We didn’t like each other before we’d even met.
It was nothing unusual. This was, after all Germany, and we were, in fact, in a restaurant. The hungry passerby and the German waiter are natural enemies.
“Can I get you started with some drinks?” the waiter wanted to know. He’d eagerly watched us from the bar, waiting for us to take off our coats before pouncing with the menus. I had high hopes. Maybe here, in a tiny, old-school German restaurant that proudly proclaimed “Futtern wie bei Muttern!” (Chow down like you do at Mom’s) on the sign, we would find a unicorn, a revolution, a miracle: the German waiter who had not only heard the words customer service, but who had actually looked them up in the dictionary.
“I’d like a coffee, and we’d also like two waters, not sparkling.”
“Ah, we only have sparkling water,” he replied. He said it resolutely, firmly. Oh you silly child! No one ever taught you about how everyone in Germany drinks sparkling water? Silly tourists, tap water is for National Socialists.
(This aversion to tap water had, in fact, once been mentioned to me in a small high school German classroom over an out-dated book filled with pictures of badly dressed people named Heike, Sven, and Lars who liked to go hiking and introduce themselves to each other over and over and over again. Upon arriving in Germany, however, I learned that sparkling water was not the sole monarch, and that while many people preferred it, still water and tap water were not, in fact, extinct. Or poisonous.)
I looked at him, and then at the faucet hanging smugly over the bar sink. “Well, we’ll have tap water then.”
Up until this point, he had managed to maintain the front of polite etiquette he’d put on that morning with his little white chef’s hat. But this was the last straw. The sausage that broke the waiter’s back.
“I can’t sell you tap water!”
“Why not?” (And by ‘Why not,’ I of course meant, “Oh! So you can give it to us for free!” If only I could manage to be so pert on cue.)
“I can’t legally sell you tap water. There are German grocery laws!”
He started waving his arms around, as if to point out all of the invisible food inspectors who would shut down his restaurant if he sold us two glasses of tap water. I glanced around. We were the only three people in the restaurant. Maybe he thought we were the inspectors.
“Listen, I live one block away. Am I supposed to go home, fill up my glass there, and bring it back?”
He threw his hands in the air. His eyes said “Who do you think you are!!?” His fingers said “This is GERMANY!” And his shoulders cried, “THERE ARE LAWS.” Then he disappeared into the kitchen. We never got our water.
Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to present to you German customer service. Or perhaps, quite simply, the stubborn insistence on following the prescribed rules that is as common here as dandelions in midsummer. I might even go so far as to say that certain historical events could not have happened if people…oh never mind. Point is, it doesn’t just apply in restaurants.
For example, telephone “customer service” agents have repeatedly told the residents of my WG that they would, in fact, send a technician to set up the internet service we’d ordered from them. That was two months ago. Approximately one month ago, another customer service representative told my house mate, in the first sign of intelligent life we’d seen from the company since signing up, that he would do everything he could to figure out why it was taking so long. He then proceeded to say that he would email his findings to my house mate later that day.
I guess he’d forgotten that they were talking about how we didn’t have any internet service in the first place.
And I had been under the impression that internet providers were interested in collecting as many paying customers as possible. But after considerable thought, I’ve decided that I’d misjudged their business strategy.
I sometimes try to imagine what sort of training German customer service representatives receive. Do they skip the training all together? Or are they just too underpaid to give a shit? The latter I can understand. What I cannot understand is how any of these restaurants and companies are still in business. People complain, but nobody complains as loud as the expats. And the “there is no fucking customer service here fuck this country” is a complaint I’ve heard from almost every expat I’ve met here.
It’s not that these situations wouldn’t and don’t piss your average German off as much as your average Amie expat, but it seems that, in the end, most people just sigh and resign themselves to the policies of whatever company they’re currently at the mercy of. At the end of the day it’s not the customer who is always right, but the rule or policy being enforced. And to be fair, anyone who’s worked in any service industry anywhere knows that it’s full of asshole customers who treat you like shit and expect you to wipe their asses in return. Clerks at the mercy of policies, customers at the mercy of clerks who had no say in the policies that they’re enforcing. Bitters anyone? Perhaps the disrepute of German customer service is not due to misguided training programs or incompetence, but a subtlety planned workers’ revolt. Dear Capitalism, I want a divorce.