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Wednesday, September 22nd "Now, now, now, dammit!"

Coming from the U.S. we often have a different sense of urgency and service which can be difficult to reconcile with other parts of the world. There’s a sense of impatience which in other countries the service provider’s just might miss. I hate to say that much of this has to do with the instant gratification culture or the consumer is always right culture in the U.S., but most signs point to this being the case. As Americans we get used to being able to go grocery shopping at 1am, or pick up something to eat at any time of the day. There are pharmacies which are open very late, banks with drive-through service, video stores with huge selections, again open until the very wee hours of the night. We can buy a bottle of aspirin at just about any store (in Spain you need to head to a farmacia) or find a gas station around most any corner. Everyone accepts Visa or Mastercard, now even McDonalds. Giant department stores such as Walmart and Target have everything under the sun, from housewares and electronics to groceries and clothing. Government offices are open from 8am-5pm, and many times you can do your business with them over the internet, or at least make a call and the phone will be answered. The customer, or rather consumer is always right, no? In short I’m saying that in the states the consumer gets the advantage and expects to be served.

It just doesn’t always work that way in Spain and many other countries for that matter. Most stores close during siesta, getting business done after 5pm in some cases can be a challenge and weekends are better spent relaxing than answering emails, telephones or serving customers. Small shops and businesses specialize in a few things that you can’t get anywhere else, at times forcing you do move around the city to get a few odd errands or purchases done. In some offices they never answer the phone, or when they do they are less than helpful. When you are used to a total customer service culture it can be hard to adjust.

Now I don’t profess this to be the case all of the time – sometimes service in Spain is better than in the states. Once you live here for a while you also start to see some of the advantages to the way things are structured for the consumer. You start to prefer the way they “do it in Spain” to the way they do it in the U.S. (One of many examples: I enjoy the fact that there are always 12am showings of movies, something they lack in my home town in the U.S.). And if you look closely there are plenty of consumer friendly services - some governemtn offices are open from 8am-5pm and El Corte Inglés does offer everything under the sun (although at a price). As well, much of the consumer culture and “convenience” factors which dictate service in the states have made their way into other countries, and Spain is no exception: OpenCor and VIPs are open 365 days a year until 2am, some stores in the center – including many supermarkets - now stay open during siesta and El Corte Inglés is also open one Sunday per month. In many places in the north of Spain they say the siesta is slowly coming to an end, while in the South it still survives.

The fact is this impatience arises when it takes time to accomplish things (or what seems to be an inconvenience) and is often just a form of culture shock – you are out of your element and adhering to new rules and ways of doing things can provoke a negative response. That negative response then receives a negative reaction from others and it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. After one bitter experience you may find yourself ready for the next experience to go bad, ready with a negative attitude which surfaces quicker than it should. The only solution is to relax, take that Saturday afternoon or entire Sunday off and do something else. Set your expectations to meet the situation or country you are in and be “ok” with things taking their time in some cases. Also step outside yourself for a minute and think of what you look like: perhaps a whiner and demanding a bit too much? Maybe arrogant because you don’t consider that things may be done in another way somewhere else? A little forethought applied to your actions can go a long way. I know that sometimes you are right and you encounter the wrong person at the wrong time when you really need some help. Sometimes it’s a question of having to deal with an ass who has no business being in a position of “helping” people. But sometimes it’s best to back off, adjust and move on.