Thursday, June 30, 2005


I love Spain. There are millions of wonderful things about living here. But customer service isn’t one of them.

Take restaurants, for example. In the US, going out to dinner is like visiting an exclusive spa. A smiling waitperson arrives at your table and asks if the chair is to the liking of your buttocks. He then takes your order with one hand, while giving a soothing scalp massage with the other. He leaves and—within 35 seconds—returns with your food. He asks if everything was alright during those 35 seconds. As you eat, he returns to the table eighteen times to (a) confirm that your food is OK, (b) refill your water glass, (c) smooth any unsightly wrinkles from your lapels, (d) buff your shoes to a glass-like sheen, (e) confirm that the food is *still* OK, and then (f) remove all empty plates within two nanoseconds after your fork is laid down. The bill is promptly tendered, payment is made, and then…the waitperson lofts you onto his shoulders and carries you to your home.

In Spain, however, things are a bit different. The 100-table restaurant has one waiter—typically the owner’s ill-tempered, blanket-sweating brother-in-law. Twenty minutes after seating, he appears at your table and grunts. Taking the cue, you place your order and the waiter disappears. Twenty minutes later, the food arrives. You finish your food, then spend another twenty minutes trying to seize the waiter’s attention by impersonating an albatross giving flight. Grunt! You request the bill and he stalks-off. Twenty minutes and another albatross flight later, you gently ask if—perhaps—it’s possible that he might’ve forgotten about your bill? GRUNT, GRUNT, GRUNT! With the flash of a Bic® pen, he slaps a plain-white slip of paper onto the table. It contains illegible handwritten scrawl, followed by the number “35.75€.” If you’re lucky, you’ll have exact change. Otherwise…another twenty minutes.

Don’t think that this trend is limited to restaurants. No…during my five and a half years here, I’ve seen displays of service across the board that range from comical to maddening to plain ol’ bizarre.

For instance, we once hired a bricklayer to cement decorative stones onto our living room fireplace. We told him that we wanted yellow stones. We showed him the yellow stones. His quote specified yellow stones. But what did he deliver? Pink stones. Pink stones!!!—followed by 45 minutes of arguing that (a) they’re not pink…they’re yellow; then (b) well…there’s a bit of pink, but they’re mostly yellow; then (c) OK…they’re 100% pink, but they’ll still look good.

He and his pink stones were asked to leave.

Then there’s the story about the heating-oil guy. Our house has a huge heating-oil tank in the basement and—three weeks ago—the oil company truck came to refill it. And while 1,000 liters of highly-flammable heating-oil were being pumped into this de facto nuclear bomb in our basement, what do you think the oil company guy did? You guessed it! He leaned against the wall and…LIT A CIGAR!!!

Strange? Indeed. True? I swear it! It should therefore surprise nobody that my greatest fear is that I might someday need an organ transplant while living in Spain.

“Doctor, is it—perhaps—possible that you might’ve forgotten about my kidney?”

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At 5:49 PM, Blogger ironporer said...

Ahh, such wonderful memories of waiters over there- though if you leave a hefty tip and are lucky enough to get the same waiter the next time, you are treated like gold.
Prior to getting married in Gibraltar my wife and I had gone to eat to a great place in Algeciras and left the waiter a 10 euro tip (unheard of, I know). The next day we came back with some friends and the same waiter fawned over us like we were the king and queen- even giving us a special 'wedding' tray of pasteles y helados as a no charge gift... and the young man earned himself another 20 as I recall. Our friends could not believe the service we got.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hello Iron Man:

Your story is inspiring. So much, in fact, that I might try tipping BEFORE the meal next time I am out.

And your comment about a 10€ tip being "unheard of" is spot-on. A ten percent tip is considered damn generous here. It's fun to watch American visitors squirm when they try to plunk down 20% and I tell them, "Cut that in half! Trust me, it's the best tip he'll get all night."

I once was waiting for a table at a very good restaurant in Barcelona called "Bilboa." Two middle-aged lovebirds were seated at a table nearby. I noticed that the waiter brought them their bill. It was 90€. How much did they leave as a tip? 25 cents.

Even by Spain's miserly standards, this was not much a a tip. The waiter's face said it all.

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It should therefore surprise nobody that my greatest fear is that I might someday need an organ transplant while living in Spain."

At least it does surprise me... Given the fact that Spain is the country where organ transplant waiting times are the lowest... Not considereing, of course, countries where you pay for the organ.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

I'm sorry...but are you actually trying to apply logic to my writings?

Please don't make that mistake. It will bring nothing but frustration.

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It should therefore surprize nobody..."

"At least it does surprise me..."

That must mean that you are nobody.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Please, folks! No flaming! No trolls!

I'm all for wit and sarcasm. And I appreciate Mr. Anonymous's spirited defense. But let's not flame. Let's not be trolls!

At least, not on my blog.


At 3:18 AM, Blogger Jiminy Crippers said...

I saw your blog on Expatica, and this story as well as others got me laughing pretty good.
All the best...


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