them, given that he’s a multi-billionaire these days and can afford to pay people to pat him on the back whenever he fancies it. I’ve made a discovery recently, though: eBay and the English don’t really mix. But Pierre is French, so you can’t blame him for not cottoning on till now.

Fur coat from eBay. Bouffant from L'Oreal.

When we started to put together our baby list, we decided to buy as much as possible second-hand, because a) babies don’t use things for very long before they’re too big for them, and b) unlike Pierre, we can’t afford back-patters on standby, and buying second-hand saves shed-loads of money. Timothy is wise in the ways of eBay with many years of accumulated tat-buying behind him. So our pushchair and car seat came from a lady in North London, and this evening, we went to pick up a cot from a nice man in Camberley.

Here’s something you should know, if you’re not familiar with the ways of this green and pleasant isle: the English are awkward. Socially awkward. Especially with people we meet for the first time. Secretly, we all long to return to the days of ‘How do you do’, accompanied by a nice bow, because it simplified things wonderfully. Today the conundrum of to-shake-or-not-to-shake or, even worse, to-cheek-kiss-or-not-to-cheek-kiss, is one that makes us quiver with self-imposed embarrassment. Oh, and we don’t do money very well, either. Ask an Englishman directly how much he earns, and he’ll stare, completely discombobulated, before mumbling something that isn’t a reply at all, and looking off to the side as though you’d just ripplingly broken wind at a funeral. That’s not to say that nobody boasts about money; just that, if you do, you’ll be marked out as the sort of blighter who yells down the phone in the quiet carriage on the train and would probably even queue-jump, given half the chance.

None of this helps, when conducting eBay transactions. We arrived at the house of a complete stranger – awkward – to buy something he wasn’t accustomed to selling – awkward – and pay him the uncomfortably exact sum of £42 in cash, Paypal being a little too much commitment for a purchase we hadn’t yet seen – awkward. He ushered us in while trying to find an acceptable middle ground between welcome-to-my-home and cold-hard-business-transaction, and we went through a little rigmarole of inspecting the goods. As though we’d ever be bold enough to stand in his hallway and say ‘actually, this looks terrible, and we don’t want it’. Luckily, it was exactly what we wanted. We acted as though he were doing us a favour, like our baby would be sleeping on the floor if he hadn’t gallantly stepped in, and he acted as though we were doing him a favour, taking a cot off his hands that would otherwise be standing helplessly in the corner of his living room for the next twenty years. We carried it out to the car, and then came the moment we were all dreading. Tim got out his wallet, with a brave stab at ‘Right, well – er…’ Cot Man jumped and made an attempt to look pleasantly surprised, like he’d forgotten all about the money, and it was terribly kind of us to offer. We handed over our two twenty-pound notes and two pound coins – awkward – and then we all effusively thanked each other again to cover the sticky moment. We left feeling like the best of friends. But we didn’t shake hands. Because that’s – well – awkward.

Thankfully, our next eBay requirement is small enough to be posted. No human interaction at all, and that, my good fellow, is exactly how we like it.

It's all fun and games until someone actually wins something.

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