April 14, 2013

Trading Places

good customer service
Cartoon courtesy of CartoonChurch.com

I have contaminated my Catracho with gringo thinking. I've created a monster. I admitted several years ago that I have the US American 'complaint gene'. Americans tend to think that anything that doesn't "make sense" or isn't "fair" must be rectified! And we tend to think that all we need to do is to point that out for justice to be done. Unfortunately, the complaint gene is not appreciated so much in Honduras.

El Jefe is a pretty laid back guy. He accepts that nothing is going to be quick and easy, that the store is probably not going to have what we need, and that the repairman will probably not show up when he is supposed to. He still takes all that in stride. He is Honduran, after all.

But living in the US for awhile has given him a different perspective as it has for many returning Catrachos. That is compounded by years of reading the Blogicito and listening to my opinions. Lately he sometimes has been taking it to the extreme. He has a personal mission to teach customer service in La Ceiba. He chides clerks and waiters when they are rude or do stupid things. He tells them how they should have answered a question from a customer and even goes so far as to remind them that if they don't treat the customers right, the customers will go somewhere else, the store or restaurant might close, and they would be out of a job and then WHAT?! Jobs are hard to find in La Ceiba.

If they don't have a product they used to have, he gives them a lecture in inventory control and asks them how they expect to make money if they don't have the things that people want to buy.

Even I, the gringa, thinks that he goes too far sometimes. This isn't the USA. I might give him a nudge with my elbow, an alarmed look, or simply slink a little bit away, you know, as if I'm not really with HIM. You know, they way HE used to do with me when, shocked at some horrible customer service event, I would make a spectacle of myself demanding that yes, I should receive the item I just paid for and that if they don't have it, no, they don't get to keep my money and make me buy something else that I don't want or need.

Recently I bought a blouse at Carrion at the mall. The first day I wore it, part of the side seam ripped open. "We need to go take this back right now!" declared J. "I'm not taking it back," said me. "It's easy to fix a seam and I probably did it climbing into the truck." "No, we need to take it back." "Please! I don't want to go through the hassle of trying to take it back!" Grumble, grumble, he retorted.

(Credit where credit is due: I have to say that the girl who helped me at Carrion was wonderful! She was my personal assistant for the whole time I was there and insisted on seeing everything I tried on. "Me encanta!" "Que bonita!" she would exclaim after seeing me twirl in the new duds. I'll be looking for her the next time I go.)

He's not the only one I see that way. Sometimes I'm confused by Hondurans who come into a store or other business griping loudly about something and being unnecessarily rude to the employees. I wonder how it is that they get action when my reasonable complaints didn't. Maybe it has to do with the caste system. Maybe I just don't dress well enough or carry an expensive enough cell phone.

This personality change is quite the turn from 2001 when I wanted to take back a 2-month-old stove to San Pedro that had rusted. At that time, he thought it was crazy to even try and only grudgingly agreed to take the bottom drawer back to show them. Eventually I got my new stove but what a hassle! For a stove it was worth it the aggravation, but for a blouse? Not for the new, Honduranized gringa. I know when to pick my battles now.

El Jefe hates corruption as much as I do. After reading the newspaper or watching the news, he'll say, "Why don't they do xxxxx or xxxxx to put a stop to it?" "Because this is Honduras?", the now mellowed gringa meekly offers. Talk about trading places! I couldn't count the number of times over the years that he answered my frustrated questions with that even more frustrating answer.

I don't know if he makes a difference or not, but we can always hope. By the way, you might find this 2010 article has some helpful Honduran consumer tips:

Cultural differences: Consumer complaints

What is your best or worse consumer experience in Honduras? Please share it with us in the comment section!

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