Saturday, February 25, 2012

Customer Service FAIL!

When you travel you have to be prepared to come across things you like, and things you don't. Whether it's in your own country or abroad, people have different ways of behaving that might not always be quite up to par with your own thoughts on how things should be. It's something you just have to accept, right? Go with the flow and all of that.

In some cases this is definitely true. When I was first training to teach English in the Czech Republic the leaders constantly harped at us about how important it was to be flexible. It got old, but it was true. It's good to embrace new traditions and ways of looking at the world. Doing so has helped me to improve who I am as a person.

The other day I went shopping and in front of the mall I experienced my first ever pig killing feast. While I obviously don't want to watch a pig being slaughtered every day, this is an age old custom in the Czech Republic, and I can appreciate it as that. The reason pigs are considered good luck is because if you had enough money for a pig, then you were doing very well for yourself. The whole village would come together to celebrate by killing a pig and using every part of it. This was not about cruelty to animals, or being unsanitary. (Note: the EU is trying to ban, or at the very least control, this practice due to "health concerns.") It was about providing food for the people. It is represented in cultural art, and is especially important in the smaller villages. I am flexible enough to handle this, even if it isn't something I want to make a part of my daily (or even yearly) life.

While we watched them clean out the pig, my Mom-in-law, who happens to be a nurse, was describing to me what all the internal organs were. Shockingly enough, I actually understood most of the terms. I do know some Czech! The second two pictures are of our anniversary cake.

So whether you agree with certain cultural practices or not, it is important to at least try to understand them. I'm sure by this point people are starting to wonder about the title to this post, and I promise I'm about to get to it. See, the thing is, there are some things that I have a really hard time accepting. Bad customer service is one of those things. I don't care what country you live in, when you are in a position where you were with customers, being polite should always be at the top of your list.

I could name plenty of instances where this has very much NOT been the case. I'll stick with two for now. Keep in mind, I have had plenty of good experiences with service people as well, and these are extreme cases, so please don't see this as a reason not to visit this incredible country.

The first example took place during the summer of 2010. I think I wrote about it back then, but it's long enough ago that people might not remember ;) It was a hot summer day and I was in desperate need of a drink. In the center of town, prices are always higher because there are a lot of tourists, so I decided to pop into a little potraviny (food store) thinking I could get a decent price. I found a bottle of water for less than a dollar US and I went to pay. The only bill I had was 200KC, which is roughly $10. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. The cashier refused to take the bill. Even when I showed her that I honestly did not have anything smaller, she refused and pulled the bottle of water off the counter. Ridiculous much? I was angry enough to tell her in English that she was terrible, and then walked out never to purchase anything else there again.

Today example number two took place. My husband and I went to buy some nice chocolate for his dad's birthday. We went to the little local store and picked out some expensive chocolate. Keep in mind, we are a married couple. I was dressed in high quality clothes. He was wearing a black coat. One of the nice things in Czech is that people always greet each other in stores. It's all very polite. This was a small store in our local community, but the cashier did not greet us. I paid for the chocolate and she looks at my husband and tells him to empty his pockets. Um, come again? That's right. She treated him like a thief for no reason at all. Goodness, it's a junky grocery store, and we paid for expensive chocolate. What is wrong with people sometimes? The worst bit was that she didn't even seem to feel the least bit sorry for asking him to do that, even though he quickly proved that he didn't steal anything, and pointed out how ridiculous it would be for him to steal a 50 cent candy bar when he was already paying for something much more expensive.

All this to say, there are things that you just have to expect when you travel, but that doesn't mean they will all be pleasant or necessary.


Oz Rinehold said...

Hi Sarah!
I grew up in the country, and we had livestock, and my family's diet was supplemented by game, so I witnessed/helped with the gutting, skinning, plucking, cleaning, slicing activities involved. We didn't have pigs, but cattle, goats and chickens. (We didn't eat the goats). So, I find it funny that you have to tread softly to avoid offense. As for the customer service, Argentines often seem to have the motto: The customer is always wrong. A friend of ours was trying to buy some meat one day, and the carneceria wouldn't sell her what she wanted, because he didn't like the way she said she wanted to cook it!
A funny thing happened in Mexico. We sent the kids (aged 12 & 9 and with minimal Spanish) down to the tiny nearby store for some bread or something. They had a 100 peso bill, and came back with change for a 10. We told a friend about it, and he went down and explained the problem. Turned out the storekeeper didn't see too well, and just misread the bill.
Enjoying your blog - Oz

Transient Drifter said...

Thanks for sharing Oz. i love hearing other people's experiences too. Helps to open up the world when people share :)

Jennifer Fulford, Novelist said...

Just realized why I'm getting traffic from your blog. I will duly reciprocate. Your posts are quite interesting. Many happy travels to you, Jennifer