Customer Disservice

Black humor - customer serviceNobody will look at me, but I am used to it. I’m in a shop in the Czech Republic, after all. After a few minutes of making my ‘genial man in need’ face – raised eyebrows, soft eye contact, slight backwards nod, smile so as to appear harmless – a man finally notices me. This works out well for him since it must be far more rewarding to notice me, ignore me and then walk away.

I wait for a few more minutes, make the face, but draw no attention. Everyone seems to have gone on break at the same moment. I step out of the shop and back into the mall with its global demographic of teens, old people, screeching children, goths and that guy carrying a radio and wearing suspenders. Judge them though I may, once entering a mall you become part of that demographic. It’s like the Borg; I have been assimilated.

I am at the mall because today I have a task. I have to exchange a sweater.

I approach the customer service window at Tesco and I begin to get nervous. Dealing with anything customer service related in the Czech Republic is always iffy, sort of like ordering steak in a train station. Any interaction with a Czech working in a customer service capacity – waiter, check out, shop keeper – has the overwhelming tendency to end in frustration, disappointment, anger, confusion and the eventual fantasy of a complete stranger being eviscerated by mountain rats. Waiters have tried to talk me into eating a mistaken order because returning it would mean more work for them, even though it was their mistake. The albino gent working at my local shop scans my items in between video clips, text messages and mocking his one-legged coworker.

And that’s just customer service in general; I am now approaching the place called ‘customer service.’ Still, I have a sweater, a receipt and my genial man face at the ready. I step up to the counter and raise my eyebrows.

“Good day,” she says.

“Good day. I’d like to exchange this, please.”

She takes the sweater and immediately begins shaking her head. She turns the sweater over and looks at the various tags. “You don’t have a receipt?”

I hand it to her. She actually seems disappointed as she takes it from me and inspects it through, no kidding, a magnifying glass.

“You want to exchange?”

“Yes, please.”

“Well, I have to see if we have the same sweater then.”


“You can only exchange it for the same sweater.”

And there it is.

Even as a bead of sweat travels down my spine I cannot help letting out a giggle. There is always a catch; some inconceivable rule which allows them to say their favorite word to a customer: No. ‘No, that coupon is valid only every third Monday, not this one,’ or ‘No, you can’t sit there, it’s reserved for people with yellow hair,’ or ‘No, sorry, you have to get the same sweater that you’re returning.’

“Yes, but, I want to exchange it because I don’t like it. I’d like to get something different.”

Adding to my strife is the fact that a person has nudged up beside me in hopes of engaging the woman for a task that apparently takes precedence over mine and therefore supersedes the natural rules of a queue. The woman, a squat pale thing that resembles the squat pale child behind her, stands so close to me that I could bite her neck, an action I am considering doing. The woman behind the counter, for her part, does not pay any attention to my new friend.

“Sorry,” she says.

“That doesn’t make sense.”

She leans across the counter as though she’s about to betray government secrets. I lean in, as does my new friend. We are in a huddle. “I know, but I can do one thing for you.”

“Yes?” I am excited.

She looks around her. “I will give you the money,” she whispers, ensuring that none of her superiors will catch her being helpful.

I nod and my new friend goggles her eyes, obviously incapable of understanding what has just happened. She counts out my money and it’s so close to working out that I hold my breath. It’s like the split second before a plane touches down, I just can’t believe it’s going to be OK.

She hands me the cash and I give her the most meaningful “thank you” I have ever uttered.

“You are welcome,” she says. “And your Czech is very good.”

I rejoin the Borg, unable to figure out what just happened. I stow my mountain rats for another day, another person, and eat a bit of crow on my way out the door.

  1. #1 by Andy on March 11, 2013 - 8:18 pm

    I genuinely read the last few sentences with baited breath; I’m stunned that your squat, pale friend didn’t alert everyone else to your victory. Of course, this sweet milestone will make all unsuccessful future encounters that much more painful. Mark the calendar and savor the euphoria!

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on March 13, 2013 - 1:45 pm

      Oh Andy, I knew you’d understand. Remember the episodes of fever we used to get upon having to deal with a shop keeper??

  2. #3 by Viťa on March 13, 2013 - 1:36 pm

    You are my hero!

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