Walking up to a counter at a store, or at the farmers 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 Ive 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 Timisoaras 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 hasnt changed much. Tipping in restaurants or taxis is optional but more and more popular and becoming expected, but even that doesnt 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 dont seem to be in many peoples vocabulary. This attitude, sadly, is representative of many things in my adopted country. Depending on the situation, sometimes I call this to peoples attention, politely, in hopes that it will show them a different way. But it doesnt seem to register. Its a shame.
The next time you walk into Wal-Mart, think about Romania, and say hello to the greeter for me.