Thursday, March 15, 2007

Curiosity and Customer Service (Ken)

Back home, (that is home, Frederick, Maryland) I am a curious guy. I can usually get to the bottom of things and get the inside information. I am pretty good at knowing whom to ask and what to ask. I usually get my curiosity satisfied. Here, in Argentina, that side of my personality is . . .well . . . impotent. I see something here that I don’t understand, and I don’t know how to ask what it is, does, means. I usually just walk away. It has taught me something, I am just not sure what.

Those Internet cards they sell on the street, why sometimes the orange juice is in a really big glass and sometimes in a really small one, yet the charge me the same; and those executive lunches . . .what are they all about?

So I went for a walk. I have been looking for a book about how to make a parilla—or churrasqueiro. I went to a bookstore and looked around. I didn’t find that, but I saw two books on Argentina and Buenos Aires with nice pictures. I thought they would be good things to take home to show people in the USA about the places we have been and the things we have seen.

I went to the counter and stood behind the woman who was buying her books. When she finished, I stepped up. The salesman began counting his cash drawer.
I waited.
He counted
I waited some more.
He counted some more.
I waited.
He ignored me.
I waited.
He finished.
I put my books on the counter.
He walked away and took the stairs to the upper level.
I took myself out of the store.

I just don’t understand the apparent lack of customer service here. For the most part, they just don’t seem to understand that it is what gets people to return. And, it seems to me, that the more upscale the store, the worse it is. When I walk into a clothes store in Once, the salesman is right there the moment I enter. On Avenida Florida, if I stop to look in a window, someone is right out so see if I need help. But here, he never even acknowledged my presence.

Anyway, back to my original point. After a longer walk down Santa Fe, I crossed 9 de Julio and realized that I had hardly eaten anything since leaving Monica’s house and her cooking. At the corner of Santa Fe and Carlos Peligrini, I saw a café that had an executive lunch—Café Plaza. So I asked for a table for one and ordered it right up.

For AR$20 I got a milanese de pollo Florentina con papas fritas and a glass of wine. It was really good and the waiter was attentive and pleasant. This lack of customer service is inconsistent, yet evident. I don’t know if I will ever figure it out—if my curiosity about this will ever be satisfied.

The books? I found them at a newsstand and bought them from a nice man who was interested in making a sale.

Oh, and it rained again today--really hard. Helen and I got stuck in it. She had an umbrella, but I insisted that the weather report had no mention of rain. It rained so hard, the storm drains were giving water back. And water was high enough to run under the doors of shops.


Mia said...

Glad you had such a great time in Córdoba. It's a beautiful province full of wonderful people, just like the rest of the country.

And you've been mateando, too. How do you like mate now? Do you still think the "stuff is vile"?

Re: this post, you know, Ken, after all these years I still don't understand why Americans would wait, just like you did at the bookstore, standing there without saying a word, and then leave, flustered. What does that accomplish?

You won't find that kind of behavior in Latin America, most of Europe and Asians are not the most patient customers either (you don't have to visit Asia to see that, just go to any Asian market).

When I tell an inattentive teller "Excuse me, would you please ring these up, I don't have time to waste," I am very aware of the fact that I am coming across as "rude" and, you know what?, I don't give a rat's ass about that. I am not going to allow him to waste my time just because somebody I've never seen before in my life may think I'm "rude." He can finish whatever he's doing after I leave, I don't work there, he does, and his job is to take care of the customer, anything else he should do on his own time and not on the customer's. And, by the way, I think it is very "rude" to waste anybody's time. So, there.

In Buenos Aires, just like in the rest of Argentina and most of the world, for that matter, "el que no llora, no mama y el que no mama es un gil." If you had told the bookstore guy "Discuple, cuánto le debo?" the minute you stepped up to the counter, you would've been out of there in no time at all, with a couple of books in a bag and happy.

Just like when you and Helen waited forever for the waiter to bring you the check, a few weeks ago, remember? Same thing. Always take the initiative. They are there to be "interrupted," that's part of their job.

Yes, more upscale stores have much posher attitudes. It's always been like that. But I've got news for you, that happens in the good ol' US of A, too. Go to any "big city" upscale store and and watch the sales people.

Juan said...

Ken, regarding your experience at the bookstore I totally agree with Mia.
If you want more accuracy, forget the weather report, read the sky.
As you see Menú Ejecutivo is a good option than any other Combo in a fast food chain. Frederick looks beautiful. Anyway love your post.
Saludos a ambos

emilyeffinconrad said...

the comments were almost as interesting as the posts, KK. I read 'em all since you got back and I'm glad that you are learning so much there. <3 I miss you and Helen!

Ken and Helen said...

I agree. Mia keeps me honest and urges me forward. And now we have Juan backing her up. I am happy to have so much Argentine help and perspective.

Mate is not vile--MY mate was vile. I have gotten some lessons and make it much better now. I will bring some home with me.

Yes, it seems that the Menu Ejecutivo is the best deal in town.

Thanks for reading and thanks even more for commenting--it lets me know people are actaully out there.

Besos para todo

P.S. From Helen: The problem with Mate - and I think you will agree, if you honestly think about it - is that it tastes like dirt. It actually tastes like tea mixed with a little dirt. Not a lot of dirt, but dirt just the same. It is as if a bunch of tea was pulled out of the earth and some of the earth was left attached to the tea. I am not saying this is bad, just that this is what I taste.

Chas said...

Mmmmm... diiirt!

Ken and Helen said...

You'll be trying it for yourself next week..

Jos said...

Hola Ken y Helen,

I am not a tea drinker, but I enjoyed the mate during my visit. I surprised myself, because I drank it daily with my friends, sometimes two to three times a day.

Oh, did I tell you I am visiting again in June? I really fell in love with Mendoza and would someday love to live there. . .

Always a pleasure reading your posts!

Buenas noches!

p.s It snowed here today

Dan said...

Agreeing with Mia on getting the attention yourself...

In regard to customer service though, first, in blunt terms, it simply isn't part of the culture. Why? Who knows? And as pointed out, that's different from other Latin American countries (actually, BA is different from most of the rest of Argentina in this regard as well). My favorites are if you're shopping at closing time and they simply stop ringing people up, even if they're already in line, and close... that'll really piss you off.

In specific regard to restaurant service - there's a real problem because of the legal structure that restaurants (at least those that operate more or less "en blanco") work under. All employees are automatically members of the gastronomic union, which is very powerful here - it's near impossible to fire a restaurant worker, even for cause - unless yu, as a restaurant owner, are willing to pay them off. Even when someone simply doesn't work, hangs out, and does nothing, there's not a thing a restaurant owner can do without incurring often as much as half a year's salary cost, or more, just to get rid of the person. Top that with that most waiters here know they're not going to get much of a tip (which would probably not be true if they actually provided efficient service), especially from their fellow citizens, but even from tourists looking to get away with not tipping in a culture where tipping isn't nearly obligatory like in the U.S. - and they simply decide - why should I bother to provide service - I get paid the same either way...