31 March 2009

We have a fully functioning new computer...

...in German.

We recently purchased a new desktop computer to replace our barely functioning notebook. My notebook was getting so bad, that most of the letters had faded off the keys, the Z key went missing, the left mouse button only worked when it felt like it, and there were many many things I could no longer do on my laptop. It was time for the old girl to be retired.

Generally we put a lot of research and thought into a purchase of this size. However, as it happens our new computer ended up being a total impulse purchase. We happened to be in Le Buffet the restaurant at the top of Karstadt Hauptbahnhof Saturday night. As I was heading for the escalators, I went by the computer section noticing that many of their computers were on sale at a fraction of their original cost, and before we left, I dragged Paul back through the computer section.

We talked to the computer sales person for awhile, and he showed us a couple models to choose between. We decided to go home and talk about it, and come back the following weekend to make our purchase. However, for some reason, we decided to turn around right then and go back and make the purchase. It ended up being the last model other than the display model, they had in the store. The poor sales guy was trying to go home, and the store was closing, but the manager decided to let us purchase it anyways.

After we lugged it home, or Paul lugged it home via S-Bahn, bus and trail, in a drizzling rain, we were too exhausted to unpack it and set it up. The following morning, we tried to set up a computer in a language we barely know. Not only were we trying to translate German, but we were trying to translate German computer speak, or more specifically German Microsoft speak which is confusing enough on its own.

The first thing we tried to do was change the operating language from German to English, not realizing that you can't do that in Windows Vista Home operating system without an upgrade and purchasing a language pack. We did manage to change the keyboard to a US English keyboard, which isn't helpful at all since it's a German keyboard. I also managed to accidentally delete the German keyboard settings, which Paul somehow magically fixed.

Next we tried the Internet. So far, we've been able to just plug in our USB cable into my laptop and Paul's work laptop without a problem; this wasn't the case with the new computer. The new computer kept saying it didn't recognize the network. So after doing a snails paced search on the Internet, we uncovered all kinds of problems that people have had with their Internet and Windows Vista, and the network card. We also called a couple of our computer nerd friends and family, but they weren't able to help us either.

We were dreading contacting Karstadt, and HP to try and resolve the issue through broken German, but Paul was going to do suffer through it, and he was going to lug the new computer back to the store so they could show him how to fix the problem. He emailed HPs support desk and gave them my contact info so they could contact me during the day. So today after I received HPs email, I logged on to the new computer to tell the the exactly error message we were getting, and suddenly the Internet was working!

I have no idea how it resolved itself, and I don't care. Now if I can just get used to the German keyboard.

13 March 2009

"Would you like fries with that?"

In my teen years and during University, I worked in several restaurants. This was how I earned my extra income while in school. Because of my experience, I generally have a lot of patience with restaurant servers, and I understand when someone is having a bad day.

German customer service is notoriously bad, especially in restaurants. Generally this is because servers don't work for tips. They actually get paid a decent wage, so they aren't trying to turn tables, or sell you more food to get a larger tip. There are benefits and disadvantages to this. One of the benefits is that you can sit at your table as long as you want, even if you only ordered a coffee... Of course the flip side to this, is that if there are no tables available when you show up to a restaurant, and you don't have a reservation, they will turn you away. No waits lists at German restaurants. The first time we went out to dinner here, it tooks us three restaurants before we could find a table. It was well worth it though, because we had the most fabulous Turkish food complete with belly dancing entertainment.

You get used to not being waited on hand and food, and you adjust to having to flag a server down when you want something like another drink, or the bill. Generally the servers are friendly or at least cordial. And of course, Max tends to charm them all.

Well, for the first time in my life, I didn't leave a tip. I have never had such deplorable service, as I did yesterday. Max and I met my girlfriend and her son for brunch yesterday at the Stadt Cafe, near the Stadt Museum and Synagogue in downtown Munich. It wasn't a fancy restaurant, it's a Cafe. We specifically choose this restaurant because it's pretty open, it's large, and it's casual. Usually these are the things we look for when looking for restaurants to take our children.

Apparently the server did not like children, because she was rude to us from the get go. When she first came over, she lectured us not to let the children play with the menus, because they were very expensive to make. WTF? I've worked in restaurants, and menus get destroyed just by the nature of the business. They get food on them, they get dog eared. Sometimes they get burned with cigarettes. Our children playing with the menus was hardly going to hurt them. These weren't fancy menus either. They were laminated paper, that's it. And, I'm sorry, I know that multi-colored menus cost more to print, but if you're worried about your menu getting destroyed, maybe it's too expensive for the restaurant.

Ok, so we removed the menus from the children's reach, and let them play with our keys instead. Well, the server was rude and inhospitable the entire time we were there. I was very excited because the menu had a PastramiBagel "New York" style on it. Bagels are hard to come by in Germany, and New York style bagels are even harder. Well, when our food came back, it wasn't a New York bagel, it wasn't even a bagel. It was foccacia bread. I was very disappointed.

So, the next time she was within reach of the table, I told her that it wasn't a bagel, and in a very snotty voice, she said, Oh, we're all out of bagels. Ummmm, couldn't you have told me that after I ordered, before you brought the meal out? Now, I'd have to wait another 30 minutes to order something else, so of course I ate it anyways. It just wasn't a bagel.

Finally, as we're leaving, my girlfriend had her two year old son tell the server goodbye. The lady completely snubbed him, wouldn't even look at him, or crack a smile. Instead she got up, and walked away.

If I had left a tip on the table, at this point, I would have gone back and removed it.

To me, this kind of service isn't just bad customer service, but it's bad business. It shouldn't matter that we had children. It shouldn't matter if we were in wheelchairs, or if we were a different race. We were paying customers, and our demographic of stay-at-home moms, we're the biggest spenders out there. And if you are nice to our children, we will tip generously.