Melted Expectations

My daughter and her friend stood over the ice cream cooler, studying what was on offer as intensely as an art critic in a gallery. ‘Hmmm,’ they both mused. ‘Come on,’ I replied a bit irritably. For a kid, choosing the right ice cream is akin to choosing the right color paint for the walls of your living room. Except, you know, you paint your walls maybe twice in a life time, and in the summer in Croatia kids eat ice cream a few times a week. They finally chose and I paid at the kiosk, and that’s when it happened.

As My daughter’s friend, Sonja, unwrapped her ice cream. My daughter screamed: ‘Ewwww! Something’s wrong with Sonja’s ice cream!’ Sonja held the unwrapped ice cream at arm’s length, her face contorted in a mask of fear and confusion. And yes, there was something wrong with the ice cream. It looked like the Frankenstein’s monster of ice cream. As if it’d died, melted and been buried only to have some mad scientist take its sugary puddled remains and refreeze them in an attempt to resurrect the ice cream treat. The surface looked lunar and colorless, and for some reason a crescent of crusted brown goo had gathered on the ice cream’s circumference.

We have a problem

I took the treat and holding it up to the woman in the kiosk, asked if we could exchange it. And while I’m holding this frozen abomination in front of her, the holy horrors of ice cream, she just shrugs and asks, ‘Zašto?’ (Why?) And I really can’t believe it. Screaming kids, nasty ice cream that looks like its from The Walking Dead, and this lady wants to pretend that there’s no problem. I explain the problem and I get another meh-like shrug.

Inwardly I sigh, pitch the monstrosity in the trashcan and buy Sonja a new ice cream. As much as I love Croatia, I still get annoyed by the customer service. I would have liked the kiosk to replace the ice cream because someone is responsible for its gross appearance, and it isn’t me, and it isn’t Sonja. So, who could it be? Sure, the seller might not be empowered enough to replace it, but she should be. At a minimum couldn’t she just empathize and say ‘Oh dude that is gross, but sorry, I’m not empowered enough to refund your money.’ Instead I get, ‘Zašto?’ Which really sounds like, ‘Don’t bother me.’

The great game

It’s like businesses and sellers think commerce is a game. A game called ‘Who can give the minimal amount of service and assistance and still survive.’ The results of this game range from being treated with lukewarm indifference to basically feeling like you’re trespassing on someone’s personal space by entering a restaurant, store or cafe. The biggest goal in the game is for a business to make its mistakes seem like they’re the customer’s problem. And this happens all over Croatia, from the kiosk, to the telecommunications company, to the bureaucracy. No one ever wants to admit that your problem is actually their problem, even when it’s their job to deal with your problem!

It’s odd that in a country where the service industry is one of the main economic engines, and where so much in Croatian life is about relationships, businesses here do not understand the importance of building a good relationship with customers. It’s as if the motto of many Croatian firms is: Your problem, ain’t my problem (even if we probably caused the problem in the first place).

Or not…

And of course the are always a few shinning exceptions. Yesterday, after I’d conceived and written this blog post, I took the girls for ice cream again. At a different kiosk, the saleswoman warned us to avoid the ‘choco-whatever’ because, as she said ‘they may have melted a bit.’ Amid the sea of mediocrity and indifference someone simply, slightly caring, can make your day. As we ate our unmelted ice cream, I mentally praised this saleswoman and all the other workers, sellers, waiters, and clerks who try to do their job the best they can.

*The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of HRT.