The unbearable waiting
After working in Germany for 52 days, I was finally paid today. Feels good to turn what had become my volunteer job into a paying gig. The only positive to this long wait is that I’ll now get paid twice in nine days. Something to look forward to, I suppose.
German customer service–an oxymoron on par with military intelligence–never fails to amaze me. I had been so excited to find the bike shop where I ordered my bike. Nice people, good concept, sharp-looking shop with space in it, fair prices on their bikes. Well, I should have known the euphoria would be short-lived. Despite the fact that I appeared in their shop (Fahrradladen Rücktritt) on April 3rd to make a down payment on the bike they planned to order, I still have no bike. They indicated it would be a week to ten days, hedging a bit because Easter was in that timeframe. Understandable, I thought, since Easter pretty much shuts Germany down. Last week they called and told me they’d have it early this week. Just called and found out, much to my annoyance, that they didn’t even order it until April 14th, i.e.- after Easter. They sat on the order for 11 days!
They are calling the factory as I type (or so they claim, perhaps they will wait ten days to call) to get the status. They seem utterly unconcerned with their outright lie about a week to ten days, and when I complained that they sat on the order for eleven days, all I got was a some mumbling about Easter and being busy. Is that my concern as a customer? I wonder if they will make any attempt to satisfy me as a customer–e.g.- throw in the fenders for free–but really ought to know better than to even think of such a thing.
I marvel, really, just plain marvel at how pathetic small businesses (and large businesses) can be in Germany. Retail is always a revolving door, and in any city in the US one sees stores and restaurants come and go all the time. In Germany, regardless of where I’ve lived, I have always noticed that that door revolves a bit quicker here. Well, no wonder. There is just no business sense in so many of them.
Example: I buy my bread at a small local baker down the street from my office. Nice people, good bread. Problem? They close weekdays at 6:00 and on Saturday at 1:00. Sure, in 1955 Germany, maybe even 1995 Germany, such a luxury for a business owner was completely normal. Well, times have changed, and the chains have extended their hours to make it possible for someone who works to buy food at their convenience, not at the convenience of the shop owner. Over Easter weekend, a time when Germans feast like there’s no tomorrow (as do we), they shut down entirely for four days for a little vacation. It’s nice to see remnants of such a world, where business owners got days off like those who work for larger firms, but is it worth the vacation to lose customers?
If I put a monetary value on the number of times I’ve stood in front of this bakery only to find it closed and then buy my bread at a chain, I would estimate that even in my short time here, he’s lost at least 40 Euro. Given that I’ve never been the only one at the door being disappointed, I would speculate that he is losing large sums every month.
In the German press, and in private conversations, one often reads and hears laments about the Americanization of the German retail landscape–big boxes, longer hours, mass discounters, etc. One wonders where the disconnect is for small business owners. Of course I have to shop at big boxes. I work, and do not take time in the middle of my day to buy my bread from a vintage baker. Those days are long gone. If I leave too late to get bread by 6:00, it’s his loss, and only marginally mine. Bread is a commodity; sell it like one.