Wednesday, April 13, 2011

News from Stockholm

http://www.zara.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product/fr/en/zara-S2011/61139/351513/SKINNY%2BTROUSERS

Last week, I had a drink with long-time blogger friend Ksam who was in Bordeaux on business. One of the things we talked about, on a balmy evening, was cultural differences in approaches to customer service. Basically, in most English-speaking countries the customer is always right whereas in France, the customer is very often a bothersome inconvenience.

The next day was a wonderful, hot sunny Saturday and I broke out a new pair of bright pink trousers that I'd bought in Zara about a month previously in preparation for the first days of summer. After the usual moment of mirror-mediated doubt (pink on those thighs, really?) and the grateful acceptance of totally-objective fashion advice from an eight-year-old ("t'es troooooop belle"), I noticed that one of the outside seams was completely wonky.

Unfortunately I couldn't find the receipt, but that's no problem with faulty goods is it? Off I set for Zara to exchange them for a pair without a seam hernia, anticipating apologies on their part and gracious acceptance on mine. Mistake! A manager who looked as if she hadn't eaten anything since 1998 stonewalled for a while, asked how she was to know I hadn't stolen the trousers; said they looked as if they had been worn; gave me a condescending lecture on how important it is to keep all receipts; grudgingly agreed to exchange them just this once as a gesture of goodwill; then flounced off with one last glare from her dead-fish eyes.

I can't stand the whining about France that fills many expat Twitter timelines, but I also think that when you've lived in another country for a long time, a sort of Stockholm syndrome sets in and you begin to accept the blatant failings of that country as quite acceptable, noble even. I'm going to have to get me some hostage assertiveness training.

10 comments:

nmj said...

I think in USA the philosophy that 'customer is always right' is widespread but in UK the customer is still often just an inconvenience! Too often - even with a receipt - you are told, 'We haven't had any other returns/complaints' - as if somehow that invalidates one's own complaint. My tactic is to be unfailingly polite when they try to stonewall you, that usually disarms them thought they still act like they are doing you a HUGE favour by exchanging faulty item... I must also say I find Edinburgh shop staff less friendly than Glasgow when it comes to this kind of thing...

word ver: bumstion

What a great word to describe an incalcitrant shop assistant.

Lesley said...

@nmj: You're probably right - another expat problem is remembering the old country through rose-tinted specs. The equivalent of the Glasgow - Edinburgh divide here is the Toulouse - Bordeaux divide. Maybe I should have taken my trousers back to Zara in Toulouse where the people are reputedly friendlier.

auntiegwen said...

My daughters boyfriend aka Hot Boy has those very same trousers, yep, ladies bright pinkfrom Zara. It's a worry :)

Lesley said...

@auntiegwen I'll bet his bum doesn't look big in them.

Lucy said...

I'm probably as guilty as any of expat midering, actually no I don't think I am, or leastways not on-line, but I have to say we've been extraordinarily lucky with after-sales stuff, refunds etc, though many people I know haven't. Don't get me started on employees of La Poste, mind you. I think educational sub-normality must be written into the job description.

Actually, I had a conversation with some of my students a while back, specifically about SNCF employees, and they said how much better they were than they used to be, since they used to provide the rudest and most ignorant non-service anywhere, but that everyone had got utterly fed up with it and insisted on better training and service, and that this applied to shops, restaurants etc as well. I must say I've never really found the stereotype of the snooty rude French waiter held up, restaurant service is usually polite though it can be abominably slow.

Oh god now I've turned into a boring expat. Beg pardon.

Fab fuchsia trousies anyway.

Lesley said...

@Lucie La Poste - aaaarrrgh. SNCF - maybe not so bad, as you say. Perhaps it's a question of customer-service training then. The checkout people in supermarkets are obviously trained to say that faux-friendly "bonjour" before they start ringing anything up, because they all say it systematically even when you've already had a conversational exchange with them. Oh dear, now I'm turning it into a them (sales staff) and us (discerning bourgeoises of superior education) dabate.

Ksam said...

Ha, Stockholm syndrome is a great description for it! But I do think that most expats go through the complaining phase until acceptance finally sets in and it just becomes your normal.

Pinfrance said...

I think I have a very severe case of this doctor. My case is so bad that I even refer to the French as ‘we’ and ‘us’ now . . . beyond hope I know.

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Anne said...

j'ai adoré le qu'est ce lui lui dit que tu ne l'as pas volé ! unbelievable !