For anyone who’s spent longer than 3 days in Spain, you’re bound to be familiar with the level of customer service that is provided in shops and restaurants…it just doesn’t seem to exist. I’ve heard a rumour that in Zara, the shop assistants are not meant to smile or answer questions when they are approached by customers in the shop. Sadly, I think it’s true.
Today I was shoe shopping in a local store and I saw some shoes that I liked. Since here the average shoe size seems to be 36 and I am a 39/40 I always have to ask if they have the shoes in my size as they don’t normally have the big sizes out on display. I asked the shop assistant if she had this shoe in a 40 as the 39 was too small, adding that I didn’t mind which colour she gave me. She repeated “Ok, a 40 in any colour, one moment.” and went to the till despite there being no customer to serve and I was the only person in the shop besides her. I sat on the stool, waiting for her to bring me the shoe I asked for and she just downright ignored me. She walked past me as I was sitting barefoot waiting to try on the shoes. She didn’t make any effort to look for the shoes or to talk to me. I don’t know if she didn’t have the shoes in my size or if she was just being awkward and annoying. I don’t understand why she would ignore a customer who clearly asked for her help in the shop. I waited for a good four minutes to see if she’d remember but no… she just waltzed around the shop as if I wasn’t there. So I got up and marched out of the shop, which now I realise was the wrong thing to do as there isn’t a big variety of shoe shops here in La Palma.
But that is nothing compared to what happened to me and my friends in Valencia this summer at a restaurant. We sat down on the terrace and waited at least six minutes before going to get our own menus as the waiter hadn’t greeted us or brought us the menu and we were hungry. When I asked him to take our drink orders, he threw his hands up in the air saying that he was busy and continued to clean tables instead of serving us. Then he proceeded to serve a table of two girls who arrived after we did. When he finally came with our drinks we were ready to order, but again, greasy ponytailed Antonio Banderas wannabe was too busy cleaning tables to take our order. The restaurant wasn’t even busy! He just seemed to meander among the tables, doing nothing and raising his eyebrows at women.
We were all hungry, annoyed, thirsty and just couldn’t believe what this man was doing. He came to our table to give us placemats and cutlery and wait for it… he came behind me, started to touch my hair and tap me on the shoulder. I twisted my neck around to throw him evils and say in my most menacing voice
No me toques, por favor. (Don’t touch me please)
It sounds more serious in Spanish as it’s in the imperative tense and I barked it at him like an order. You just can’t go around touching other people, especially as he came from behind and I couldn’t see what he was going to do. Inside I was raging, but too hungover to express myself and he wasn’t worth getting angry and making a scene over. From then on he didn’t look at me and went on to flower my friend Anna with compliments, “Another Diet Coke for the beautiful girl [raise of the creepy eyebrows again]”.
In the UK I would have made a complaint to his superior, both in person and by writing and I would probably have got some kind of written apology and/or a free sandwich but this is Spain we are talking about. There is no point in making a complaint because it won’t get taken seriously and greasy ponytailed waiter would probably have shown it to his boss and they would have both laughed at the group of foreigners who are unhappy with the customer service. We were certain to make sure that we didn’t leave one cent of tip for him.
I think there is no solution to this problem, as even the Spanish people I’ve been to eat out with have passed comments such as “The service here is really slow” or “Where’s the waiter to ask for another Coke?”. You always have to call the waiter over to ask for more drinks, it wouldn’t occur to him/her to ask the table if they want any more drinks or if everything is ok with your food. I met a guy who tells me that he always leaves bad reviews on restaurants on Trip Advisor when they are on the website to “bring them down” but I don’t think this will improve the customer service in Spanish restaurants and shops. This image sums the whole situation up pretty nicely…