Peace Corps Writers
Customer Service? (page 2)
A Volunteer's life in Romania
page 1
page 2

Walking up to a counter at a store, or at the farmer’s market, or anywhere else, more often than not you are greeted with a single word, “Spuneti” (spoo-netz) — ironically in the formal, polite form of you — and meaning “You speak” or “Say it (you).” Or maybe an abrupt “Poftiti,” (pof-teetz) or “Ce doriti?” (chay doreetz), or “What do you want?”
     Many a time I’ve entered a store only to get a “You are interrupting me” glare from a clerk, often seated. At a supposedly Western-style grocery store, the cashier scolded me for not bagging my groceries fast enough and clogging the counter. And you have to buy the bags, too.
     Once at a bank, a teller was excruciatingly rude to me, despite my best Romanian and polite salutations, when I tried to transfer cash to an account in another city. She just didn’t want to deal with the paperwork on a Friday afternoon.
     My favorite bookstore recently closed for two weeks for “inventory.” Two weeks? I remember checking into a motel on the Black Sea coast last summer, only to find a filthy room with bed bugs. The front desk manager didn’t care, offering a “take it or leave it” and no refund. I left.
     The “ladies” at Post Offices and train ticket offices — both state-run places with comfy jobs — are almost always curt and rarely make eye contact. I learned the proper terms and most polite way to ask for things, in complete Romanian sentences, but now I waste no time or energy. I just place the post card or letter on the counter and say, “To USA,” or ask for a ticket “to Bucharest, tomorrow, second class.” I once bought a bus ticket for a grueling 7-hour trip, but the bus was oversold and standing-room-only. I refused to go, marched back into the station and asked for my money back. The clerk was incredulous and yelled at me. I had to yell back and demand to see the boss, who reluctantly gave me a refund, creating a scene probably never seen in Timisoara’s grimy bus depot.
     Under the communist system, clerks were powerful and customers were at their mercy, whether waiting in line for bread or a bus ticket. It was their privilege, not the other way around, to be waited upon, and often bribes were necessary, rudeness customary. Unfortunately, this system hasn’t changed much. Tipping in restaurants or taxis is optional but more and more popular and becoming expected, but even that doesn’t seem to make much difference. Nor does complaining to the boss, who probably thinks the same way. Low salaries and morale are partly to blame, I assume, but laziness and apathy are part of it, too. Service, satisfaction, competition and profitability don’t seem to be in many people’s vocabulary. This attitude, sadly, is representative of many things in my adopted country. Depending on the situation, sometimes I call this to people’s attention, politely, in hopes that it will show them a different way. But it doesn’t seem to register. It’s a shame.

The next time you walk into Wal-Mart, think about Romania, and say hello to the greeter for me.

Before joining the Peace Corps, Andy Trincia was a corporate communications executive in the financial services industry. Sworn in on August 16, 2002, he is working at the West University of Timisoara, as a business consultant for the Center for Career Development, and is also teaching courses. We have asked Andy to file reports for his two years of service of what his life is like working and living in Romania.
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