Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Experiences with Customer Service

I'm not the first one to complain about customer service here in Chile, nor the last. Emily has posted about it a couple times. Gringas and Chileans complain about it, because it, for the most part, sucks.

Today I went to the grocery store to return yogurt that was bad although it wasn't first they said they wouldn't take it back because I had bought it a week earlier. Too much time had passed. The girl said the store can't be responsible for yogurt that perhaps was left out of the refrigerator. I told her I hadn't left it out of the refrigerator. "Pero 'ta maaalo", dije varias veces y me salió hasta un poco flaite. Te lo juro, me desconocí. So I asked to speak to the girl's boss. She went and got him and he told me the same thing, that more than a week had passed, no go. I told him that doesn't change the fact that they sold a bad product. After a bit more discussion and stubborness on both ends, he went to talk to his boss, I guess. He disappeared and came back and then went and changed my yogurt. "The customer is always right" mantra doesn't exist here. Not that it should...

Dealing with customer service in Chile you basically have to play the role of your own attorney and make your case on why they should change the product for you. (I had bought expired yogurt in that supermarket once before, but the date on the receipt was later than the date on the yogurt, so they exchanged it with no problem, although technically I could have bought more yogurt since then and returned a previously bought yogurt with a later receipt.) And it's almost not worth it to even deal with expired yogurt. Other times I've had problems, I just throw it out. But I like to have a righteous little brawl sometimes. If I ever move back to the States, I might actually miss arguing with customer service here. It's kind of fun, in small quantities..especially if you arguing about a few yogurts that cost like 50 cents each.

Comparing customer services...Vuko plays the electric guitar. He has been to several music stores in Santiago and Viña del Mar and has tried out many guitars. The salesmen are often a bit hesitant about letting customers try out the guitars, and actually one time Vuko asked to try a guitar, and the salesman replied, "Are you going to buy it?" Of course Vuko replied, "Well, obviously not if I don't try it." But seriously, can you really ask a customer that? Apparently so. Total asshole question, are you going to buy it? We went to Guitar Center in the States (the highlight of Vuko's trip to Minnesota) and he was blown away by the customer service (as well as the walls packed with hundreds of guitars). We walked in and he started looking at guitars and the sales guy came up to us and asked if he wanted to try one, and then he set Vuko up at a huge amp and told him to take his time. And, luckily, the sales guy even spoke Spanish, which was a total relief for me because I don't speak guitar talk in Spanish or English. Vuko bought a couple effects there, but both of them were more expensive than he'd seen on the competition's website (with him he had printouts of the products and prices he'd seen at both American Boutique and Guitar Center) and Guitar Center met the competition's prices. Whereas if you try to do that in Chile, the salesmen would tell you, "Well, if American Boutique has better prices, go there."

Now to a degree I understand that customer service here has to be different. It's a different culture. In Chile, plagiarism is customary, photocopying entire books is normal. Universities are surrounded by photocopying places. (Granted books here are expensive.) Chileans come across to me as thrifty people.

Lots of Chileans (and perhaps Latin Americans in general) try to find loopholes in store's policies in their favor. I heard that a store in Florida actually had to start a rule of not letting Latin Americans (from countries outside the US) buy cameras and then return them a week later. Turns out people were buying the cameras, taking photos of their vacations, transferring the photos to a pendrive and then returning the camera at the end of the vacation. So I understand that "The customer is always right" probably wouldn't work at all here, because the companies might go bankrupt. But even so, customer service here is much worse than it could be. But I s'pose Chilean customer service does it's part to slow comsumeristic globalization, because who wants to shop when the vendedores (sellers) can be such a pain in the ass?

I've had problems with customer service in the States as well. I remember one time I had to hire a lawyer to fight credit card fraud. Somehow, someone got into my mail, got my new credit card and then charged like $800 in cell phone bills. I found out a month or two later thru a bitchy phone call from the credit card company where the lady was trying to accuse me of charging the cell phone bills (which were in someone else's name). She didn't believe me that I had no idea that someone had gotten a hold of my new credit card. Luckily, as a University student I only had to pay the University lawyer $15 to take care of my case. But this is the exception to the customer service rule in the United States. Whereas mediocre to bad customer service is pretty much the rule here in Chile.

JLo's Ciudad Juarez movie

Vuko and I went to see Bordertown the other day. He suggested we go which surprised me. I assumed he'd never seen a JLo movie before (I was right), and didn't actually try to dissuade him because the whole Ciudad Juarez deal interests me, even if I have to get an idea of life there by watching JLo's typical righteous, femenist (and now ultra-gringa) journalist character bumble around Ciudad Juarez. The story is about a chicana reporter who goes to Ciudad Juarez to investigate a few things related to the women who work in the maquiladoras: why so many women who work in sweat shops there are killed, who is killing them, and why the police don't do anything about it. Her character seemed pretty accurate, as did the other characters: the mexican journalist, (Antonio Banderas), the chic from the maquiladora, and then this rich chic that pseudo-helped them out, but really couldn't due to social pressures. Actually more than JLo's character, what annoyed me about the movie was how the plot unraveled. If JLo's character really acted the way she did, she should have been dead within days of arriving to Ciudad Juarez. I would find it very satisfying to see the Mexican Cinema version of the story of a feminist, chicana reporter threatening politicians, businessmen, and police in Mexico. You can be sure it would end in a super-melodramatic blood bath. And probably be more accurate.

I suppose I associate JLo with movies that have crappy plot, like the one about the politician that falls for her, can't remember what it's called. I suppose that's more of a romantic comedy which are generally pretty predictable. What I liked most about that movie was JLo's wardrobe in it.

Anyway, I wouldn't disrecommend Bordertown, but I wouldn't recommend it either. One thumb up, one thumb down.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Extraordinarily green. Wow. Pretty cool.

To see the video in English, type in "grid" in the search box:
It's not the beastie boys video, but the other one mostly off the grid

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why did I come to Chile in the first place?

One day, when I was 12, I was at my uncle's house and he began to relate his stories of traveling through Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Morocco, etc. His stories sparked my gusto for traveling, especially to foreign places and I knew I would travel a lot in my life. At 17 I decided it was time to study abroad as an AFS student. I was lucky to have the opportunity. (Thanks mom and dad.) Puerto Rico called my name. I was used to cold and 20, 30, 40 below-Farenheit days and I knew in Puerto Rico I would be near the beach, no matter what. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to filling out my application, Puerto Rico was all taken. Cuak. I thought of applying for Brazil, but I wanted to learn Spanish. My first Chilean friend, D, urged me to go to Chile. She was an AFS student in my high school in the States and told me Chile was lots of fun thus I should check it out. Puerto Rico out of the picture, I was off to Chile. Five out of six of the photos that I sent into AFS were of me and my friends and family in three feet of snow. The sixth picture was one of me on the beach in Florida, with palm trees in the background and a big smile on my face. The AFS staff got the picture. They probably saw the photos, and said "pobrecita, mandémosla a Viña." Which was exactly my plan. It was not-so-subliminal messaging. I wanted to be placed in a beach city, even if it wasn't warm 12 months of the year like in Puerto Rico, at least some of the year it was warm.

I came back a couple times for Christmas breaks and visited my host family, friends and travelled a bit around Chile. My host father works at a University and one day he told me that his U had a good master's program in Hispanic Lit and that it was reasonably priced. I was only in my second year of my pre-grad and wasn't really thinking about a post-grad degree yet, but several years later I remembered and came down to Chile to get my masters. So here I am.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Knowing the other, transculturally vogueing

Tzvetan Todorov has a literary theory on "knowing the other." (I'm translating this from Spanish to English.) This is an abstract of his theory.

Understanding a foreign culture, or another person (or a literary text) remits to a simple question, how do we understand the other?

This other can be different from us in different ways:
in time - so knowing the other means understanding history
in space - we use comparative analysis (different cultures)
or the other can be just someone you know

Todorov's solution on how to know the other deals with several successive phases of the same act, although this movement means you have to retrocede in order to advance.

First phase) Assimilate the other to oneself. "I'm a literary critic, all the works I speak of only let one voice be heard: mine." I feel like foreign cultures are structured like mine. The historian only encounters a pre-figuration of the present when he studies the past. There is a perception of the other, but I convert it into a reproduction of myself. There is only one identity, mine.

Second phase) Understanding consists in the disappearance of myself in benefit of the other. "I become more Persian than the Persians: I learn their history and their present, I accustom myself to perceiving the world through their eyes, and I repress manifestations of my original identity."
I'm proud to make the writer I’m reading speak. I renounce myself to fuse with the other. Again, there is one identity, but it is the other's.

Third phase) I re-take my identity, after doing all I could to know the other. My temporal-spatial, cultural surroundings are no longer a curse; in fact they produce new knowledge, this time in the qualitative since, rather than quantative. An ethnologist, I no longer try to make others speak, but to establish a dialogue between them and me; I perceive my own categories as just as relative as theirs. I no longer try not to have prejudices. I pre-judge necessarily and always, but that is the interesting part of my interpretation, since my prejudices are as different as theirs.

Fourth phase) I again separate from myself, but in a different way. I no longer want to or can identify with the other, but not with myself either.
(This phase sometimes sends you here.) My knowledge about the other depends on my own identity. This knowledge of the other also determines my knowledge about myself. Knowledge about the self transforms the self's identity, and the whole process can start again, until infinity. The movement never has an end, but moves in a precise direction towards an ideal.

I've had these experiences; I imagine most people have, though I think people living abroad are way more aware of it. I'm sure there are many adaptations you could add to this theory, but in its core I find it quite accurate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Por si te perdiste algo

Expat identity issues? No worries...Chile is prepared. Just go to Moneda 1342, they'll help you out.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Chilean male/female relationships: another piece to the mosaic

So I have a slightly altered perspective on male/female relations in Chile. Perhaps, better stated, one more piece has been added to the mosaic. So Vuko and I went to a wedding on Saturday. It was a nice wedding. (As a sidenote, it was the shortest Catholic ceremony I've ever attended, like 3o minutes.) The revelation I had came a couple days later, but it was stimultated by an experience that just didn't fit within my picture of Chileans. So you know the tradition of the bride throwing the bouquet that may provoke a catfight for the flowers that promise a future wedding/marriage? Okay, so all of us single chiks were waiting for the bride to throw the bouquet. She ended up having to throw it three times because no one caught it. And there was a general lack of enthusiam among the girls to catch it, which was made up for when the groom threw the garter. You should have seen these rowdy guys' ebullience. They wanted that garter. When it was thrown, it passed through Vuko's fingertips and a sea of hands shot up to grab it. I don't know who got it, but Vuko came back to our table wounded. He was bleeding. Some dude had taken a chunk out of Vuko's finger with his clawlike nails. I mentioned this to my psycologist because this just didn't make sense, why are these guys sooo excited to be married? She said that Chilean men were probably more enthusiastic to get married than I had previously thought. No me cuadraba para nada. But why? Maybe they just wanted to make a scene, and I wouldn't have thought twice, but Vuko's finger was pretty ugly. There was more too it than just screwing around. One possible answer is that in a traditional Chilean marriage the woman takes really good care of the man. She's his servant, because as Kyle has described, he's the king. So this also means a wedding condemns the woman to a lifetime of servitude, and thus the bouquet was dropped three times. This explanation fits together quite nicely, actually. Though I don't mean to generalize to all Chilean parejas. I'm sure our generation has a ton of exceptions to the rule. But, perhaps it still is the rule?