Thursday, January 29, 2009

Service Schmurvis

Sometimes if you want something done well, or done at all, you have to grab the bull by the balls and do it yourself. Once in London I was subject to the whims of a sadistic barber who made no bones about his disdain for the American people. There is nothing so humbling as finding yourself strapped to a chair at the mercy of a mad Italian with rusty clippers, with a -- perhaps well-founded -- vendetta against your tribe. (This was, after all, 2002, with genocidal George W. Hitler in the ascendancy and the disastrous response to 9/11 just under our belt.) I had attempted gingerly and clearly to explain what I wanted. The little man gave a nod of understanding. He then undertook to give me an Alfalfa-Mohican hybrid which would have put Don King to shame. He spun me round in the chair.


"Is that short enough?" he asked.

"Which part?" I expostulated. There were chunks here, bald patches there. It was a real crazy quilt of a hair-don't. I'd asked for a simple military style buzz cut. How challenging could that be? My scalp now resembled like an ill-kept lawn. I looked to my companion, sitting mere feet away, for a little moral support, but he sunk sheepishly behind his magazine with an expression that said "You're on your own on this one, pal." I can't say as I blame him, being at the mercy of this would-be Sweeney Todd. Surely quicker results would have been obtained had I nabbed the clippers and peeled my own noggin, rather than having to guide this xenophobic cretin through the process of damage control. Owing to the style I had originally wanted, my condition was fortunately remediable. This fiasco is partially (also because I am a rugged individualist) why I cut my own hair now.

A similar creeping feeling of exasperation, of powerlessly wanting to take the reins, takes me over as I stand, waiting, waiting, in this so-called "Copy Shop" in deepest Treptower Park. There are hundreds like it in the area, but, like customer service in general in Deutschland, efficiency is not at a premium (I'll save the question of politeness for another rant). Services like "kopieren", "drucken" (printing) and "scannen" are offered, but at the best of times it seems like bait-and-switch. And selbstbedingung, or Self-service, is never the order of the day. Usually if you want something printed or copied, they have to crank it out of some crap-o fax, held together with scotch tape and bubble-gum, behind the counter. I'm dreaming of Kinko's.

Today there are five stand-alone copy machines in the lobby of this joint, but they don't trust one to man his own machine. The cashier has to abandon his post and make the copies himself, per the customer's (pained) instruction. Apparently I have interrupted his internet solitaire reverie, though. After each copy he rushes back behind the counter to slaver glaze-eyed over the colored shapes on his computer screen, fag in hand (like most of these Internet Shops, it is an urban oasis for the smoker and bears the de rigeur "Rauchen Ja" in flashing neon Pixels -- a tacky de facto re-creation of the old Parker Brothers "Light Bright" -- in spite of the city's attempts to pass a no-smoking ordinance.) You'd think we were in one of the goddamned Spielotheks. I guess ten seconds without a smoke and a card game is too much to ask for. Just ask the guys in "Cafe Harem" down the street, where the only estrogen present is pulling pints behind the bar. Languishing under the spell of the Arabic equivalent of Texas Hold-'Em, these dudes wouldn't know a snatch if it landed on their faces.

Glancing clock-ward, I realize it's taken 15 minutes and I am almost late for my Englischkurs. So much for convenience in proximity. Now paper is darting out from different slots in different sizes, but our friend the cashier is unfazed. An extra-large sheet spews out of the copier. I tell him to recopy it, but he raises an index finger, disappears behind the desk, emerging a moment later with a pair of scissors, hacks the offending paper into a jagged shard of a rectangle.

A copy is ejaculated bearing 48-point font, effectively cropping the text. I balk, but our guy remains blase behind his blue Gauloise cloud. He obviously needs me to hold his Schwanz throughout the process. Ash drips on the copy tray. After what seems like an eternity I'm paying at the front and collecting my teaching materials, such as they are. Any anger I feel is quickly defused by the sudden flirtatious tone of the indolent cashier.

"Bist du dann zufrieden? (Are you happy then?)"

I crack a grin. "Ja," I say, blushing like a schoolgirl, or as they say auf Deutsch, rotwerden (literally "to become red".) Customer service or no, I am unable to the end to resist the sly humor of a cheeky bastard.

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