Thursday, 10 April 2008

"Do you just not like ironing?" A rant about dry cleaning in the UK

 ... asked the 50-something weathered Scottish counter worker as I dropped off and collected 2 weeks worth of items.  Sigh.  Our dry cleaning has become an issue of question, slight scorn and disbelief for many people in Great Britain.  And I am well and truly over it.

It started when we would go to the dry cleaners in Cambridge with mounds of Mark's work shirts. The worker ladies would be quite hassled at the amount and give us strange looks as if we had committed crimes with them and were trying to erase the evidence in soap and water.

And it continues in Scotland.  Our local dry cleaners is Johnsons -- a national chain.  And they are pretty used to us. But on more than one occasion our business brings discussion amongst the staff and patrons. 

Most people are bringing in and collecting 1 or 2 items -- a fancy dress, a suit, a set of curtains. Mark wears 5- 8 shirts a week and is a bit hamper happy and is known to wear a shirt 4 hours and throw it in the dry cleaning pile. So on a normal run, we have like 16 shirts, 4 trousers, a few scarves and a blouse or 2.  We get looks. One fellow customer pensioner aged- lady looked at my load and just started laughing, "My oh my, I have never seen anyone bring so much in before!  Is that a year's worth?"  

And today, the woman at the counter just accusingly saying "So, do you just not like to iron?"
Sigh.  I was not in the mood.  I explained to her that in the US it is quite commonplace in most cities to have business shirts laundered and pressed and not at all uncommon.  She STARTED to say before perhaps twigging that I was indeed American that it was probably because "they have everything done for them in the US." I tried to explain that we really are just the same, but it was a different way of doing things.  I felt myself get defensive and hot.  I hate it when American behaviour gets lumped, especially when the person in question probably has never been there. 

I also explained that it is quite affordable to have shirts done in the US and in fact, my husband actually preferred it to my own meager attempts at ironing.  Wow, do I live in a different country.  She answered "Well if he can afford it honey, let him pay!"  Now granted, Mark IS paying just now, but I didn't appreciate the inference that I clearly was not.

In the end it just underscores the difference perhaps in the mind-sets. Maybe this is a luxury. But we also don't spend our money on cigarettes and lager and the chippie 5 times a week like many folks do in this country.  It is our luxury.  I am not a bad wife because I do not iron my husband's shirts.  The British people as a general rule seem less inclined to spend money on themselves to make life easier.  Americans spend loads of money making their life easier. 

My defensiveness  comes from a place of not wanting to be seen as lazy and if I had more peace in my heart about it, I would just see the dry cleaners of the UK with different sets of priorities and maybe that 30 quid buys beer. Or maybe it pays for food. Or new shoes for their kid. The national average salary is £22k yet living is not really cheaper than in the US.  Money needs to go further. 

So instead of letting this make me feel slighted, I really might try to feel lucky that we can afford to have professionals handle these clothes.  

My rant, like my ironing, is lousy. 


Anonymous said...

Brooks Brothers No-Iron Shirts are the way to go.


Unknown said...

You certainly are NOT a bad wife for not ironing your husbands shirts. I can count the shirts I have ironed for Paul in the last 13 years on 2 hands (OK, maybe just 1...). He doesn't WANT me to iron his shirts because he can do it himself, he says (of course, he doesn't iron them either, but takes them to the cleaner). I never iron my kids clothes either - I just DO NOT iron. I DO NOT enjoy ironing and choose to spend my time in more fulfilling ways - Ha!