Growing up in the United States, I learned at a young age that the customer was always right.
One time, for example, I bought the wrong size shoes from a Chicago outlet mall and returned them two weeks later. Not only did I get a refund, but I was also offered a 20% discount on my next pair, an apology from a store that really had nothing to apologize for.
So needless to say, it took me awhile to get used to living in Switzerland, where a customer has very few rights. Last year, when the train tickets I ordered from sbb.ch were not delivered, the ticket office at the Baden train station refused to help me.
“You ordered online,” said the SBB ticket guy, “so you have to call customer service.” He sighed and wrote down the toll number for me, like he was doing me a huge favour.
So not only was I refused to be helped in person, but I had to call a number that cost SFr1.15 a minute for the pleasure of telling the SBB to get my SFr 500 order straight.
Apparently, this lack of customer service doesn’t bother a good Swiss citizen. Last week, I was having dinner at the Grandhotel Giessbach with a couple of Swiss friends, Tom and Peter, who are vegetarians, when the waitress brought them each a plate of veal, even though they had ordered asparagus ravioli.
They told the waitress it was not what they had ordered, but instead of sending it back, Tom agreed to eat the veal and Peter switched his plate with my husband’s, who had been given vegetarian risotto.
Then, when the bill came, we had been charged for the meat even though we had ordered cheaper vegetarian items.
“Well, we ate it,” said Tom, clearly trained in the Swiss tradition that the customer has no rights and should be honoured to have been able to eat at the restaurant at all.
“Well, you shouldn’t have to pay for their mistake,” I said, in true American style.
It took some convincing, but finally, my Swiss friends agreed I was right and more amazingly, the restaurant changed the bill. While the waitress didn’t outwardly admit she had made a mistake, she gave us each a glass of Moscato d’Asti after the fact, a small salute that perhaps there is hope for customer service in Switzerland, after all.