In the Suitcase: Customer service abroad

“Customer Service” is a term that truly, really, only exists in the United States and perhaps in parts of Canada. Even in sections of the U.S., it’s a loose term. In other countries, the customer is not always right. I’ve been told this in many languages, and if I didn’t understand them in that language, they’ll switch to English (their only customer service) to tell me I’m wrong. You can’t even argue, and you can’t get overly upset trying.

I’ve been reading and reading about various safaris around Tanzania for our upcoming trip, and the comments that people have. “Our truck broke down in the middle of the park and we had to sit and wait for the driver to fix it. Why couldn’t the company send another truck out? We lost valuable time.” Etc. The company apparently offered to give them a free tour of another park after they complained, but they couple could not comprehend why the company didn’t send another truck to them. The response from someone else: This is Africa. You think these companies just have trucks lying around to send to people in the middle of the wild?

I’ve heard of people getting upset when hotels change reservations on them, flights change, routes alter, menus change. You can’t argue it. You can try, but you’ll just get yourself more worked up over it. In the Caribbean, you’re on island time. Things will happen when they feel like it. In France (and Italy, and other parts of the Europe), meals are supposed to be eaten slowly and enjoyed. The restaurants are not there to turn tables as quickly as possible. So you can’t get upset if the waiter appears to be ignoring you. He’s probably just leaving you alone. In China, you can’t expect to wait on an organized line for your turn. People don’t wait on line – they push to the front. I’ve been yelled at it several countries by waiters, salesclerks, hotel attendants, flight agents, cab drivers – and they don’t care. In their minds, I messed up and they shouldn’t have to do extra to get me out of the mess, whatever it was.

At the same time, you’ll sometimes come across customer service that is above and beyond what you’d expect.

Short of being ripped off, take it as part of the experience. If you go somewhere and are treated the way you “expect” – people waiting eager to please you, waiting hand and foot, then you’ve missed out on some of the true cultural experiences of dealing with people. At the same time, sometimes you’ll deal with individuals who want to make sure your trip to their country is memorable in a positive way. Take it as it comes and don’t over-expect people to cater to the ways you’re used to back home.


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