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In Preparation for the Customer Service Special on BA Cast

December 27, 2012

I am floored, absolutely flabbergasted. Get ready because this is going to be a rant. I am going to attempt to not use foul language or be unfair, but the lack of common sense in customer service in this country is ASTOUNDING. If you want to hear a truly well balanced, in depth analysis of the culture of service in Argentina, plus which nationalities do the best service and make the best customers, listen to my podcast in Buenos Aires, The Buenos Aires Podcast in about 30 days, when we will be uploading a documentary on this subject replete with interviews, chamullos, songs and skits.

Yesterday I went by Las Cortaderas in Las Canitas, which is basically the only good place that has pies and cheesecakes, to see what they had for my wife’s birthday. I spoke with the owner, who told me I could get a lemon pie if I come by in the morning and that it cost 80 pesos. Expensive, but what the heck.

What is astounding is that I call this morning, because I know that in Argentina it can’t just be as easy as “come by and its all good”, so I call. I tell the person who answers the phone that I had come by, that the owner told me that a small lemon pie costs 80 pesos, and ask them to confirm that they had it there, ready to go. Here is the dialogue that followed:

Him: Did you want the big or the small?

Me: The owner told me it cost 80 pesos, whichever that one is.

Oh I don’t know which one that is.

How many different ones do you have?

Large and a small. For how many people is it for?

What do the large and small each cost?

How many people is it for?

It does not matter, I want the one that costs 80 pesos. Which one is that?

Hang on let me ask the kitchen if we can make one. Do you need it today?


Would you like me to check to see if we can make one today? (WHAAAAT!!!?!?)

Of course!

(5 minutes later) We can have one for you after 2pm.

I need it before 3pm though. Can you make sure it’s done by 3pm?

Let me check…. (5 more minutes)… You can come by after 2pm.

But WILL IT BE DONE BY 3pm!!!???

Yes, I think so. Now did you want the small or the large?

I want the one that costs 80 pesos. I don’t understand what is so hard about this. I spoke with the owner yesterday and he told me that the pie I looked at cost 80 pesos. Which one is that?

How many people is it for?

OH MY GOD!!! I thought, how can this person seriously not understand how stupid they are being. But this happens over and over and over again! Why? I am sure at this point that it only has to do with the fact that Argentines get used to this at such a young age. When you are disappointed over and over again, repeatedly, and recognize that your institutions fail you constantly, you get numb to it. So when there is a little bad customer service like the above, you don’t sweat it as much as we  Americans do.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Irina permalink
    December 27, 2012 7:08 pm

    Hilarious! I like listening to the Buenos Aires Podcast and I have to say that even though I’m not from the US, I still find it hard to keep cool in these situations sometimes. After two years here, luckily, I’ve learned not to expect too much out of customer service and that does help. Kind of… Happy New Year from a Finnish expat!

  2. padraig permalink
    January 1, 2013 9:13 pm

    I’m Irish originally but have been living in Paris for the last twenty seven years. I’m coming to BA for two weeks in a few days and I’m enjoying reading all this stuff. It’s entertaining and useful.

  3. January 4, 2013 12:15 am

    Hmm, I suspect you order very infrequently from this place. I find customer service excellent in BA but you have to be a regular. If they think you are passing through they don’t give a damn but if you are a frequent (and probably very exigent) customer they will move heaven and earth to get you what you want and deliver it to your door. It may be a village mentality but I like it.

    • January 4, 2013 2:07 am

      Thanks for the comment! I wish you were right, but I used to have coffee there 3 times a week until it became clear that they do not care in the slightest about their customers. I have found the village mentality to be highly true though, and get this treatment elsewhere. You should check out the Buenos Aires Podcast!

  4. Julieta permalink
    March 24, 2013 4:40 am

    Look, I’m from Argentina, born and raised, and even when I would not necessarily defend this person that was being so inefficient, I believe you are overgeneralizing and that’s not a good thing to do when you are living in a different country from yours. (No, wait, that is not a good thing to do. Period.) Of course there may be countless cultural differences, but assuming that, ’cause you had a bad experience, this is what will always happen anywhere you go in this country and that it wouldn’t happen in yours is just WRONG.

    And what about this stupid thing of people being numbed, have you met any Argentines at all?

    Just constructive criticism, take it or leave it.

    • July 12, 2013 2:35 pm

      Hi Julieta,

      Thanks for your comment. What is funny about it is that you tell me not to generalize and then you yourself generalize about Argentines in the *exact* same way (you write “this will always happen anywhere you go in this country”). This is exactly my point!

      In addition, to ask if I have met any Argentines is a bit unreasonable since I am married to an Argentine, have Argentine business partners and have lived in this country since 2004.

      This is exactly what puts me in a position to generalize, and if you listen to the show when it comes out you will find that we explore both sides of the issue of customer service thoroughly.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Johan permalink
    April 28, 2013 9:30 pm

    Your lemon pie story was not new for me as I know how BAD service can be in Argentina…BUT (this is to comfort you a bit) WHATEVER you do…never eva come to paraguay because it´s even WORSE!!! YES SIR….you read that right WORSE…far more worse…
    Dutch expat living in PY since 2009…desparately want to get out but somehow can´t sell my house….:-( Help….keep up the good work..regards, Johan from Paraguay.

    • April 29, 2013 11:39 am

      Thanks for the comment Johan! I actually totally believe you. Paraguay is known as a much worse place than Argentina economically and politically and Im sure that this trickles down to all walks of life. You should check out my podcast, for some other funny stories.

      On your property: you can’t sell because you can’t get the money out of the country? There are no buyers? You would have to sell at a loss? Just curious. I hope it works out!

      • Johan permalink
        April 30, 2013 12:49 am

        No In PY you can sell or buy easely a house/property,it´s not so like in Argentina. Thing is…people ALWAYS want to pay way less if the owner is a gringo….well you get my drift:-( With cars is the same thing…alas I have to live with it.

  6. Sandra permalink
    June 20, 2013 11:00 pm

    OMG! I can’t believe, or … Better, yes, yes I can. I know how bad it can be customer satisfaction and overall handling on all businesses in Argentina. (With the exception of a few places) Son de terror!
    Your story by the way you write it is actually a little bit funny, but I’ve been in your situation many many times and I know… No, it’s not funny. These people actually manages to get you mad and drives you really crazy!

  7. doug permalink
    July 7, 2013 3:34 am

    Im American and speak perfect Spanish and know Argentina very well. I have spent long periods in Brazil and other countries, There is a unique form of stupidity in Argentina and I dont know the cause. I cant understand it. Amazing stupidity amongst the middle and upper classes. Women are by far the worst.. 100% 3rd world but they think highly of themselves and blame the government. Their lack of any ability to think logically is shocking. That and their greed and lust for dollars.

    • July 8, 2013 1:35 pm

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for the comment, although I would encourage using facts, evidence and logic to make arguments if possible and I would like to discourage name-calling. Thank you for reading!

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