Unfiltered Mommy

An honest view of parenting in today's world

German Customer Service

One of the things that I miss so much about American is Customer Service. I know it sounds strange, but when you come from a country where the “customer is always right” you really take it for granted. It wasn’t until living here and having the daily experience of interrupting with unfriendly store clerks who are annoyed because they have to help you or the cashiers who make me feel like I can’t get through their line fast enough, that I realized just how good we have it back home. It has got to be one of the biggest differences between the two cultures that I have come across so far. Rather than continuing to be annoyed with it, I have started to just shake my head and laugh when I hear this stuff or have these experiences, because honestly, some of it is truly is unbelievable.

For starters, nothing is open in Germany on Sunday except for gas stations and a few bakeries. It is considered the day of rest so very few people work and you are not allowed to do anything that would annoy your neighbors by the way of noise pollution. So no mowing the lawn or doing yard work on Sunday. No hanging laundry out on the line to dry in the sun because seeing you doing yard work or seeing your laundry is bothersome. Seriously? Um, yup! So even though Ruhetag or “Quiet day” sounds great in theory, I am not accustomed to it and it makes my weekend seem that much shorter. Every Saturday is spent running all the errands you need to do to get everything ready for the weekend and finishing up all the yard work. Meal planning for Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning needs to be done and all associated purchases need to be completed by end of day Saturday, which here is 10pm. To me it causes more stress. But it seems to be consistent with the theme here of “hurry up so you can relax” that I have seen. I think I personally like to be “calm and steady”, taking time to relax when I get the chance. So how does this relate to customer service? Oh yeah, well since everyone in town has to run all their errands on Saturday, the stores are crowed and the already unpleasant experience of shopping here just adds to the fun.

Limited Selection: Stores are small here and often have very limited selection. I went to the drug store to purchase a flea and tick collar as well as a few other items. The store has a very small pet section so I thought they may have basic needs like a flea collar. It is Spring here and there are many children and animals who have been getting ticks this month. Yuck!! So after looking, I could not find the collar so I went to look for an employee to help. This is difficult because other than cashiers there may be 1 or 2 other people working. Usually 2, but one is on a smoke break. Hahaha! (not really kidding) I found a woman who was helping someone else, so I stood there and waited my turn, hoping that she would not ignore me and walk away when she was finished. I got here (yeah!) and was able to find out that they do carry them but that they are sold out (of course) and would get a shipment on Tuesday. You guessed it, it was Saturday so it would be another 4 days before they had a flea collars. Oh my God! That would never happen in America. If you went to CVS, they would probably have a whole box of them in the back to restock or they would have them the next day. So on Monday, I drove across town to the pet store and bought one where they had a pretty good selection of 3 different kinds to choose from. I selected the ultrasonic tag for her collar. We’ll see if it works.

They only have one in your size: If you go to the mall in a small town like ours and have a common foot size like I do, 40 or 41, it can be difficult to get shoes you like in your size. Stores only get 1 or 2 pairs in each size, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. Some brand name stores can order it for you with free delivery to their store but since most of the stores here are independently owned, they don’t offer to order it for you. I guess they just hope that you’ll settle for something else they have in stock in your size, but coming from America and having an endless selection to choose from, makes one very picky about things like shoes and clothing. Plus these items are so expensive here, I really have to be sure I love them if I am going to commit to the purchase. It’s not like going to Target or DSW and spending $30 on a pair of sandals. When you are paying more than twice as much, you want to be certain they are the “right” pair. I will say though that I have found people working in small shoe stores to be quite friendly in comparison.

Unfriendly, often annoyed cashiers: The people who work at grocery stores and restaurants are really lacking in the customer service department, with cashiers at these stores taking the prize for the most unfriendly people. They are borderline hostile, I wonder that is all about. I really don’t get it. Cashiers here sit on chairs and scan your groceries and take your money. That’s it. There are no coupons, bagging or anything else. Just scanning and taking money. Sounds easy enough but oh my gosh, if you change your mind and decide you don’t want something after it is scanned, they have no ability to void the item. They have to re-ring the entire order? Yup, it has happened more than once. They get pissed and they make sure they give you the death glare long enough so you know just how pissed they are, and to give you a chance to change your mind so they don’t actually have to work that hard. But guess what? Tough shit. It’s your job. Do it. If something is leaking or a package gets opened, I don’t want it. Especially if I have not paid yet and I have not left the store with it. I am not buying it!!

Apathetic employees: We had the most uncommunicative travel agent too! Crazy right? My husband and I went to the travel agency sans kids to get some information on a package to go to Sicily for a week. You would think the travel agent would want to sell you a package for 4 people including airfare, rental car and resort for a week but she was totally uninterested in us or selling us anything. I honestly think she was half asleep during our interaction because their was no “selling” or even a hint of interest in helping us plan our vacation. We left there disappointed but not totally surprised either.

This was similar to our experiences buying furniture. The salespeople did not offer any information about things and getting them to explain about delivery and installation was like pulling teeth. We had to ask every questions every time. We also learned that it takes a minimum of 8-10 weeks for delivery of furniture if you have to order it, which is like everything here unless they are selling the floor model.

Take zero responsibility: The absolute worst was the AEG repair man who told me that we broke our brand new dishwasher because we did not scape and rinse off each dish with a brush before placing it in the dishwasher. Somehow, that burned out the motor on a 4 month old machine. I explained to him that I have read the Owner’s Manual which specifically says “DO NOT RINSE DISHES PRIOR TO LOADING” and he began to lecture me about how in Germany they are about conservation so German dishwashers only uses 3 liters of water, blah, blah blah.Hey says “In America, you are all about…”, to which I replied “Shit that works!”. Oh man I was so mad at this point. So on his way out, he feels the need to insult us and our dog by saying “Oh, and don’t feed your dog so much and he won’t be fat.” WTF??? Yes, thank you dishwasher repair man for your 2 cents about how we care for our dog! So I kindly said, “Oh thanks, but our dog has a condition. She has a growth here” (and I pointed to her ‘fat’, which actually is a growth) .

So on Friday I have to get my iPad fixed (which is still under the 1 year warranty) so we ‘ll see how that goes!

 

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Reflections on the first year

Well it has officially been one year since we embarked on this journey. I would like to tell you that it has been a wonderful decision. I want to say that it has been everything I hoped for, but honestly it has been hard. Emotionally I feel like I have been extremely stressed and depressed. The first six months were probably the hardest six months of my life. Even the experience of being a new mother with Post-Partum Depression did not prepare me for the feelings of isolation and frustration I felt adjusting to the new life here.

I remember being in the temporary housing and crying every day. I tried not to tell my husband how bad it was because he was working and had struggles and adjustments of his own. I didn’t want to burden him with my issues which only made me feel more lonely. We had the dream life. We lived less than 2 miles from the Pacific Ocean and watched vacationers and surfers from all over the world come to our town to get a taste of the good life. I walked on the boardwalk everyday with the sun on my face and the ocean breeze in my hair. Why oh why would I voluntarily give that up?

It was not an easy decision. We went back and forth for a very long time, weighing all the Pros and Cons. As I laid in bed crying myself to sleep overnight for the first month, mourning the loss of my dream life, it was hard to remember the reasons why we actually pulled the trigger on the plan. Living without our household furniture and other items for almost 4 months was another snag in the plan that seemed to be a never ending cause of stress. The weather sucked. It was cold and rainy and I could not communicate the way I wanted to. It felt like everyone I saw was perfect and was judging me and my parenting skills.

When our container finally arrived, I felt a sense of normalcy for the first time. We had clothing and shoes other than the few items we packed into our suitcases. We were reunited with our kitchen tools and cookware! Yay! Our oldest stated Kindergarten and things were looking up. I felt a bit better. Summer came and we enjoyed long warm days. We met some neighbors and spent our summer vacation in Bavaria and Italy. I was starting to feel more comfortable speaking German again. After 6 months, we were finally settled in our home and I was finished building the Ikea catalogue!

The holidays away from home were hard. I missed our regular family traditions and trying to get the ingredients needed to put on a Thanksgiving Feast was nearly impossible. I started to get home sick. I thought of all the things I miss about America. I miss customer service, people smiling when they see you on the street, common courtesy, stores being open past 7pm, the variety, the endless options of mundane items like kitchen handtowels. I miss ethnic food. I miss black beans and Adobo.

But what I don’t miss is hearing about mass shootings. Or parents being reported to CPS every time they allow their children to roam more than 10 feet from them. I don’t miss all the vigilantly justice, people breaking out car windows because someone left their dog in the car for 5 minutes or calling the police because they saw a kid sitting in a parked car.  I don’t miss the hypocrisy of the USA at all.

After feeling the way I did for too long, I realized that I needed to do something to improve my state of mind. I enrolled in a sewing class with a friend and spent Tuesday evenings being ME. I enrolled our youngest in child care a few times a week, so she could play with other kids and I could have some time to do things for myself. It has been wonderful. My husband even remarked about how he has noticed a difference. I think it is important to remember that we are the creators of our own happiness. It is not always easy to recognize the signs when we are faltering and it is not easy to pull ourselves out of the hole of depression. But we must. We must take control of our lives and create the light when all we see is darkness.

I am feeling more positive about our decision as we move into “Year 2” of this adventure. I know there will be bumps in the road but I am ready.

 

 

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The Oxymoronic struggles of day-today life in Germany

The one thing that really sticks out in my mind as something that I really, truly did not know about German culture before we moved here, was how oxymoronic the social norms are here. If you think you know something about a culture just because you have a friend, cousin, or husband, or whatever from that culture, let me tell you, you have no clue unless you yourself have personally lived there. And I’m not talking about being an exchange student here, I mean really lived there as in carrying out everyday tasks like grocery shopping, working and jumping through all the necessary legal hoops to become integrated into the culture. It has been a huge eye-opener to say the least. Not only about my own life and experience in American culture, but also getting the full experience of German culture.

  1. Order, cleanliness, and… DOG POOP! So Germans are known for being orderly and having strict governmental regulations, laws and structure right? They also have a reputation for being clean, respecting the Earth, being eco-conscious etc. So after almost a year of living in a house that backs up to a large working farm, which doubles as a favorite place to let your dog run off leash and, ah hem, do it’s business, I  am shocked to see that hardly any one picks up their dog shit! Let’s say for example last week, I walked our dog behind the house. There were 4 other people there with a total of 9 other dogs. I was the only one who picked up after my dog. It is disgusting. Right by the field there is a container that always has free poop bags and a garbage can to put the filled bags in. So it is not a matter of not having a bag. They are provided. The girls and I have to watch out for poop every where. And it is not just here in the field. It’s all over the sidewalks, in parks adjacent to playgrounds. I mean c’mob people, really? Oh your dog just took a huge shit on the sidewalk, no worries. The other day I returned home from running errands, opened my car door IN MY DRIVEWAY, and luckily for me, I looked before I got out because, yup, you guessed it, there was a pile of shit right there in my driveway. SERIOUSLY? WTF?
  2. Structure and Punctuality. Oh my god, this has got to be one of the worst. I am not super punctual but I do like to be on time. I feel like with two young kids, it is almost impossible to be places bang on time or early. I mean, stuff happens when you are trying to get out the door. But here if you are on time, you are late. If they say they are meeting at 9am to go somewhere and you show up at 9am, they are gone. So apparently 9am, means 10 till 9 or so. I guess it is good, they are training kids from a early age to be on time but for me it causes a lot of unnecessary stress. Sometimes the bus ever comes early. So you think, ok I have to be there at 9:48, you arrive at 9:47, the bus never comes. Why? Because it came at 9:46 and you were not there! Arghhh! One of the most important government appointments we have had was scheduled for say 9am. They said “Don’t be late. If you’re late, then you have to reschedule.” We arrived early, like 8:45, checked in and sat in the waiting room. Waiting, waiting. 9am came and went, the number on our check in slip never popped up on the screen. Waiting, waiting. Our Relocation Specialist asked what was going on. They said  “Oh, you must have missed it. Your meeting was at 9am.” To which she replied, “No we did not miss it. We have been here waiting since 8:45”. You see, if anything ever goes wrong here, it’s never their fault, It’s is aways yours. There is a huge lack of culpability here, which is extremely infuriating coming from the land where the “customer is always right” but that is a topic for another day.
  3. Illusion of relaxation. One of the favorite German pastimes is walking or hiking in the woods. It appears that they are relaxed but in everyday activities like driving and shopping, everyone seems so pissed off and so hurried. I constantly feel like I am in someone’s way. They stand over you breathing down your neck while you ponder which box of tea to buy or try to make sense of the ingredients in the deodorant you are trying for the first time. Checking out at the grocery store or drug store is so stressful. Not only are they breathing down your neck because you are buying too much stuff, you also have to pack your own groceries and you aren’t doing it fast enough. There is no helpful young teenager there to assist you. You have to place the items back in your cart and then pack them into your own reusable grocery bags once you get to your car (yes it is a total waste of time) or scramble to get them into bags as they fly down the conveyer belt, hoping that the little foil lids on your yogurt or the packages of soup mix don’t get punctured before you get home because you don’t have a chance to lovely pack them in a way that keeps them safe. At the beginning of my time here, when I had a 3 year old and 1 year old in the grocery store with me, I would have panic attacks at the checkout. I dreaded going grocery shopping. I still do but I am woking on my bitchiest RBF to scowl back at them as I carefully repack my cart with my paid groceries and then take another 10 minutes to put them in the bags in the trunk of my car.
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