Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Par for the Course?

There's a certain etiquette in the UK which governs how we're dealt with by sales personnel in stores. You know what I mean. For instance, if you're being helped to chose a product or service by a member of staff, other clients, even other staff, will tend to hang back and wait until an appropriate juncture, or perhaps an invitation into the conversation, before interrupting. They may even exercise patience and wait until you've been served and made your exit before approaching the fellow staff member who's been helping you. It's a little different here in Greece and sometimes the way they conduct themselves takes some getting used to.

We had to go to town one Friday recently to buy a new router. The old one was behaving strangely. I used to think that a router either worked or it didn't, but after now having had two which seem to be working when in fact they do weird things, like not load some web pages whilst others seem to behave normally, I realize that it's not as simple as that. In a similar way I used to think blind people were simply in darkness, until one lady whom we knew some years ago in Wales told me that she liked the colour of my trousers!! We were sitting on her sofa in bright sunlight and I was wearing some light blue chinos. The lady in question always had eyes that left one in no doubt that she was quite blind and yet, this unnerving moment led to her explaining that many who are diagnosed as "blind" do in fact have some limited vision. So, it's an odd comparison to draw I know, but it helped me come to terms with the behaviour of a couple of routers.

If you're a regular reader of these ramblings and my books you'll be aware that whenever someone who lives in the South of the island, as we do, needs to purchase a new product, it invariably involves an expedition to Rhodes Town, which usually ties up a whole day. So off we set to go into the depths of Rhodes new Town to the OTE (Greek equivalent of BT) shop, where we were hoping to avail ourselves of the latest model to which OTE will lend their technical support. In I walked at around 11.30am and was soon aware that all the sales staff were either dealing with customers or talking on the telephone. I waited around for a few minutes until one chap said goodbye to the person to whom he'd been talking and I asked him if I could purchase a new router please. The reply I got was what everyone from further down the island dreads, but hears all too often:  

"Ah, well, the new stock's only just come in this morning. It's all still in cardboard boxes out the back in the storeroom. Can you come back this evening?"

"Oh," I sighed, putting on my best 'please take pity' voice, "…but I live in Kiotari." As I've mentioned before, the shops here close at around 1.30pm and then re-open at five. To have to wait around for that long is extremely tedious and would mean our arriving home late in the evening, since the obligatory stop at a couple of food supermarkets always has to be factored in when these opportunities arise. Knowing the distance and logistics involved he replied, much to my relief, "Well, then, give me an hour and come back. We'll get some out so that you can buy one. OK, sir?" OK it was.

So far so good on the "sales staff/customer" front you may think. I met up with my better half and we were soon sitting under that huge tree at the "Court House" cafe in Mandraki, sipping on our iced coffees and enjoying our favourite participation sport - people watching. Already there was a plentiful supply of tourists to pass comment on, the fact that a couple of cruise ships were in adding to their numbers. My wife had looked from one of my hands to the other when I'd approached and questioned what had happened about the new router. I'd explained the not-unexpected situation and bemoaned the frequency with which this kind of thing happens here, to which she'd replied, "Be grateful he didn't say they were coming in tomorrow!" Positive thinking, that's my girl.

So, after a very pleasant interlude during which my wife had earmarked several passers-by for a make-over and I'd searched to see if any of the excursion boats I knew were tied up along the harbour, we left some cash on the table to cover the frappes and arose to walk the couple of blocks back over to the OTE shop.

As we climbed the few steps to the shop entrance, there was my man, standing outside and engrossed in an animated conversation with another young chap. It was impossible to hear what they were saying so it could have been business or it may have been a conversation about the coming evening's social life; we'll never know. As I passed him and opened the glass door for my wife to enter before me (eh, what fellas? I know how to treat a woman!), he did, however give me a nod to acknowledge that he'd seen me return.

Once inside we stood around and didn't even have the opportunity to fend off any other sales assistant by explaining that we'd spoken to the bloke outside earlier as they were still all busy in one way or another. This is where we reach the point about staff-customer etiquette which I opened with above. After a wait of maybe four or five minutes, he finally bade goodbye to the other young man and walked back into the store, whereupon I opened my mouth in an attempt to say, "Well, here I am, back again…" but, just as my lips parted he held up a hand in the familiar "stop right there" motion and picked up the phone on his little desk. We exercised patience while he dealt with whatever it was he needed to deal with and then expected to have his full attention. He smiled at us and began with a "Right, OK…" when one of his colleagues called over from some distance away and yet another conversation started up. We were now becoming aware of the reason for all the visual banner ads around the place. They give you something to read during those elongated periods during which your relationship with the person serving you is interrupted.

Concluding this latest chat, he then looked towards us and I made an attempt to ask if they'd got some routers ready, at which he smiled, held up a hand once again and began a conversation with a motorcyclist who'd just entered the store from behind us and walked past us up to our salesman. During the course of this conversation, he looked around at some other colleague who was sitting in a glass booth a few feet away and had a kind of sign language discussion with her. So far we'd been back in the store for quite a while and had only accomplished about three words, a few nods and hand signals with our salesman.

Finally he turned to us and invited us to approach his computer terminal. I asked what the price of a new router was and he showed us on the screen, then, before I could say "OK," he told us he'd be back in a jiffy and strode off toward a door marked "Private. Staff only." At least that looked promising. "Maybe he's gone to get us our router" I suggested to Yvonne-Maria. I ought to have known better. Some five minutes later he re-emerged carrying something quite a bit smaller than a router, which he handed to the motorcycle man who, as it turned out, was still lurking about, probably also reading the advertising banners around the place. Then, having given our man some kind of paperwork in exchange for the small package, he left the store.

Seizing my opportunity I asked loudly: "So, do we have a router then?" I did try and force a smile to. No sense alienating him, eh?

"Of course!" He replied and picked one off of the top of a pile of routers which had evidently been placed on the floor near another display while we'd been sipping our frappes down at Mandraki. Up until that moment neither of us had even noticed them, mesmerized as we'd been by the antics of our staff member. I extended a hand to receive the boxed router when he hesitated, thrust his empty hand up yet again in a "wait a mo" gesture and tapped a few keys on his computer. At this point his desk phone rang and, of course, he answered it.

Eventually, with an engaging smile that suggested that he'd done his very best for us, he handed me the box, along with a docket which we had to then take with us to join the back of the queue for the desk where people pay their phone bills. After several more minutes spent in this queue, we'd finally paid for the router and made our way toward the glass doors to make our exit. As we passed our salesman I glanced toward him and gave a kind of wave of thanks, to which he reciprocated with a smile and a brief wave of the hand whilst his other held his mobile phone to an ear. He was also trying to make conversation with another person who was standing adjacent to him at his desk.

Walking along the street in the sunshine I felt quite mentally exhausted and wondered what was the life expectancy of someone who does this guy's job. Whilst it had been frustrating to endure the succession of interruptions, most of which had been of his making, it had been evident that he saw nothing untoward in this. He'd done his bit and we'd eventually emerged with what we'd come for. It just took a bit longer than it might have, had we enjoyed his full attention for more than a few seconds at a time.

I thought about feeling sorry for him, since we only had to endure that kind of thing once in a blue moon, whereas he apparently spends every working day like that. But then it's par for the course for him I suppose. See, the thing is, we Brits can find it quite a trial to be dealt with in such a manner since, by and large, once we're being attended to by a salesperson, the tendency is for others to wait patiently rather than interrupt. If the phone rings they'll usually apologize while they answer it, or perhaps let it ring. Here in Greece, however, we've now discovered from experience on many occasions and in varying circumstances that you can be holding a conversation with someone when another person will walk up and simply interrupt and, in the process, take up the entire attention of the person to whom you may have been talking to just seconds before. It's not considered bad manners or rude, it's just what they all do.

If you're the kind of person whose nose is easily "put out of joint" as it were, you'd be spending an awful lot of time taking offence.

Still, wonder if he ever goes people-watching.


  1. Yet again another entertaining post, and could actually visualise the goings on (how I wish I had been there, would have been as I was imagining it to be. Hope eventually that you will put these latest posts into book form. Have a great summer season with lots of people watching, also one of my favourite pastimes which can also be carried out when we are out on our walks :)

  2. A ha!! so someone else smells a book coming on ????


    "Porridge Oats"

  3. A ha!! so someone else smells a book coming on ????


    "Porridge Oats"

  4. Oops, think i need therapy again !!!

    Porridge Oats

  5. Trevor Mcilveen16 May 2012 at 08:23

    John. At least you got a router from OTE.The one OTE supplied us with failed 2 months out of guarntee. So like you off we go to town for a replacement @ OTE. After a long wait we are told were none in stock. So we cross the road to Multirama where we soon get non interupted attention from a member of staff. Having purchased our router he went online @ set the router up for us. All we had to do @ home was plug everything in to the router & our PC & laptop were working.

  6. I think that people watching should become an Olympic sport! I have certain code words for example: Mrs Green at 10 o'clock means a rather overweight lady ahoy!

    I remember to the OTE to make telephone calls home when I was on holiday in Rhodes, many moons ago.


    1. Excellent Annette. We have several code words too. For example, if a girl walks by looking far too immodest, we call her a Wednesday, because the Greek for Wednesday is Tetarti!!

  7. Love it, must use that when I go out on Sunday night. Another is 1664 - 16 from behind but 64 from the front!!