NEW WRITER — Six true stories of placation

Polandian reader MikeM hasn’t lived in Poland long but is learning fast that “service” here means something slightly different than it does in his native Ireland.

Admittedly I am inclined to be critical of Polish customer service at moments when I should relax, take it in my stride, learn to be less demanding and so on. However the following are personal accounts of my dealings with customer service, which denote an absence of any discernable service whatsoever.

Note: I’m no Lord Muck. I am polite, perhaps not patient. But, I am learning.

1. A bookshop on Szewska Street, last January, looking for a book for my girlfriend.

Me: Have you anything by Haruki Murakami?
Shop assistant: No.
Me: Have you ever heard of Haruki Murakami?
Shop assistant: No.

2. Intersport store at Galaria Krakowska, yesterday.

Me: Are these shorts for cycling?
He: Yes.
Me: Are you just saying that because that’s what I said?
He: Yes.

3. Discount bookstore on Groteska, last December.

Me: Do you have a book – Polish title – ‘Vernon’ by DBC Pierre?
She: No.

The moment she says no, I spot no less than four hardback copies of ‘Vernon’ on a shelf over her shoulder.

4. Some Jazz bar on Florianska, last August.

Me: Ahh, rum and coke, please?
He: We don’t have rum and coke.
Me: Well… could I just have a shot of that rum there, and a bottle of Coke please, and a glass, and some ice?

5. Café Philo last August.

Me: Can I see your cocktail menu?
Barman: Of course.
Me: Great. I’ll have the Sea Breeze and the Big Green Jellyfish. Thanks.

28 minutes later, I return to the bar.

Me: Cocktails?
Barman:(casual-like) I don’t know how to make the cocktails; I must wait for my boss to return.

6. Jagiellonian Library, Aleje, last October

Me: Is this building Art Deco or modern?
Librarian: Neither.

On leaving, at the main entrance, a golden placard reads: The building is a mix of Art Deco and modern architecture built in etc etc.

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35 thoughts on “NEW WRITER — Six true stories of placation

  1. Wow. I’ve *NEVER* had anything that bad. Actually, the last time I actually needed something was when I was shopping at Galleria Krakowska, specifically in Peek and Clobenburg (sp). The gal helping me find trousers just wouldn’t stop helping. She must have been around for like 20 minutes.

    Also, I’m just… flabbergasted/gobsmacked at your bar experiences. It IS common to wait forever for drinks, but I’ve never heard someone say they can’t make a rum and coke or something asinine like that.

    I can only think that people just can’t understand a word you’re saying. Honestly. Next time you ask what you feel may be a “difficult” question, take a close look at the face of the person you’re talking to… do they go cross-eyed for about five seconds trying to work out what you’ve just said? Or, put another way, do you have some hideously thick (think of Marmite at -30C) accent?

    I am obviously being a bit of a smartass here, but I do think that it’s not that service people are being rude, I think they just don’t get what you’re asking them. It’s the only thing to me that makes sense. I’ve lived here for five years now and have done plenty of drinking, shopping and other stuff. NEVER had these sorts of problems. Indifferent, yes. Rude – like what you’ve experienced – no.

  2. MikeM says:

    Cheers for the comment Brad, and perhaps you’re right. But there’s a spectrum it seems (and all bullshit); like in the States, there’s the big smile and HEY! And that grand vocal, WELCOME! In England, something similar, just not as zealous. In Ireland: same bullshit. What’s interesting is that Poland is the antithesis. They don’t give a shit, but not in the way the French don’t… In Krakow, apart from Mickey D’s, they don’t push the sale. Maybe it’s more genuine, more real. Maybe that’s the problem. My problem. I’m so used to the bullshit; I’m shocked when someone isn’t chasing me around the store to sell me something! You know?

    Accents? I don’t know what’s thick, thin, flat, fat. I know some see an incomprehensible accent as thick per se. I speak English; hiberno, soft, not dissimilar to American English. And the timeline of these occurrences indicate that they are isolated, but yet the amount of dialogues I recall indicate some pattern. I think. You?


  3. Scatts says:

    Here’s an example from exactly 30 minutes ago.

    The Scene – a dry cleaning shop in Zlote T

    Me – I’d like these trousers turning up please. (They also have a poprawki place)

    Her – The poprawki lady is not here today. We can’t do anything today at all. Tomorrow. Come back tomorrow!

    Me – Perhaps I could leave them here and poprawki lady could do them tomorrow?

    Her – No poprawki lady…capish! Come back T_O_M_O_R_R_O_W

    Me – Look, I don’t need the trousers today, nor tomorrow, in fact I can pick them up next week sometime. I know how much they need turning up so why can’t I just show you and leave them here, eh? Saves me having to come back here again tomorrow you see. Now I’m here, with the trousers and you’re here with the cash machine….eh?

    Her – Okay but what happens if they end up too short!

    Me – That’ll be my fault.

    Her – Okay. (Gets pins and charges me 40 zlots)

  4. Tony says:

    In many stores such as Rossmans or Sephora,they have more “detectives” there than regular staff and customers combined. Nothing like searching for a present for your wife, while 2 or 3 bald headed,thick necked thuggish looking “store detectives” stare you down. They literally stand right next to you and stare you down. When you finally make it to the register without getting arrested, the clerks scratch and sniff and lick your hard earned bill in order to see if it’s legitimate. They flash lights on it and go all out. God forbid you buy something in a box. The clerks often cut the box open and check for illegal goods hidden inside. I’ve had many presents for people destroyed in this way. They mangle the box and make it look ugly and used. I have the impression that in many stores in Poland, they see you not as a paying customer, but as a thief waiting for a quick haul.

  5. bob says:

    I have done business in Poland off and on since 1990 so I have seen it all. When we created a customer service training course in 1990 we were told there is no term that describes it so we invented it: Obslugi Klientow then we had to explain just what that meant. A long, long story.

    Your experiences may have been poor but I can tell you that today is light years ahead of where the country was 20 years ago. Most of the change has been due to multinational companies coming on the scene and being serious about training and service. Without that impetus it would never have changed.

  6. guest says:

    “Without that impetus it would never have changed.”

    …and Poles would not miss this artificial BS.

  7. Tony says:

    Guest – your attitude is pathetic. If Poland ever wants to be a real economic player, they have to start treating foreigners better when they come here and spend their money, period.

  8. Justine says:

    If you believe all customer service is always artificial and equate rudeness with sincerity, then you’re still living deep in “komuna”.

  9. MikeM says:

    Multinationals also had an Affect on Ireland. Look at the place now.

    I just had my three sisters over for a few days and they don’t speak a word of Polish. They get on fine in Krakow – because so many speak English. Take Spain, Portugal, or France and it would be Que? Que or Quel? You’re lost! People in Krakow make it a lot easier for tourists who do not speak Polish. Something we, I, forget.

    But, TONIGHT, a guy says, you live in Poland and don’t speak Polish!! I say, I can’t speak the language of every country I spend time in. The liberal’s knee jerk reaction might come in the form of an apology, but well, that’s mental! There are a number of terrible events and policy debates, which resulted in English being the ‘international language’ and man, I’m from a Brit colonised nation! Today, we have one de facto lingo to communicate globally in addition to our own birthright idioms. We need both very much.

  10. Tony says:

    I hate trading in stereotypes, but sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to tell these shopkeepers “Look, just because your Polish customers steal everything that isn’t nailed down doesn’t mean that I will.” I don’t claim to be a saint, but I’ve never shoplifted in my life and don’t plan to. So, I resent being treated as if I’m visiting a relative in prison when I make a simple trip to buy something. When you point this out to Polish people, their response is a simple “to jest Polska” and a laugh. I suppose it’s easier to just say “to jest Polska” than to change anything.

  11. news says:

    er, werer you speaking English or Polish in these little transactions?

  12. Stefan says:

    Tony, most Polish customers don’t shoplift and they find the whole procedure you’re talking about as humiliating as you do. The fact that you’re annoyed by the Polish security morons shouldn’t lead you to taking it out on all Poles.
    On the other hand, you’re absolutely right. People tend not to understand that THEY should start some changes instead of saying “to jest Polska”, meaning “nothing can be done about it.”

  13. Tony says:

    I agree with you Stefan – the point was that I’m not trading in stereotypes here :)

  14. MikeM says:


  15. Peter says:

    When I am in Poland I spend most of my time in the country or smallish “cities” far away from Krakow, Warszawa or any other polish true metro area. I honestly can’t think of an experience like one that is being explained here.

    RE: English in Poland. I think Poles learning English (which is probably as international language as there is nowadays) would be hugely advantageous in many ways. In my opinion they should look north to Sweden and Denmark to see what they do with their kids. I’m not sure if ENglish is mandatory but it certainly seems that it is and from an early age too where the language can actually stick in the majority of the students thought.

  16. guest says:

    Of course it is artificial, THAT’S WHY you TEACH them these things in “weekend courses”. If it were not artificial there would be no need to teach such things. Human beings have their own individual expressions and characters and that’s what makes them unique and interesting. And in the Anglo Saxon or Japanese customer service there are “robots”, which i hate.

  17. guest says:

    “treating foreigners better ?”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME ? Poland is VERY friendly towards foreigners. One of the most friendliest countries in europe. And if you demand/expect that Poland becomes a 1:1 copy of the UK, USA in every aspect of life (atheistic, artificial, pseudo friedly…)then do not hold your breath.

  18. guest says:

    this is for you Peter.

  19. news says:

    I suggest that you make a big effort to converse in Polish. The level of service will improve leaps and bounds.

    Indeed, I would suggest that in most of the above cases, the barman/shop assistant just did not know enough English to explain the problem.

  20. Tony says:

    “One of the most friendliest countries in Europe”

    Try leaving Poland a traveling a bit and you’ll see how hilarious that statement of yours is. Even Poles would laugh at you for saying something like that. And if treating a customer like a human being is “artificial” to you, it suggests that your natural state is being a loathsome, ill-mannered pr*ck.

  21. Kuba says:

    In any foreign country if you try to speak the language you will get better service. They will even help you with the language. I had it happen to me in Japan and Taiwan.
    And the Poles are friendly in all the contacts I have had with them. They tell you how good your Polish is no matter how bad it is. ; ))

  22. Peter says:

    What does that youtube video show? That there are poles who speak English and there are very good english language programs in the country? Of course there are. I certainly would not argue otherwise.

  23. guest says:

    I live in Germany most of the time and i know western europe very well. In the public life foreigners are treated well as long as they bring lots of $$$ or EUR and accept the (often)semi-facist rules. And in private situations all a foreigner can expect in western europe is a bunch of salt sticks and a cup of water…

  24. Peter says:

    Reminds me of this seen from a pretty good movie:

  25. Jon says:

    Do we really need shopkeepers to artificially suck up to us to cope with our shopping or drinking experiences? Also, Krakow is so beautiful that tourists will always come here, frienldy customer service or not.

  26. Justine says:

    Oh great, so everything that needs to be taught is artificial. So I assume you believe children should not be tought to say “dziekuje” or “przepraszam” (doesn’t come naturally at all!), nor respect for others, nor socially acceptable behavior. Long live “bezstresowe wychowanie” and chamstwo because that’s what natural.

  27. I don’t expect shopkeepers to suck up to me. But I do expect them to be polite and helpful.

    If anyone shrugs me off with a ‘nie ma’ rather than a przepraszam, nie mamy w tej chwili, ale a)będzie za tydzień, b) znajdzie to Pan w sklepiku tuż za rogiem, then I will never, ever, use that shop/cafe/bar etc again.

    I can, at a stretch, forgive a bored, underpaid shop assistant for a momentary lack of obsequiousness. But for the owner of a shop to give me the old nie ma (subtext: ‘bugger off’) is entirely unforgivable.

    Still, the market works. The middle-aged couple with the nie ma attitude running the small newsagents round the corner from my house have discovered that in the long run, have undisguised contempt for your customer means bankruptcy. Whereas the cheerful family running the spożywczy by the railway station keep a happy clientele coming back.

  28. Tony says:

    It’s funny to me how “guest” associates a high level of customer service in the US/UK with these societies being “atheistic.” After all, if Poland were really so religious, I don’t think this discussion would even be necessary. Doesn’t treating your client with respect and kindness fall under “do unto others as you would have others do unto you?”

  29. Henry Grodsk says:

    Poles are the masters of the one-word reply to questions in shops.

    “Me: Have you anything by Haruki Murakami?
    Shop assistant: No.”

    It’s not rude exactly but you won’t sell too many books that way.

  30. Pistefka says:

    After living in Poland for a while I stopped believing a certain ind of shop assistant when they said “nie ma” (after I sked for something in Polish) and would tend to check things for myself. Sometimes re-phrasing a question would work, which was often amusing.
    I think the funniest situations were when I’d get the lightning reflex “nie ma” followed by a wry smile from the Pani, who would then admit that yes, this baker actually does sell bułki (kiosk sells cigarettes etc.)
    The problem is that I still don’t believe people in shops here in Hungary when they say “nincs” (Hungarian for “nie ma”) and my wife can’t understand why I then keep searching.

  31. adthelad says:

    er…I think you mean ‘scene’. Probably a typo but just in case :)

  32. adthelad says:

    Lookat it from the point of an anglopole who was brought up in England with pre commmunist manners and with the ‘western’ customer service approach thrown in. I could understand the curtness that existed prior to the ‘change’ but not after. It’s not until one realises that people treated all strangers with suspicion as you never knew who was an informer for the SB (no wonder so many Poles were against lustracja). Add to that the lack of goods etc and you have a recipe for curtness and rudeness. This was the norm.

    Guest’s comments seem a bit fuelled by irritation at generalisations but I can say from experience that most people prefer curteousness from rudeness – see the French and Parisians’ reputation for the latter – each is a matter of protocol – especially if you work in a shop – so the accusation of ‘falshood’ or contrived behaviour is a bit wide of the mark. Agree however with Guest with regard to personal ‘hospitality’ but it’s a mtter of intuition as well as certain ‘norms’.

    Once was in a bar and asked for a vodka and lemonade. No lemonade. OK, orangeade then. No orangeade. OK – what have you got? Sprite/ 7 up or Fanta. Amazing! I’m not blaming them of course – the same might have happened elswhere, even in the uk perhaps – but am I the only one that knows that these ‘designer labels’ are simply names for lemonade and orangeade?

  33. Justine says:

    US atheistic???

  34. Kuba says:

    Obama says we are mostly Muslem.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I and a couple of friends popped into Starbucks near Covent Garden for sandwiches. One friend chose a bagel and asked for it to be heated up in the toaster. The shop assistant said, in all seriousness:
    – I’m sorry, I don’t know whether we do heat bagels, I’ll have to ask my supervisor.

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