The power of an apology

Bad customer service is one of my biggest pet peeves.  I have been known to leave my groceries in the cart at the check-out when the cashier obviously sees me but chooses to help the louder, pushier person in line behind me first.  I’ve walked out of stores because I couldn’t get an employee to pay enough attention to me to answer a question about something I wanted to buy.

I know that the expectation of what kind of customer service a shopper should receive is totally cultural.  I’ve found here that it is generally one of two extremes.  Following you around the store, helping you with every little thing on one hand, and on the other, completely ignoring you until you practically put the money in their hand in order to purchase something.

Today I experienced a first.

Strawberry season is nearly over.  I’ve been wanting to get one last batch to try out a homemade frozen yogurt recipe before the only berries we can find are expensive imported ones.  Just across the street from the football stadium where we were today, was a man with a cart full of strawberries for sale, so I headed over to get a bunch.

No price was posted, so I asked the boy helping out how much.  (Note to self, when the boy who has been selling strawberries and only strawberries all day long conveniently forgets the price when the foreigner asks how much, you know you are about to get ripped off).  He looked at the man with him for the price and I was told 5,000LL.  It’s a bit higher than I was expecting, so I made a face.  Immediately I was promised a very good price and we began to bargain until we were both happy.

For the record, I am very well aware that the “good price only for you” that I am regularly given is still higher than what most Lebanese would pay, which is why I usually shop at big supermarkets with fixed prices or at the little shops in our neighborhood where I have relationships on my side.  But for something like strawberries which are so cheap to begin with, I’m happy with the “good price only for you” even though it drives me nuts that my price is higher than everyone else’s.

Anyways, as I was about to pay for my big pile of strawberries, a car pulled up and asked a third man standing there how much.


Okay, now I’m really annoyed.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s 60 cents, but the principle of it all made me really mad.  So I told the man that.  I told him he lied to me about the price, and I didn’t like the atmosphere and he had no honor and I wasn’t going to buy anything from him because he tried to rip me off and shame on him for seeing my face and making the price higher.  The other man and the kid tried to convince me that I was getting a good price, but the first man actually told me I was right, he did tell me a higher price, but I still told him I wasn’t happy and then I walked away.

He followed me across the street, across the parking lot and back to the car where Caleb, Isla, Ruby and a bunch of the guys from the football team were waiting.  He was apologizing profusely, basically told Caleb that he didn’t give me the same price, it was wrong, he was very sorry and he wanted us to take the strawberries for free.  We thanked him, but said no we didn’t want them, but he kept trying to put them in our car.

I was surprised, impressed and ended up paying the price we had agreed upon for the berries.

Now that’s customer service.



8 thoughts on “The power of an apology

  1. I’m sorry you had to go through this. We too Face the same thing although we speak the same language and our countries are neighbors. But once some merchants detect from our dialect that we are not Lebanese, the price doubles… I basically do the same, I just walk away after letting them know how ashamed of themselves they should be to do that. Especially that most of us, Syrians, are in a financial constraint due to the war ongoing on our land. Yet, so many are taking advantage of our needs to double or even triple the prices of everything starting with house rents and ending up with produce prices!! What a shame!!

    • Dareen, I’m sorry you are experiencing the same thing. I think I get taken advantage of because people assume that because I am clearly Western I don’t know any better and I can afford to pay. It’s annoying, for sure. But, taking advantage of a people who are already suffering and don’t have other options is truly despicable!!

  2. I’m curious, Nicolette. Do you think he was just an exceptionally nice guy, or do you think the element of being shamed, in front of two other people, made the difference? Had he been alone, and somehow you discovered the real price, would he have reacted like that? I know, purely hypothetical – impossible to tell, really.

    • It’s an interesting question, and you are right, there is no way to really know for sure.

      But I actually believe that his apology was truly sincere. If I understand the way the honor/shame works is that in order to rescue his honor, he should have fought back. Even though it was clearly obvious that I was right, for him to admit that he was wrong not only to me, but to the two others standing there, put me in a place of honor and him in a place of shame, which just isn’t done. On top of that, to admit fault to a woman is even more of a surprise, and totally counter-cultural.

      When he first approached our car, I expected that he was just going to continue to try to convince me that he was giving me a good deal. To hear him explaining the mistake he had made to my husband just floored me.

      • (My Middle Eastern friends and readers, please correct me if I’m wrong in my understanding of culture!!! :))

      • Ah, yes. I was also wondering how you being a woman (and Western) affected the shame element. Now, it would be interesting to find out where he stands spiritually. Great story about this man.

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