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The customer can just fret and stew

Who exactly is king in this context?

There seems to be a conspiracy to make the customer sweat and stew a bit. Maybe it increases an establishment’s snob value. Here is a partial list of customer woes.

Your day might begin at 6 a.m., but in many cities in India the shops open leisurely at noon. Even so, you, the customer, cannot barge into the shop on the dot of 12. The shop owner, just arrived, and sour about your witnessing his rolling up the shop-shutter himself, sets about elaborately praying to the row of framed pictures of deities. This normally takes about 10 minutes but will go up to 20 if you dare show signs of impatience. He’s making you stew.

The office receptionist has her signature move. As you arrive she grabs the phone, looks at you, and smiles. You are glad. But her smile is for the person at the other end of the phone. She practises looking through you. While you are wondering if you should smile back, she ends her conversation and seamlessly shifts to tapping keys on her computer, still holding that half-smile, not meant for you. It’s in memory of that phone conversation she has just finished. The only way to get things moving is to ring her up from your mobile. Tell her, ‘Hi, I’m standing two feet in front of you trying to get your attention.’

The roadside vendors are never alone. Some jobless sidekick, with all the time in the world, is present by his side, exchanging wisdom. You go there but have to wait out their conversation for minutes before the vendor turns to you. He is perhaps showing you he too has a robust social life.

You take your vehicle for repair. The mechanic appears perplexed and remains frozen in the interior gloom of his shop, jerking his head at you interrogatively, as though he is not only dumb but also afraid to come out. Irritated, you reply in exaggerated sign language indicating the trouble. After minutes of mime, he reluctantly comes out to inspect your vehicle, having established the protocol of making you sweat.

Your door-bell rings. It’s the gas-cylinder guy. His head is bent as if he’s just been hanged; his mobile phone is wedged under his chin, and he is talking non-stop into it. You open the door and wait to have a word with him, but he is looking at you and talking to someone else, and hands you the voucher wordlessly. You pay and he turns about and leaves, bent-necked, and still talking over the receding echo of the rolling cylinder in the corridor.

You get into the bus. The conductor murmurs something and it is inaudible because the acoustic shock of the in-house music is rattling your specs and the water bottle in your hand. You have to shout out your destination, and the fare he mentions is still not clear, and you shell out the approximate amount and don’t really expect to get back change. So be it. The high decibel is sacred. You, the customer, come next.

It’s a shop, and the boss is not around. You can hear the tinny squeak of the shop-assistant’s earphones as he stands behind the counter. You can imagine what they are doing to his ear-drums. He can’t hear you, and doesn’t seem to know why. It doesn’t occur to him to switch off the music. If you ask him in sign-language to remove the darned earphones, he looks shocked, as if you had asked him to pull the plug on his own life-support system.

And, so on. It’s time customers turned the tables. We should step into shops and just stare at the staff, or deliberately talk inaudibly, then exit. Or start a long conversation on our mobiles, while smiling and looking through the shop-assistant, mystifying the fellow with some sign-language, and then leave all the same. Let them stew, too, for a change.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 6:23:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-customer-can-just-fret-and-stew/article18591127.ece

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