Living in Rome is not without its challenges. I think that over the last 5 years that's become somewhat apparent based on some of my previous posts. I know this. I live this day-in and day-out. And yet, every once in a while one of these challenges rises up, hits me upside the head, and I find myself shaking my head asking myself "what just happened?" Such was the case at the grocery store the other day. Here is my latest tale of "living in Rome strikes again."
Last Tuesday found Christine and me shopping for community dinner. Since the students were scheduled to be out and about all day, we volunteered to pinch hit and make dinner for the community. Seeing as we've been eating a lot of pizza and pasta lately, we thought taco salad would be a nice change of pace...hence grocery shopping. So, we gathered our supplies, put them in our cart, and went to check-out. Normally, we use the self-checkout because it's easier. The people who work at this particular grocery store aren't necessarily warm and fuzzy people. My experience with many of them is such that I avoid using the people-manned check-outs because I just don't want to deal with whatever is going on with them. Not that day, though. I had cash to use to pay for my groceries and you can't use cash in self-checkout. Unfortunately, the only register open was manned by a gentleman that I have particularly avoided in the past. Still, I had no other option.
I sucked it up and began to unload my items onto the conveyor belt. He scanned my items and as I moved to the front to begin to bag my own groceries---no bag "boys" here--I saw him toss my bag of limes to behind him off of the conveyor belt. This caused me to pause for a moment. I looked at him and then at the limes. "I can't purchase those?" I asked in Italian. "No," he replied. "They don't scan." Ok. "So, I can't have them? Can't you just punch in the numbers?" He shook his head and replied, "They don't scan." Ok. That's not what I asked. "Ok, I'll go get another bag." He shook his head again and said, "Those won't scan either." Huh? You have limes for sale, but nobody can buy them because they don't...scan? Surely the numbers along the bottom of the barcode can be entered manually just as easily. He just looked at me, his facial expression one of complacency and annoyance as he waited for me to pay him. He refused to "go the extra mile" and punch in a 10-digit code. Oh...wait...it's break time, isn't it? It's time for you to go get your 3rd coffee and 20th cigarette? And that's where I "lost" it... in English.
"That's insane. So just because you don't want to take two seconds to punch in the code, nobody can buy limes? What kind of a system is that? How do you function? Absolutely ridiculous! Whatever." I huffed as I handed him my money. I was beyond thinking or speaking in Italian. Nope. This situation called for my mother tongue. As he handed me my change he plastered what can only be described as a condescending smile on his face and said, "Thank you very much." To which I promptly replied, "Prego."
Customer service does not exist here. Yes, there are moments when someone does "go out of their way" and does their job, but more often than not I feel like when I enter a shop or a store the people who work there act as if I should be grateful that they are there to sell me X, Y, or Z. Shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't expect people to fall all over me, but I do expect some level of service. Oh wait. I forgot. I'm not in America. Say what you want about capitalism, but it's because of that ideology to a certain extent that customer service is such a high priority in the States.
Still, my faith in what customer service exists in Rome was restored shortly thereafter. Christine suggested that I try to purchase the limes at the self-checkout. I tried and they didn't scan. I looked for a place where I could enter the code manually, but I didn't see anything. Finally, the man who usually monitors the self-checkout and the exit came over to me. He asked me if he could enter the code for me. Yes, yes you can! I thanked him profusely for his kindness and his help. We even talked about what I was going to do with the limes and when I told him that I was making Mexican salsa, he was genuinely interested. He is my new best friend.
I get frustrated with myself when I look at the world around me from the perspective and values of my home culture. I can't judge another culture based on what's right/expected in mine because they're different with different people and a different way of doing things. This doesn't mean how they or how I do things is right or wrong. It's just different.
I wonder if there will ever come a day when I don't get frustrated or when I'm not taken aback because of how thing work here....nahh....I don't think that day will ever come. I'm too much of an American at heart. And I'm ok with that.