Monday, 6 October 2008

Crise? What Crisis?

Live in Paris and you get used to having a curt "No" barked at you from people who should be trying to sell you something but frankly do not give a stuff. What is genuinely surprising is that they are doing it even now.

Twice in the last few days - in a popular children's clothes shop and a High Street electrical store - I have faced what is, in current circumstances, particularly astonishing rudeness. In both I was about to spend up to 100 euros (£67). I was so fed up by the surly attitude of the staff when I asked simple questions, I put down what I was going to buy and walked out. Both times I thought: "I'll order it online." In a third shop I returned an item because it was too small and was told off by the harpie-voiced manageress because the wrapping was damaged. I pointed out it was damaged when I bought it. "No it wasn't. You damaged it," she said.

What planet are these people from? Have they not seen the newspapers, listened to the radio, watched the television, had a pep talk from their stricken bosses? After a certain Schadenfreude here about the 'American' financial crisis, people have woken up to discover France is not an economic island. "Yes guys, it can happen here," I say in sorrow not smugness. Even in a boom I have difficulty understanding how one becomes so far removed from reality as to not realise that if you are employed by a shop it is in your personal interest to encourage people to spend money in it. If you cannot do it for sensible economic reasons, for God's sake do it for selfish ones.

It truly baffles me. I would not wish unemployment, hardship and misery on anyone so why do these people behave as if they wish it upon themselves?


Cimon said...

I guess this is another cultural difference...

I read that a Brit had found online an electronic item and asked the local shop salesperson to have the same price. The answer was : why don't you buy it there, then ?

Maybe what is supposed to be bargained is different. But there is also the #1 rule in France : avoid confrontation, try and explain how bad you made it and the salesperson can save your life, it should give better results !

Daisy said...

This is exactly how I feel - I just do not understand why shopkeepers are so reluctant to sell me their wares!! I think they're so proud they'd rather go bankrupt with attitude than serve an Anglaise politely!! And for that, I salute them.

Jaywalker said...

I got shouted at SO MUCH in shops when I lived in Paris, that I developed a nervous tic when approaching Monop'.

Cimon - "avoid confrontation" - are you Parisian? Surely not. Because, er, no. Rush headlong towards confrontation. Show no weakness. Attack is best form of defence; this was the advice of all my Parisian friends.

parisgirl said...

Cimon... Confrontational? Trying to bargain? Threatening to buy something online? Not at all. At the risk of being boring, the precise questions I asked were:

Me: "Excusez-moi svp, do you have a tape-measure."
Answer: "No. Why do you want one the trousers are adjustable."
Me: "The problem is I need to know what measurement to start from and I forgot my tape-measure."
Answer: "Well I haven't got one. In any case it's the length that's important. The waist is adjustable.
Me: "Do you know what the length of these is please?"
Answer: "No."

Me: "Excusez-moi svp, does this work with a Mac?"
Answer: "No."
Me: "Do you have one that works with a Mac?"
Answer: "No. (walking away) You need a special card."
Me (trotting after):"Do you have one of these cards."
Answer: "No."

I tried to explain what I wanted but each time the sales person said "No" she/he walked off. In both shops. This is definitely a cultural difference and one I will never ever get. As Daisy says it's almost as if they would rather go bankrupt and lose their jobs.
Jaywalker, next time I'll trying being confrontational and report back. It goes against the grain, but what is there to lose?

Cimon said...

@ Jaywalker & parisgirl

Ok, OK, I did not want to stand in defense of the salesperson !

But, as an example of cultural gap, everytime I went to a restaurant in the US, and the waitress made the classical "hi I am Candy and I am here to help you bla bla bla", I felt this "being nice" was "being a hypocrite", and really felt uncomfortable with it ! I know things don't go this way, but that's the idea with cultural differences, isn't it ?

Anyway, at least, you didn't get insulted, as I saw this saturday...

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I have exactly the same experience here in Albania. You're made to feel you're putting someone out, and there's zero concept of customer service, or the repercussions of bad service. Today I weighed my fruit and veg myself, stuck the prices on, & sealed them, because i was tired of waiting for the assistant whose Eye I kept catching but who ignored me. She THEN came over, took each bag out of my basket to check I had the right prices on & hadn't 'cheated'......... Grrrr!

Jaywalker said...

Oh no! Darty at Av. des Ternes used to be my one oasis of customer service! Clearly nothing is sacred.

parisgirl said...

Jaywalker...the one on Avenue de la République actually!

Jaywalker said...

I suppose that makes me feel slightly better. We can have a rudeness masterclass when me meet up (er, except I am not very good and usually end up crying while person I am trying to be rude to has not even noticed)

Iota said...

Don't go to Belgium. They are legendarily rude in shops there.

I agree with Cimon. A lot is simply cultural (although it's difficult to argue that rudeness can be anything other than rudeness). The "have a nice day" thing is usually just a nicety, and meaningless.

Swearing Mother said...

I don't know why some people go into a service industry when really they're the type that would like to do you a disservice if they can manage it.

Jaywalker said...

Oooh Iota. No. At least not Paris vs Bruxelles. The Dutch bit though - oooh yeah, those guys are impressive.

parisgirl said...

Iota, strangely the French do have the "have-a-nice-day" equivalent. This was to be my next post!

Swearing Mother and PLIT, I know and I am not being gratuitously's everywhere not just Paris or France.

Cimon, I have great respect for cultural differences and do not want you to think I haven't. I can understand someone working in a shop/bar/café/restaurant being rude if the customer is rude. I can also understand that the "customer is always right" attitude prevalent in much of (but certainly not all) the UK and the US can appear hypocritical, though it does certainly oil the wheels of commerce. I suppose the point I am trying to make is that this rudeness is much more than unpleasant; it is so terribly counter-productive. I am there to buy, they are there to sell. It's a symbiotic relationship that only works if both parties are playing the game. I appreciate, they work in the shop, and don't own or run it and may feel they have less to lose. This attitude might not matter in areas where there is little competition (as was the case in the former Soviet bloc), but here customers have plenty of choice where spend their money and will, like me, shop elsewhere. It is not rocket science to make the connection between a drop in trade and takings and eventual closures and staff cuts, especially in the current parlous economic climate.

Gite Guru said...

This is a pet hate of mine and i've found a few variables which affect the frequency and degree of rudeness;

1. Density of english people in the area. Try going into a shop in Tignes ski resort in the Alps which is overrun by the english and see how you're treated. From what I can glean, that's mainly due to the fact that the french see all english people as rude piss heads. Sadly as a nation we tend to bring it on ourselves.

2. Did you 'Bonjour Madame / Monsieur' before launching into conversation. Big no-no to forget it, and one that many english forget / don't realise.

3. Was the shop a boulangerie? Owners of bakeries in France are renouned even amongst the french for being rude and 'above their station' if such a thing still exists.

One thing I've noticed is that much of the rudeness simply washes over the heads of my friends with a lesser grasp of the lingo, so at the very least, draw solace from the fact that your mastery of the language is improving even as your blood boils.

And in terms of dealing with it? I'm with Jaywalker. Attack is the best form of defence. I usually start with a firm "Soyez polis s.v.p" and take it from there. It usually ends in bloodshed.

Parisgirl said...

Gite Guru, Absolutely right about drunken Brits bringing it on themselves. I can assure you on both occasions I cite, I had not touched a drop and was being as un-lairy and polite as it is possible to be without grovelling! No it wasn't a boulangerie, though you're right about them too. We boycott our only local one since the baker's wife, who was either weeping, moaning or sneezing - and sometimes all three - started ranting like a witch at her young assistant in front of all the customers. It put me right off the pain aux cereales.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I agree absolutely with your response here PG. And I think sometime sit iS worse in France, well, Paris actually. I lived there aeons ago in 1989 and found everyone so rude. But what I dont get is what you said, it's NOT rocket science so why oh why don't people make the connection?? My husband and I are always commenting re Albania, that anyone could make an absolute killing here if they just started ANY business in which they were polite, offered great (even just good ) service, were honest and helpful. But then here there are the issues of corruption and availability of stock etc. But even gd service wd be a start!

Cimon said...


Maybe local buyers do not expect anything as far as QoS is concerned...

And politeness is a very cultural thing : I would never thought I was rude when I picked up things (cup of tea, money) with my left hand in Syria !

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I take your point cimon I guess it is cultural, but perhaps what I meant was being 'nice' instead of polite, which I think is seriously under-rated! I don't mean sugary, over friendly or OTT, just, well 'helpful' Also QofS. Surely, surely there are universals to do with getting what you pay for in terms of quality, service industries being about....service etc etc.

ryan33 said...

I totally agree with your comments about this issue. I have lived here for two years and during that time have met the rudest salespeople known to man. I also worked in a bar here for a year and a half, and I never understand why as clients the French were always demanding more, things like turning up the music, the heating, changing the television channel, changing the menu, etc..
There is definitely something about the actual communication, and I honestly think French people are programmed to argue and be totally stubborn about something until they get their way. They do not understand the word no. When we as anglophones go into stores and they are rude, it's like they are testing our ability to stand up to them. Which, I almost always fail at out of complete frustration!!