Monday, February 23, 2009

I’ve missed my blog this last week. But circumstances have conspired to keep me far from my keyboard. The second week of holiday was a lot less tiring than the first half, but no less busy. The house needed a thorough cleaning after all the mess of the renovation work. Plus, there was LOTS of snow to be shoveled. We even had some fun and got out for a bit of cross-country skiing.

But all that’s over. As of this morning, the kids are all back in school. And I have a free afternoon, as I am NOT teaching English today. I showed up at 1:20 with my lesson plan in hand and got sent right back home. I had been replaced by a woman teaching the kids about electricity. A bit of a planning mix-up had occurred, apparently. So, I left the kids to the joys of volts, amps and whatever, and happily headed back home, intent on getting a blog entry written.

This is not going to be about my home renovation mishaps, though. I’ll leave that until next time. Today, I feel inspired to write about and important topic: The Service Industry in France.
Don’t worry. It will not contain any complicated graphs or statistics, (unless I decide to randomly make some up). This is really more of a rant. It's kind of angry and unfair, but stay with me. It will be fun.

On Friday, I went to a shop and bought a ski rack. On Saturday morning, JP put it on the car. I’d say it took him well over an hour. That includes the time that JP spent walking back up to the house, telling me that an important piece was missing, me putting on my coat, me going back down to the car with JP, me insisting that the bolt was probably around somewhere, both of us looking around in the back of the car and on the ground and, finally, JP spotting the bolt laying in the gravel just behind the car.
I went up to the house. But JP was back just minutes later with more news. And it was bad news, as is so often the case.
« It’s broken. You have to take it back. »
« Already? What…? »
« It’s cracked. »
And then I said something like « Aaaarrrg », some sort of ‘anguished groan’ kind of thing, because I KNEW how horrible it would be to return it. It would be dreadful and dire because I would have to deal with someone in the French service industry.

As we all know, there are two basic kinds of jobs: There are the jobs that produce goods. The people make stuff, such as nice aircraft.
Then, there are the people that provide services. They drive buses, for example, or work in retail sales. The French people that have this second type of job tend to be very …unhelpful. Maybe this is because they’d rather be making planes? I don’t know. But they’re very, very unpleasant.

I walked into the shop with the offending ski rack and set it on the counter. The service industry employee there asked me what the problem was and I showed him my receipt, the guarantee and the crack in the plastic closure.
He peered at it suspiciously and glared at me.
Yes, he glared. Really.
« Well, you DROPPED it, didn’t you? He declared accusingly.
« Yes! You caught me out! It’s true. And I didn’t just drop it. I actually hurled it to the ground and then backed the car over it. Twice. Sorry to have bothered you. Goodbye, you master-mind of scam-detection. »
THAT’S what he was obviously hoping I would say, anyway.
What I did say was: « No, I did not DROP it .» and I glared back.
He muttered a bit as he examined the crack with great intensity. I don’t know what he thought he’d see. Tell-tale bits of gravel, maybe?
Finally he said in a long-suffering tone « I suppose you want another one? »
I had been pretty patient until then. I hadn’t expected good treatment. But this was beyond enduring.
« No. I do NOT want another one! This is brand obviously poor quality, as it is broken and I didn’t even drop it. »

Sadly, this kind of thing is pretty common in French shops. The service you get in the « service industry » goes beyond poor and on into the realms of aggressive and very rude.
Almost every time I go into a shop, I experience or see someone else experience bad treatment in places that are supposedly there to provide a service.

When I took Cristian to a DIYstore recently, he was shocked at how the cashiers ignored us, leisurely chatting away while we waited to pay for our stuff and get back to work.

And JP had a blood pressure raising experience at the health club on Sunday. When he was showered, dressed and on his way out the door, one of the guys that work there chased him down and told him to get himself back up to the gym, pronto, and put away his weights. This seemed kind of extreme as JP had only forgot. He’s not an evil serial weight-leaver-on-er. Also, was this really the best use of this guy’s time? He had a choice between putting back the weights himself (which would have taken all of two seconds) or running downstairs, finding JP and yelling at him. I guess that, if you are French, the right choice is b. Humiliate and offend the customer so her never wants to come back.
Good job there.

You get the distinct feeling that the customer is an unwanted intruder. In fact, most French people working retail seem to think a client is a creature that should, ideally, walk into the shop, hand over the complete contents of his billfold and then walk out again.
You certainly shouldn’t ever attempt to talk to a French « salesperson ». They are VERY busy chatting with their co-workers about, well, anything except customers. They shouldn’t be disturbed, as it makes them even more testy than they already are.

The above is, of course, not always true. But I know it’s mostly true, as I’m so very pleased and grateful when I run across service industry workers here in France who are helpful and don’t seem to regard customers as some kind of disgusting pest, similar to a cockroach, but less appealing.

Now, I know that these kinds of jobs often , well, suck. They tend to be poorly paid and the hours not so good. Right. But get this: working conditions are FAR worse in the USA . In France, it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone and there’s universal healthcare.
However, I find retail workers in the USA are, on average, very invested in their work. They tend to see the customer as someone they might want to treat well, so that the customer will come back. The idea behind this being that if the employees DRIVE AWAY all of the customers (by, for example, accusing them of dropping ski racks on the ground), soon there will be no more of them. And then the business will fail. And then the retail worker will be OUT of a JOB.

This chain of logic would seem reasonable. But I guess it’s not very French.


Kelly said...

It is so frustrating to have to deal with this kind of "customer service." Pet peeve. I had a friend almost get run over by a worker at a big discount store in the states and she said out loud, "Don't mind me, I'm JUST the customer!"

Ksam said...

You know what's funny? Despite what everyone in Province will tell you, customer service is actually BETTER in Paris! It's the complete opposite of Bretagne, the large majority of people are actually very friendly & customer-orientated. I still get caught off-guard when someone is actually willing to help me, without having to spend 10 minutes fighting about it first!

Beth said...

Kelly-As you may have guessed, it's a pet peeve of mine, too. i guess it hits home because I've worked in retail. I was even a waitress in college, which is the ultimate customer service oriented job.

Tuck- ITA. My few experiences in Paris have all been good. I'd do all my shopping there, if I could!!!

oreneta said...

I have to agree....well, first I snorted with laughter, but I had to think that during my (admittedly only 10 days) in Paris over Xmas, almost all of the people I had to deal with were nice to very was very French...he didn't want to sell me the avocados and made me promise to not use them till tomorrow because they weren't quite ripe.

I promised, used them anyway, and had to admit that he was right, they would have been better the next day....but what the heck.