Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Customer Service...or the lack thereof

The rain broke for a few hours yesterday and I ventured out to the mainland to buy a few things cheaper. You can go to the edge of the island, catch a bus and drive over the causeway for a few miles to Italy proper.

So, I finished my shopping and the bus was due to arrive in about 25 minutes for the return trip to the island. What better way to pass the time than stop into the shoe store (of course!). It was about 1030am and the store had been open for at least 2 hours. But for whatever reason, the clerk decided shortly before I arrived that it was time to mop the floor. When I approached, she was working on half of the small store and I ventured in to look at the sale items. There were these cute little ditty's that were going for 10 euros which is unheard of here. I was attempting to look for my size when she called out something. As I looked, she was pointing to the floor and I assumed she was telling me the floor was damp, dont slip, etc. I smiled and went back to looking for my size. When it was obvious they didnt have it and I was not going home with new shoes, I looked up to find the clerk at the front of the store, leaning on her mop and carrying the most disgusted look on her face. So, apparently, she wasnt warning me about the wet floor and concerned about my safety but rather more interested in the fact that I was messing up her work and she would have to redo it all!

This is not an isolated case. Last December, I was shopping with a friend (for shoes no less!) and she was trying on a pair. Keep in mind, C speaks excellent Italian and has no trouble communicating with the sales people. So, anyway, she was trying on these shoes and told the clerk that they were too narrow for her foot. The clerk argued that they were not narrow shoes, they were normal width shoes. C explained again that they were too narrow for her and not comfortable. The clerk again argued the point that they were indeed comfortable and not narrow. This diatribe went on for a few more minutes and C said she didnt want the shoes, the clerk took them back and walked away! I was truly in awe of the whole scene. One would think the clerk would have offered a different size or width because, afterall, her job is to sell shoes, right? Apparently I have that wrong as well!

I dont want to make sweeping generalizations because I am sure there are many parts of Italy where customer service exists and people aren't terminally rude, but I truly have yet to encounter this in Venice and surrounding area. I have visited here 5 times on vacation and have now lived here for almost a month. I dont think I will ever get used to this phenomenon. It truly is foreign but apparently it works for them as they have been around alot longer than the US.

Probably the most interesting part of all of this to me is the uncanny ability the Italians have at making you feel like it is your fault. Something in the posture, the gestures and the intonation of voice catches you offguard and before you know it, your tail is between your legs and you are leaving. It's not until later that you realize you did nothing wrong and you would have never stood for that type of abuse in the States....and we all know, I have never been at a loss for words when telling people what I think and feel! Kudos to the Italians on this one!

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