Mexican Service

I’m riding my bike around even more than usual lately. I’ve been joking that when I return to the UK I’ll need to provide subtle evidence at job interviews to prove that when I say I’d been living in Mexico for the last six years, I meant I’d been living in Mexico for the last six years. And not ‘I’ve been in prison for six years’.  A lot of crims will elect to put ‘travel’ down as an explanation for a lengthy absence from the UK employment scene. I reckon a healthy sun tan in the middle of a British winter counts as ‘subtle evidence’. Getting on my bike and riding to work is as good a way as any of getting one. The exercise is also good – I’ve been doing 14 to 20 miles a day. Plus I can stop off at places a little easier.

Yesterday I decided to stop off at Burger King in Coyoacan. Riding gives you a hunger and a Hersheys Chocolate Pie was just what the doctor ordered. This Burger King also has a street side service window which was very convenient. I stopped and ordered my pie from the girl at the window. She grunted and told me I’d have to go to the main counter. Which is inconvenient if you’re on a bike. I asked what she did have there. Nada. Then why on earth is the service window open, with all the signage on display to tell me it’s open, with a girl sitting there as if she’s about to serve a customer? I told her it was ok, I’d go to McDonalds. Not that I had any intention of doing so, and not that there is one nearby.

No Hersheys Chocolate Pie. Oh well. I’d stop at Superama and buy some minced chicken or turkey for tomorrows dinner and see if there were any tasty looking snacks. I got to Superama and went to the meat fridges. Minced everything, except chicken. They usually have chicken. I went to the butchers area, where all the meat in their fridges are prepared, and asked for some minced chicken. The guy grunted and told me to look in the fridge. I explained that there was none in the fridge. Could I get some here?

I could see a ton of chicken and I could see the mincer. All the ingredients were there.  He gave me a funny look, grunted and went back to what he was doing. Was that a yes or a no? It was a no. My request for some chicken was clearly interrupting him from doing his work – which of course was selling chicken amongst other things. Oh the irony. So I bought nothing and left. Clucking mad I was.

A discussion on customer service recently broke out on another Mexico blog. I mentioned there that in my experience Mexico provides the very best and worst examples of customer service. It’s a country of extremes whatever topic you’re discussing. Some of the safest places in the world can be found in Mexico. Some of the most dangerous too. The finest lamb on the planet. And some of the most rancid too. This is Mexico. It’s just how it is. Yesterday was the negative extreme. Still, I saved some money.

Some of my local stores are brilliant. There’s a sasteria round the corner which will adjust clothing to fit properly. I’ve been there a few times to have jeans that are slightly generous around the waist trimmed a little. There’s always a smile and a greeting. The guy literally jumps out of his chair to take whatever I’ve brought in. And he does a great job too. So does the guy who polishes my shoes. Always offers me a newspaper to read while I sit in the chair. The fruit and veg stall in my local mercado often throw in a couple of extra bits and pieces as a thank you for my custom. The papeleria does an excellent job photocopying course books – students usually prefer to pay 80 pesos for a ‘pirate’ book that fork out 400 pesos for the real thing.

But for every diamond there’s a lump of coal. What really irritates me is that’s there’s usually no recourse for disappointing service. There’s not usually any means of addressing any issue in Mexico. My snotty complaints, when I’ve bothered to make them, are treated like snotty tissues. Straight in the bin. Even big companies like McDonalds simply don’t give a monkeys. I didn’t get a reply from them when I emailed a complaint a year and a half ago. Such is life I guess. Only three weeks to go, and then I’ll be back in England, where customer service is at least consistent. Consistently awful, but there you go.


6 thoughts on “Mexican Service

  1. Michael Wolf says:

    I came up with the phrase “brute force customer service” to describe what goes on in some of the more “expensive” places like Liverpool and Palacio de Hierro. You also see it in mid-range restaurants.

    (I put “expensive” in scare quotes because, while the prices are high, a lot of what they sell, at least in their kitchen departments, is decidedly ghetto.)

    What I mean by it is that, instead of a relatively small number of well-trained staff, there are often many people who know next to nothing about what they’re selling. I can’t really blame them for not knowing how to operate an espresso machine, or what cast iron cookware is, but I can and do blame store management for giving them minimal training and forcing customers to put up with them.

    But you don’t have to overpay for brute force customer service: I’ve had five different plumbers look at my stove and make changes while failing to fix it. Either they can’t understand why one would want both low and high heat from the same burner or they don’t know how to adjust it to make that possible—or the stove is a piece of crap, which I’m willing to accept, but for some reason refuse to just come out and say it. I’d be willing to pay ten times market rate for a plumber to come just once and do the job right!

    One has come to fiddle with my water heater, but he’s come several times. It alternates between spewing hot water all over the place and inadequate heating. I’m also willing to accept that the heater is junk, but why not just say so? I rent. I won’t be offended.

    It reminds me of the aphorism that nine women can’t make a baby in a month.


    • Ricardo Montoya Ochoa says:

      Michael I think the part of the mindset in Mexico is the need to not say no to anyone. Seems like many want to please rather than admit that the appliance is trash or that they do not have a clue on how to fix it. I doubt that is is a matter of losing face as in the Oriental culture. Here in Patzcuaro, much like in Gary’s case we have some great customer service in the smaller shops. Folks go out of their way to please. But it seem that lager stores such as Bodega and other national franchises do not give an damn about service. Left a lot of that type of attitude behind in the States!


      • My preferred variety of customer service is the efficient, effective and attentive variety. A smile is nice, but a substitute for getting want I want in good time.

        I’ve *always found customer service in the US, by the by, to be very good, if a bit scripted. Sometimes painfully scripted.

        *Except in a camera shop in NY back in 2003, when I was trying to buy a camera lens. The salesman made it clear he was doing me a favour by serving me. I made it equally clear I’d take my cash elsewhere, thank you very much.

        Still. If there’s one thing us Brits can still be relied upon, it’s appalling customer service. Fawlty Towers teetered precariously between documentary and comedy…


  2. Opatije says:

    I was Germany over Christmas and the quality of customer service has decreased dramatically over the last few years. The only place where you can still get your “danke” is from a small street vendor selling overpriced bratwursts. To be perfectly honest Manchester Airport takes the cake…The guy who was “in charge” of WC would not let me in without providing any valid reason. I suspect his English was mediocre at best but still…plain rude.


    • English service is notoriously appalling. Nothing will ever surprise me. The only plus point is UK companies have fawning customer service centers who will address complaints professionally.

      I guess one principal reason for the fall in standards is the fact that so many retail and chain establishments hire at or around the national minimum wages.


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