Why the phrase “we take allergies very seriously” gives me the heebie-jeebies

The phrase “we take allergies very seriously” sets my teeth on edge. I suspect it’s a bit like “some of my best friends are gay” in that it’s intended to sound impressive and reassuring, and like the person speaking isn’t being a nob at all, honest. But it’s followed by a silent “and that’s why I’m not actually listening to you”.

It’s a shut-up–shop kind of phrase. It means: “I know that allergies are a thing, and a bad thing, and I’m going to say that confidently rather than actually engaging with the issue.” I think there’s something in the use of “we” rather than ”I’ too.  Like, I’m hiding behind my institution because what you’ve just said scares/bores me.

It’s the phrase I heard a teacher use to an allergy parent who was explaining how a school kept making small mistakes which left her daughter feeling excluded. It was only little things – other teachers kept forgetting to warn this mum that a food-related activity was planned, meaning her daughter just had to miss out rather than having a safe alternative lined up. So her daughter, little by little, began to feel isolated.  “We take food allergies very seriously “ interjected the teacher when the mum was explaining the impact. And with that, she effectively silenced the mum, and failed to hear what she was being told. She missed the chance to think about how things could be done better for this little girl.

It’s also the phrase my son’s nursery used before he started. Oh, how we agonised about where to send him.  At the time it sounded reassuring but it was only a matter of months before their systems let us down and he was mistakenly given a cupcake containing egg which caused an anaphylactic reaction. More on that another time. So to me, that phrase can be the hallmark of complacency. And as an allergy parent, complacency is the worst.

But it can also be the hallmark of “can’t-be-bothered.”  It was the phrase used by a waitress in a high street Italian restaurant as she refused to reserve us a table.  Ok, I’ll name it – Strada. “We take allergies very seriously” she said haughtily as she explained how the kitchen would be cross-contaminated with all allergens and therefore we wouldn’t be able to eat there safely.  When I began to object she called the head chef over to us, who nodded sagely before adding: “Yes, we take allergies very seriously. So no, you shouldn’t eat here.”

Contrast that with Pizza Express which has always been excellent. “Sure” they say “I’ll put a note in the system and I’ll also personally let the chef know. We’ll make the order up separately.” All hail Pizza Express, who’ve just added a QR code to their ordinary menus to make their allergen information even more accessible. They really are the gold standard of high street allergen information.

So instead of “we take allergies very seriously” I think I’d simply rather something like: “sure, I’m listening” please.


Why does the blanket phrase “we take allergies very seriously” so often feel like “talk to the hand coz the face ain’t listening?”



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