When you go to a bakery in England in the afternoon, and you are not a familiar customer, how does the salesperson greet you, and how do they ask what you would like?

“Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?” seems overly formal, but “Hello. What would you like?” doesn't seem ‘English’ to me, either.

What is a common way for a salesclerk in a shop where things are sold over a counter (such as a bakery) in England to welcome a customer and ask for their whishes?

  • With shy embarrassment. The British have not changed that much. – Tuffy Jun 9 '18 at 10:58
  • Yep? or Who’s next? in a less salubrious establishment. – k1eran Jun 9 '18 at 15:44
  • 1
    In a busy shop they might ask pleasantly "Who's next, please?", leaving it for the customers to sort out between themselves who has been waiting the longest. – Kate Bunting Jun 10 '18 at 8:44

These days the sales staff in a bakery might well just look, and maybe smile, at the customer, and wait for him or her to say something. British society is much less deferential than it used to be, or is imagined to be by some, and there is not really any perceived social distance between the staff in a shop and its customers. I will exclude from that certain expensive stores in London, especially those where tourists form a large part of the clientele. "Hello. What can I do for you?" would be a perfectly normal thing for a sales person to say. To call a retail sales person a "clerk" is a US English usage, and would be considered odd by British people. |The term survives for certain court and bank staff, and is pronounced like 'clark', whereas the US pronunciation rhymes with 'perk', 'lurk', 'jerk', etc.

  • In a shop like a bakery they are more likely to be "shop assistants" than "sales persons", surely. Salesmen sell cars, or insurance, or possibly furniture or other such large-ticket items. – Andrew Leach Jun 9 '18 at 12:35
  • The floorwalker would ask, "Are you being served?" (Hey, that sounds like a good title for a TV program about a department store.) – tautophile Jun 9 '18 at 16:20

They don't always, and they don't always do it well.

One common phrase is a simple "can I help you?" often delivered after the customer had been showing signs of indecision. If there are staff near the door they may or may not greet the customer (this is much less common in England than in much of Europe).

The tone is which the greeting or offer of assistance is delivered isn't necessarily as deferential or friendly as you might expect or like. Some shop staff appear to mean "can I help you to leave my shop? You're in the way." whether by accident or by design.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.