Read other short pieces about PCV experiences
Andy's previous articles:
Teaching high schoolers free-market economics
Looking for Ben Franklin in Timisoara
Partying with Peasants and A Letter to America
Some of Andy's photos are at Yahoo
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by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002 )
MARK MY WORDS: I will never again make fun of the Wal-Mart greeter, or any perky cashier back home who enthusiastically wishes me to Have a nice day! Or be annoyed by an eager clothing salesman asking, May I help you find something? Or Amtrak, or the U.S. Postal Service or . . . Lets just say that customer service doesnt exist in formerly communist Romania.
There are many things that I like about Romania, my home of one year now, but the lack of customer service actually, the rudeness and apathy is definitely not one of them. Its easy to blame the old regime, but cmon folks, its been almost 14 years since the Revolution and many of these indifferent employees are young enough to know better.
I noticed it immediately upon arriving last summer, and its one of the things Im now accustomed to but dont want to accept, especially as my Romanian language skills improved. Dont get me wrong, there are nice and helpful clerks and waiters here and there, and of course Ive experienced bad service in the States and elsewhere, but nowhere compares to Romania. And it had better change to help a burgeoning tourism industry, one with great potential.
OK, sometimes the clerks in America may be a little phony do they really care if I have a nice day? But usually they are helpful, polite or at least efficient. Why? They know that the customers pay their salaries. The customer is always right, right? Simple concepts, no? Not here in the former Eastern Bloc.
I could fill a book with examples. But to give you an idea, not once not a single time in eating out in Romania, from dirty fast-food places to smart cafes, from mediocre pizza joints to Peace Corps-budget-buster splurges at elegant restaurants that could be anywhere, has a waiter or waitress come up and asked if everything was OK or if I needed something. Never. The menu, usually shared among the table, may indicate certain entrees or choices, but that doesnt mean they have it. You want the check and need to go? Good luck, it may be a while. Nine times out of 10, you practically need to tackle the server to get his attention. If the restaurant has a cash register, bonus! If not, wait while the server painfully calculates by hand.
The other night, two Italian friends, who also live here, and I went to a restaurant with a nice terrace. None of our orders were that complicated, basically involving the ubiquitous chicken prepared different ways, and we waited more than two hours, even for our cucumber-and-tomato salads. We complained and the waiter shrugged without a word. We asked for toasted bread. No way, the kitchen is too busy. My Italian pal muttered, Incredible. Romania is just incredible.
Another time, in the capital of Bucharest, a colleague and I walked into an empty café. Five employees (the Romanian employee-to-customer ratio, also a communist holdover, is another story) were at a table, smoking and chatting. Our arrival triggered only a furtive glance and we had to wait a few minutes for a waitress to finish her cigarette and saunter over to our table. This is nothing out of the ordinary. When Ive experienced this attitude or flat-out rudeness in the company of Romanians and asked about it, they merely chalk it up to normalcy. This is Romania, they are fond of saying.