Customer service

A recent morning:

1. Exchange outfit for smaller size

Pata and I are off to the shop where I bought her cousin’s birthday gift. We get there and I notice that the ramp is actually graded and it’s extremely difficult to navigate with a stroller. I’m very annoyed because I put Pata in the stroller instead of her carrier on purpose because I’d noticed the ramp the last time I was there.

Knowing that in Italy exchanging merchandise isn’t always as easy as it should be, I look for a salesclerk once we’re inside to ask whether I can change the outfit for a smaller one. The answer is a very annoyed “yes.” I find the same outfit in a smaller size but am a bit nonplussed when I discover that the difference between 2 yrs. and 3 yrs. is 2 Euro.

Anticipating the salesclerk’s unwillingness to open the till and refund me the difference, I look for something inexpensive that Pata might need. I find some tights marked down to 3.45 Euro and I proceed to the counter. The salesclerk sighs and says, “Signora I can’t do anything because the tights cost more than 2 Euro.” “Okay, show me something in the store that costs exactly 2 Euro,” I say with a big, fake smile. She sighs again and calls the manager over. “She wants to exchange this for a smaller size and buy the tights,” she complains. The manager doesn’t acknowledge my presence but she does show the clerk what to do. On the way out another clerk watches me struggle to get the stroller out the door for about a minute before offering to help. I resolve never to shop there again.

2. Get hand cream from the pharmacy

We stop at my new favorite pharmacy. I feel bad going there because I really like the pharmacist nearer my house, but she doesn’t have a number system. I take a number and look at overpriced toys while I wait.

An older woman comes in and walks directly to the counter, shoving aside two people who are being helped. There’s a chorus of “Signora, you have to take a number!” but she insists that she be served immediately because her husband is at home waiting for her. After the pharmacist warns her that she must get a number, she retreats and takes one, but continues to demand immediate service. “My husband is alone at home,” she tells anyone who listens. “He has diarrhea! And he’s alone!” A quick look around the room confirms I’m not the only one trying not to snicker. “What am I supposed to do? He has diarrhea!” I wonder if she’s trying to embarrass us into letting her go ahead.

After three more numbers are called, she marches back up to the counter and reminds the pharmacist that she has to get back to her husband. Everyone grumbles. The pharmacist says, “Be patient, everyone, her husband has diarrhea!” and then fills her prescription. She was so annoying that I’m glad she was successful in cutting the line. A few more numbers and it’s my turn. I get my lotion and go.

3. Groceries at the supermarket

It’s on to the supermarket to do some food shopping. I shove as much as I can fit into the basket under Pata’s seat. At the cash registers there are three very long lines. I choose the one with the cashier who never rounds down the amount of change she’s supposed to give you to avoid having to use one and two cent coins. The line moves pretty quickly until it gets to the woman in front of me. I’m not sure what the hold up is, because she’s speaking in dialect. I’m getting annoyed because she’s marking out a fair bit of territory on the conveyor belt with an empty plastic bag. I’d like to put my groceries on the belt now as having to bend down later to fish everything out from under Pata’s seat is going to hold up the line.

Miraculously the woman decides to move her bag, freeing up a little space where I begin to stack my things. Just as I finish putting them on the belt, she begins picking them up and tossing them around. In a sarcastic tone (which, by the way, has never gotten me anywhere in Italy) I say, “Oh if I had known it bothered you so much, I wouldn’t have put them here! Here, let me move them around for you!”

She ignores me, which probably for the best, and continues to complain about something to the cashier. Then she starts rifling through her purse, her handbag, her empty plastic bag and the grocery bags she’s already filled. The cashier asks her what she expects her to do and then begins ringing up my groceries. The woman glares at the cashier and begins to collect her bags, but changes her mind and puts them down. She looks through her purse again, this time pulling out her preferred shopper’s card. “Here it is!” she exclaims, “I knew I had it!” She presents it to the cashier, who asks her what she’s supposed to do with it. She’s already closed the sale. The woman, infuriated, shakes her fist at the cashier and yells, “It’s your fault!”

I make funny faces at Pata while the cashier rings up my groceries. I bag them, shove them back under Pata’s seat, and then we head for home.

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6 responses to “Customer service

  1. Oh boy, when I read these kinds of stories, I feel like I am right back in Ischia, where my family lives. This happens frequently in southern Italy and I just don’t understand why. You are a good sport b/c I would have lost it!

  2. Hi Silvia! These things used to drive me mad when I first moved here, but now I guess I’m just used to them. I must have been in a good mood that morning because it all just made me laugh.

  3. I love it! and totally agree with you, things like this used to drive me bananas, who am I kidding, they still do some days if I am in a hurry :)…speaking of places that are not very stroller accessible, there is store here in Milan(think babies r us) that has all of their strollers, baby seats and related accessories on their second floor…with no elevator or escalator! You have to leave your stroller and haul the baby up the stairs…a store for babies!

  4. Cecilia, there’s a shop like that in Caserta too! We only went there once, lol.

  5. Wow, this post got me all riled up just reading it!!Despite the fact that I’ve been in Italy for 10+ years (in a big city though), I still have a hard time digesting some of the bad attitudes in the world of customer service. I try not to get upset about it, or else I’d have an ulcer by now, but I do think it’s important to politely inform these “service providers” that they are doing a shitty job! If people don’t stand up, things won’t change. I have family in the area where you live and I know it’s hard for them to even attempt to contest some of the rude behavior they are forced to face on a daily basis (brutta figura being one of the main reasons, not to mention small town gossip about who did what or who said what!).. but again unless they stop allowing it, it will keep on happening.

  6. Yup, romerican, rude behavior continues because no one ever does anything about it. In my husband’s family there is one relative who is the RUDEST person I’ve ever known, but no one ever stands up to her because that would be disrespectful or “brutta figura.” If people can’t criticize bad behavior to their own relatives, how can they take strangers to task?

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