IT WAS A PLEASURE TO DISSERVE YOU.
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?”