Notes from the Service Wasteland

I’ve been in Germany long enough that I’ve forgotten about all the little ticks and quirks that go along with living here. I’ve gotten used to people staring at me for seemingly no reason. I’ve grown accustomed to the elbows-out stampede approach to getting on the subway. Hell, I’ve even started eating my pizza with a fork AND knife.

I guess you could say I integrated. Or at least I reached that point where I recognized that bitching about how much better things are on the other side of the Atlantic does not a sea change create. Besides, there’s only so much hostility one can reserve for others who “do it wrong” and after my last two years, I’ve got no fucks left to give, really, when it comes to such everyday things. Someone wants to jump in line in front of me at the bakery? Go right the bloody hell ahead. My broetchen’s not going to get any warmer with my blood boiling.

When my mom came to visit last month, I took for granted that she would have figured the whole “things are different in Germany but that’s okay” attitude out. In my seven years here, she’s visited once each year. You would think she’d know the German way of life inside out. So on the day after she arrived, when I had an early morning meeting and the kid wanted to spend the day with Oma, I thought it’d be okay to leave the two of them alone together.

Because I have integrated so well, I have zero food in my house (I believe in the whole buy-groceries-the-day-you-use-them and will thus never survive after a hurricane) so I gave my mom 20 Euro, told her to grab some food at the market on the corner and wrote down my mobile number. At the very least, she had my daughter, an old hand, with her to show her the way home.

When I got home at the end of the day, my mom said she was starving. “But I gave you money to buy yourself food,” I said because even though I’d eaten, I had no more food with me than when I’d left that a.m. and could offer her nothing.

“No, you gave me money to buy your daughter yogurt.” She pointed at a package of chocolate pudding.

“That’s not yogurt,” I said as the Diva in Training pirouetted herself into an oblivion while screeching like a howler monkey (yes, I am one of those awful moms who doesn’t *normally* have sugar in the house). “And why didn’t you get yourself some?”

“I didn’t know what anything was. All the labels were in German. And the ladies at the cash register weren’t about to help me. They acted like they were pissed I was there.”

Right. In my integrated mind, I’d forgotten all about the horrors that are German supermarkets. Not only does Quark come in packages that look like yogurt (also tried to feed that to my Mom, sorry Mom!) and bottles of water come with bubbles trapped inside, but the people you give your money to don’t even acknowledge your existence as they try to shove you out of the way for the next guy in line (also see link #40 and 47).

It’s part of the whole service desert experience here. One I’ve actually come to embrace. Because who the hell needs a waiter swinging by to ask how your dinner is before your fork has even been lifted? Or a bill dropped just as the plates are being cleared? Fuck bubbly customer service superficiality. Just be there when I snap my fingers, a’right?

Or at least that’s my standard feeling about customer service in Germany. But for whatever reason, these last few weeks have shown me the epitome of ridiculously bad customer service and it really is getting to be too much. Because I’m so integrated now, I speak my mind directly and don’t bother with trying to not hurt service personnel’s feelings but it still does make me get a little hostile. When the teenage drop-out working at the post office proclaimed she did not, in fact, have my package behind the counter and then took her miserly time not doing a damn thing about it, I wrote her name down, told her she’d best start looking for a new job and went about filing that complaint like the seasoned old pro at taking no nonsense that I am.

When the new girl at the boutique down the street started arguing with me when I told her the hat she’d special ordered for me was not, in fact, the right color (“But I told you it was Schlamm,” she said, to which I said, “Sweets, I’m as acquainted with bad fashion descriptors as you are. Mud doesn’t mean shit. I told you gray.”), all I could do at the end was thank her for her time and walk on out. I’m a firm believer in buying at boutiques but I draw the line at people trying to sell me shit I don’t want and I certainly don’t think arguing with me that mud is actually gray is going to convince me to purchase something that isn’t what I’d ordered.

Which is strange, because I’m actually a pretty easy upsell. If I’m in a store that looks like the buyers have a sense of style, I straight up ask salespeople what they’d wear with a certain piece. All those years of working retail trained me in shopping, but saleswomen here Uh, jeans? is not the right answer for an easy upsell.

At least they try, though. The cake-topper of shitty service experiences has to be when I went to a hosiery shop (Yes! This is what I love about Germany! Stores dedicated only to tights! Talk about dedicating yourself to something.) to buy white cable-knit tights. I don’t know what the hell possessed me to want white cable-knit tights, but I was pretty adamant in wanting them so I asked the store’s owner if she had any. She did. She came out from behind the counter, pulled them out of a box, looked me up and down, then put them back, saying, “But your legs are far too thick to be wearing white tights. Why don’t you try gray instead.”

Bitch I KNOW I’ve got thick legs. Ain’t nothing going to change that. But now you’re out the 20 Euros I was about to drop on your white cable-knit tights. Argh….

It could be worse, I know. I could be in America where every soul is out to sell you something. At least here I can walk down the street (on my thick legs) in peace, without having flyers shoved in my face by dancing chickens.


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