22 April 2010

Customer Service, Tu Me Manques!

Moving to a new culture has been an interesting process.  There are so many things one must learn that go far beyond the reach of vocabulary, grammar, and a decent accent.  Just as every language has it's nuances, so does each culture.  Unfortunately, culture learning doesn't come with a rule book.  For example, it is uncultural here in France to grow impatient while waiting in line.  We all have to do it.  What's the sense in trying to hurry the line up.  And no one seems to mind (too much) that we all pack as if we're in Tokyo when the RER B is holding a grève, because if someone has gone to the trouble of having a strike, we should all support them and just deal with the inconveniences.  After all, if they have something to say two weeks out of every month, someone should listen.


And I learned a new one today . . . if someone tries to charge you double, never, I repeat NEVER question them or bring logic and basic math into the discussion!  (I feel a story coming on)

So my mom is here visiting.  She had written some postcards to my niece and nephews and was in need of some stamps.  So we stopped at la poste to pick up a few, and since I have recently come across a stack that I had written around Christmas and thought I had already mailed, I decided to purchase some extras.

(Due to the heightened emotion that is, much to my regret, still surrounding this histoire I will write this dialogue completely in English, although it happened, in reality, completely in French)
Deb.: Hello, madam, I would like twenty 85cent stamps, please.
Woman 1: Of course, we have three options: simple profile of a bust of some one important to French history with a backdrop of purple, a yellow stamp with the heads of two men who did something at sometime in French history, or those in honor of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.
D: what I wanted to say was "Ooooh, the Olympic Games stamps are lovely, I'll take those" but the French portion of my Broca's Area wasn't warmed up yet so I said: Those please, as I pointed.
W1: That's fine, but we only have 15 left, so I will give you 5 of these yellow ones too.  Here, my co-worker will ring you up.  (She then handed the stamps to another woman, she pointed to her screen, told Woman 2 something I didn't catch, Woman 2 got irritated and waved her away)
Woman 2: Anything else?  
D: Nope, that's all.
W2: Anything else?
D: No, that's all.
W2: (in very broken English) FINISH?  YOU WANT OTHER THING?
D: (still in French) Non, madam, that is the only thing I need.
W2: 29.75euros.
D: (thinking: Okay, I'm crappy at math, but if I'm getting twenty stamps at 85cents a piece, that should be less than twenty euros!  Hmm . . . maybe I miss understood.  I glanced at the register, yup, I didn't misunderstand, she said 29.75.  I only had another 20 in my wallet so I pulled it out and started to hand it to her as I said . . .) I'm sorry, is that price correct?
W2: Yes.
D: But how?  I'm sorry, the price is confusing for me.  How much is one stamp?
W2: 85cents.
D: So how is 20 stamps 29.75?
W2: Well, that's what the computer says.  (I could hear the irritation in her voice)
D: I understand that madam, but I don't understand how that is the price.  If one stamp is only 85cents, that is less than a euro, ten stamps should be 8euros50, totaling less than 10euros.
W2: But you're purchasing 15 of these and 5 of those. (Her irritation was growing)
D: Yes, but they are all 85cents.  So If I buy ten of these--
W2: Fifteen! (she was getting angry)
D: Yes, I know I'm buying 15, but the price of ten--
W2: FIFTEEN! (she was officially angry)
D: Yes, I know I'm buying 15, but if each stamp is .85, then it would be 8euros50 if I were to buy 10, but the computer says it's 25euros to purchase 15 of them.  I don't understand that.  It doesn't make sense to me. Could you please explain the price to me? (I pulled out my cell phone to double check my math, as we all know there are two things in life I cannot do in any language: spell or do math . . . sure enough, 15 at 8.50 should have been 12.75.  I showed her my cell phone)  
W2: No, that's not correct, it's Zero Comma Eighty Five, not Point Eighty Five!  (You see, here in France, they use a comma where we would use a decimal point when writing numbers . . . so for example, the price of the stamps are 0,85 not .85 or 0.85 as we write them . . . so one thousand is actually 1 000 . . . it's confusing at first but I'm getting used to it . . . but the problem here was my cell only had a decimal point and not a comma on the calculator, but she was too angry to stop and listen to reason, so she went and got her own calculator.  After she punched in the numbers and hit equal, she simply said "hmmm?" cleared the numbers and put her calculator away!!  Instead, she picked up the computer monitor and put it up on the counter so that I could see the great big 25,00euros at the bottom of the screen!!  At this point, everyone was watching us, no one saying a thing or offering to help, except my mother who knows how to say "Hello" and "Thank you" in French.  The woman's supervisor even stepped out of her office to see what was going on, but turned around and walked right back in.)
D: Yes, madam, I can see that the computer says 25,00euros, but I don't understand the math.  Could you please explain the price to me?  Maybe there is an error in the computer.  (That was it . . . that was, as the French idiom goes, the drop of water that overflowed the vase . . . I had not only had the audacity to question her, an employee of La Poste de la République de la France, I had now insulted her computer.)
W2: NO!  THE COMPUTER DOES NOT MAKE ERRORS!  (There was clearly no rationalizing with this woman.)
D: I'm sorry, madam, but I will only be purchasing two stamps then (enough for my mom's postcards).  That price cannot be correct and I will not pay it.  I'm sorry.
W2: That will be 3euros70. 
D: THREE EURO'S SEVENTY?!?!?  BUT THEY ARE EIGHTY FIVE CENTS A PIECE!?!?!? (This was the first time I raised my voice during our conversation).  RUBBISH!  (I said in English and handed her exact change).  Could I please have a receipt?
W2: No.
D: It's not possible for me to have a receipt?
W2: No. I'm not a professional.  (Don't ask, I have NO idea what that meant, all I know is that I got charged double and there was no way she was going to give me a breakdown of what I had paid for.  We took our stamps and left)

So, I'm officially boycotting the Old Massy post office.  I have to admit, this is the first time I've been this angry in a while.  Sure there are things about the French culture that I don't understand or that I find confusing and irritating, but this crossed the line.  Even I, the world's worst doer-of-math could add, subtract, multiply, and divide well enough to know that I was getting RIPPED OFF!  BY THE POST OFFICE!!  REALLY??  VRAIMENT!!!

I've been reminded that the fact that I managed to make her angry long before I got angry EN FRANÇAIS might actually be considered a language victory.  After all, this whole interaction was in French . . . and I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything incorrectly . . . and I definitely didn't use tu instead of vous . . . Ah, the sweet taste of progress.  I guess it's all about perspective.

(Then to add insult to injury, our train wasn't running all the way into Paris for a while today, so we got dumped off about 1/3 of the way in and told to take a bus . . . two hours later we made it to where we were going . . . but that's another story for another day.)

7 comments:

David said...

Aww Deb I feel for you. An interesting story though, and I share your bewilderment. I'd have been tempted to by ONE stamp and see what she charged me. And if it was 85 euros, buy another. Who knows? Maybe you could have done this 20 times...

Deborah said...

I was actually thinking about doing that! To see how long it took her to catch on.

This morning I asked one of my prof's about it, and she said there was definitely a problem with the computer, and that she couldn't understand why the woman wasn't seeing the error as well. I'm still a bit cranky about it . . . I wanted to take her a third grade math book and drop it on her desk, but I think that might have been rude and over the top! :)

David said...

I'm going to the La Poste today and if they give me a better price I'll let you know (Or I'll just use the machine inside the door)

Liz said...

This is why we use the vending/scale machine. I've had problems being ripped off at Franprix before, it's not pretty. Like you said, the plus side is that you are making progress in French. The greatest sign of anger is to spit, as we learned on the bus.

Littleparisienne said...

I complety understand your feelings. Many French cashiers are just lame, so, next time, please just tell her she needs to get back to school and move on :-) People here are so rude and impolite sometime, you need to protect yourself from them. I have lived in the US, and was AMAZED every time I was greeted by a "Hello, How are you" or "Oh honey, don't bother, I can do it for you" in a grocery store, at the post office, etc etc. I miss that so much!! On my blog, a few days ago, I talked about a really bad customer experience too; see it happens to every French person too:-) Good luck, and please do not believe all French people are like those nasty people:-)

Littleparisienne said...

I complety understand your feelings. Many French cashiers are just lame, so, next time, please just tell her she needs to get back to school and move on :-) People here are so rude and impolite sometime, you need to protect yourself from them. I have lived in the US, and was AMAZED every time I was greeted by a "Hello, How are you" or "Oh honey, don't bother, I can do it for you" in a grocery store, at the post office, etc etc. I miss that so much!! On my blog, a few days ago, I talked about a really bad customer experience too; see it happens to every French person too:-) Good luck, and please do not believe all French people are like those nasty people:-)

Liz said...

This is why we use the vending/scale machine. I've had problems being ripped off at Franprix before, it's not pretty. Like you said, the plus side is that you are making progress in French. The greatest sign of anger is to spit, as we learned on the bus.