Customer Service: a Foreign Concept?

I’m teetering on the brink of another rant, I can feel it.  But this isn’t supposed to be an outlet for my venting, it is supposed to be a commentary on my life here in Barcelona, and the city itself.  So if you are familiar with Barcelona customer service, you will know the reason for my deliberation.

Still waiting for patatas bravas

I am all for the Spanish mentality of ‘mañana, mañana’ (tomorrow, tomorrow), but I do get a little bored of waiting till next week to get my drinks order and tapas.  I don’t think I’d mind so much if at least the waiter/tress actually acknowledged my presence, with a smile or even a terse nod, but I’m sure they deliberately ignore me until I wave in their face, or get up and leave.

Maybe that’s why tipping here is less than in the UK or USA for example.  Or maybe its because people don’t tip as much here that leaves the waiter thinking ‘screw them, they can wait’.  It’s the chicken and the egg scenario all over again.  Although, it isn’t just in bars or restaurants where service is poor here – supermarkets, many shops and even telesales staff appear to not give a flying f*ck if you’ve been waiting for 15 minutes to ask a simple question.

And that’s another thing – other local customers and clients don’t bother waiting.  Perhaps it is my ‘Britishness’ that means I will just sit there and wait my turn until I have died of starvation while the locals barge in front of me and shout their order so the staff can’t ignore them.  And that the cultural norm that presents itself is my fault, not theirs.  I could believe that this is all a figment of my imagination, if it were not for my Spanish friends here who admit that the service here is generally very poor.  I suppose this serves as some comfort, the knowledge that it isn’t personal, nor discriminatory – poor service affects everyone, not just the guiris and the tourists!

Mr Happy
Smile Please!

The other silver lining is that when you do, on that rare occasion, receive good service, you are pleasantly surprised and really appreciate it!  There is a waiter at the bar on Placa del Rei who made me laugh last time I was there – seeming to actually enjoy his work, sharing some cheeky banter with his punters, guiris & locals alike.  And so he deserved his tip – good service earns better tips.

So why is it that the service here is woefully bad, compared to the USA where I have been served by someone so cheery I could quite happily have punched them in the face?  I don’t understand it.

Again, it might be my Britishness clouding my judgement here, but I do believe there is a happy medium somewhere in between.  Sure, we all have our bad days when we don’t want to drag our miserable, hung-over bodies to work, only to have to pick up the phone mindlessly, wait on tourists who can’t speak your language or hang up clothes that people have flung carelessly around the changing rooms in Primark.

But it doesn’t take much to muster a smile every now and again.  A courteous hello, please, thank you, and goodbye really isn’t too much to ask is it?  And it really makes a big difference when someone smiles at you instead of looking like they wished you would drop dead.  It cheers me up for the day, and conversely really pisses me off when people are rude – I feed a lot of other people’s emotions, so I like having happy people around me.  Not too happy mind, just nicely cheerful, who say good morning, and smile when they see you.  Now that’s a much better way to start the day!

The menu outside the Petite Syrah in Nice.  Photograph: NiceMatin Resistance via Twitter
Politeness really can save you money

From the other side, as clients and customers ourselves we must try to remember how frustrating rudeness is, and when we ask for help, order our coffee or simply pay for our supermarket shopping, a smile and a thank you works wonders.  Spread the love!  One café in France fought back at rude clients by charging more money to its ruder clients; they say that politeness costs nothing, but in this case politeness saves you money!  Perhaps if as clients and customers we were more polite, we would receive better service in return.  Back to the chicken and the egg.

I guess the point I am trying to make here is that if you find the service is crap in Barcelona, which is pretty normal, try to relax about it, casually chat with your friend/family/partner in a nonchalant kind of way until eventually you get attended to.  And if that doesn’t happen, then at some point it really is best to just get up and go, to find the next bar with slightly better service where you may be able to quench your thirst for a beer sometime before the next century….  Maybe.  And don’t forget to say please!

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1 Comment

  1. Darren says:

    Well said!

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