All About Slimy Car SalesmenFebruary 11, 2012 No Comments
We need a new car. Our current one is pretty old (though it works ok) but for boring administrative reasons to do with our island, we have to get a new one. Anyway, this has meant that Mrs Lobster and I have been heading out to garages, walking around forecourts with a critical eye, kicking the occasional tyre and even test driving the odd reasonably-priced second-hander.
And while we’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed something about the guys who sell these cars. It’s not that they tend to speak exclusively to me, though we’ve both turned up and have both spoken about what we want (and anyway, think I may have bored you about that sort of thing before). And it’s not that they all have some sort of smooth yet slightly roguish manner that some might term “charm,” and others might call “fundamental untrustworthiness.”
No, I’m talking about something else – I’m talking about a layer of slight indignation, a sort of meta-level of annoyance that sits above all that and says “I’m not one of those spivvy clichés, you know – believe it or not, we’re not all crooks.” And I wonder why they have this background irritation.
It’s not as if I acted as if they were out to rip us off. There was no sarcasm in my incredulity and any eyebrow raised was unsardonically so. At no point did I request that he, or indeed anyone, cut, or at least attempt in some way to lessen, the bullshit. No appeal was made that he in any way get serious. What I’m saying is that the sense of indignation on his part was self-generated and endogenous, and I am therefore supposing that it was in fact some new development in sales patter. This was apparently his usual approach.
So why is it that car salesmen, at least on this island, have taken up this automatic defensiveness? Well, I think it’s because the goalposts keep moving for these guys. They were trained by the previous generation, in techniques that no longer apply, they’ve had to adapt to changing circumstances, and this is what they’ve settled on as a coherent and workable method.
You see, I imagine that it used to be pretty much just men who bought cars. The salesmen they spoke with could chat informedly about technical specifications, appreciate the styling (always referring to the car in the feminine, of course) and even share a laddish joke about their wives’ driving, conspiratorially enjoyed in their absence. This all worked fine – buyers got to feel they knew the score, salesmen made a decent living, and everyone enjoyed the scenery in comfort and style.
Then women with money and independence came along, wanting more of their own new cars and less of the old flannel, and the exclusionary “men only” approach wouldn’t work. So they had to go for smoothness with these new customers, charming their way into their handbags, and another stereotype was made – the roguish but lovable dealer. But of course all this couldn’t last either, because men and women customers stopped conforming to their previous types, becoming more sophisticated in their purchasing behaviour (or so we’d like to think) but in any case ceasing to respond well to either the laddish or smarmy approach. And because of this, salesmen had to think of a different approach; and, with typically modern self-reference, they came up with the meta-level “we’re not car salesmen, you know” car salesman technique.
Anyway, I just thought I’d share that with you. Now I must go and start up the old jalopy. I’ve heard there’s a lovely little runner up the road – one previous owner, an old lady who only used it to go to her self-defence classes.
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