Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Some typical Bucharest encounters
Paying bills – first for flat administration, always 2 months in arrears and in inscrutable handwritten notes with all the memory complications this involves – 75 euros for 2 months in our case (water, heating, common facilities (incl. cleaning, lifts and concierge).
Then for 3 months cable TV (10 euros a month); and internet (ditto).
It was the latter (Vodaphone) which caused the most stress. Their shops are superbly equipped – but often abominably managed by youngsters who are simply incapable of putting themselves in their customers’ shoes (and this also goes for their managers). When you are enter, you see a row of desks/counters scattered casually to left and right. If you are particularly observant, you will see, on your left, a machine with multiple choices - one of which you are supposed to punch to get a numbered ticket. That’s not as easy as it sounds since it offers about 6 choices and you have to understand what, for example, a personal legal entity is! I was, however, looking to solve a problem with my internet contract (out of the country for 3 months, disconnected and facing surcharges) . I could see an “internet” label and was duly presented with a number. Trouble was that only one of the 7 desks I could see was displaying electronic numbers and, when I approached desks for clarification, I got no real help. “We’ll call out the numbers” one guy said – but, of course, this was done in Romanian and not all distinctly.
After a 10 minutes’ wait and a second rebuttal from the only desk which was managing to deal with customers, I asked to see the manager to whom I suggested some more (customer) effective management systems. “Look, I said, these two desks have been tied up for the last 15 minutes with customers buying hardware. Why don’t you have a desk which deals with customer queries?” “And how on earth am I supposed to understand to go when I come in – with only one of the 4 desks being manned actually dsiplaying its electronic numbers?”
After a philosophical discussion about the difference between management and efficiency, the guy confessed that they paid no attention to customer waiting time. “But”, I protested, “we customers do!”
This was clearly a Pauline moment in the 30- year old manager’s life. “You may well have a point”, he conceded, “I will talk to my staff”. I have to remember this is the country of Ionesco!
He offered no personal help for my simple query – and I departed with a strong warning that I was a disgruntled customer who would now write a formal letter of complaint to the Vodaphone management.
At another branch (Bvd Magheru), I had a much more helpful reception – and was led to understand that (a) I had (in the usual smallprint) signed a contract which rolled over automatically after the year’s expiry; (b) it could not be cancelled until I paid the outstanding charges (20 euros); and (c) that a facility was now available to allow me to buy a monthly prepaid card for only 10 euros a month.
What a contrast! Hats off to that Magheru guy!
In between this, I stumbled first on a small art gallery which, at last, seems to cater for my taste here in Romania – with quite a few Bessarabian painters at similar prices to the Bulgarian galleries (the ratio has generally been 5-1)
And, then, in the Carturesti bookshop, a back collection of London Review of Books; and Times Literary Supplements! Enough to make a guy like me climax! I emerged with 10 of them – and will be back for more.
And I also came away with a superb bilingual edition of TS Eliot poetry – the last part of which covers The Four Quartets.
In between all this, I dropped in to see the hard-core of the demonstrators still demanding, at Piata Universitate, the government;s resignation - after the victory of the (Palestinian) Deputy- State Secretary of Health who had resigned in protest last week after the attempt to privatise the emergency service system he had put in place and had been managing for the past 20 years. It is quite amazing that that thousands of ordinary Romanian citizens in 40 cities turned out spontaneously to support him!
By the way, when I tried to give the reference to Ionescu. I learned that Wikipedia are on srike for a day in order to draw our attention to the threat to internet freedom from a bill currently being considered by the American Congress. A very good tactic by Wikipedia - bringing home to us how much we depend on this spontaneous system! For more on the serious implications of the Bill see here.
Some great US winter paintings from a century ago at this great painting blog; and, as I head to Transylvania at the weekend, an old post about the traditional farming system there.