Today’s post is going to be different than usual. It might even be a bit controversial. I’ve decided to write about it here, instead of on my main blog, because it has to do with travel and international relations. And it also complements a piece I wrote for my main blog this morning. So here goes…
Last month, I wrote about the trip Bill and I took to Ribeauville, France for our 20th wedding anniversary. It was our sixth visit to Ribeauville, a town that has become one of our favorite places to visit when we need a break from Germany. This time, we went there because we wanted to go somewhere dog friendly to celebrate our anniversary. Because Arran has been undergoing chemotherapy, and Noyzi had never been on a trip before, we thought it would be best to go somewhere we knew could accommodate them.
Although we have visited Ribeauville many times, I didn’t realize that a lot of businesses would be closed during our November visit. I would have expected a lot of closures during the winter season. But when we got there, our host, Yannick, explained that a lot of businesses shut down for a rest just before the Christmas season, because of the surge in business when people descend on the village to shop the markets. Consequently, the tourist friendly town was pretty dead during our visit. Only a few restaurants were open, and not all of the retail establishments were doing business.
In my blog series about our most recent trip to Ribeauville, I wrote about an unfortunate experience we had at a wine shop in Ribeauville. I didn’t go into great detail about it in the blog post, because overall, we had a good time. However, Bill and I did submit Google reviews about the place where we got bad service. We would not have bothered to do that if the shopkeeper had given us the right wine, but the unfriendliness coupled with incompetence invited comment. Some people might question our decision to complain about our experience on the Internet. I would invite the naysayers to consider the value of people sharing their opinions about products and services.
The whole reason Google offers people the chance to leave reviews is so that others might be able to choose the most appropriate places to spend their money. I almost always use reviews when I decide to book places to stay overnight. Sometimes I read restaurant reviews before I’ll book a table. I look for reviews of doctors, veterinarians, and lawyers, too, because I don’t want to waste time or money on something that will be inappropriate or disappointing.
Think about shopping at Amazon. Most of us read reviews before we make purchases, right? It helps one decide between two similar products and maybe avoid bad experiences… or increase the odds of having a really good experience. It also gives businesses the chance to do some quality control, if they are so inclined. As much as business people don’t want to hear about something going wrong, they can’t fix problems if they don’t know they exist. And in the case of the wine shop we reviewed, we couldn’t have complained in person, even if we’d wanted to, because the salesperson only spoke French, and Bill and I can’t speak French.
So, Bill wrote about how, after lunch on a cold, rainy afternoon in Ribeauville, we decided we wanted to buy some wine to take home with us. We were actually hoping to get the chance to do a tasting. Ribeauville has a lot of places where it’s possible to taste wines before buying them, and we hoped we’d find such an outlet that offered tastings when we were wine shopping. Unfortunately, on that particular day, most of the winesellers were closed, either because it was too early in the day, or because they had closed before commencing the Christmas markets. We decided we just wanted to buy the wine and hole up in the apartment, since the weather was so yucky and the dogs were waiting for us.
We saw that this one wine shop was open. The lights were on; the door was open; it was a quaint looking place. Bill had successfully shopped there before, so we had no reason to think we’d have a bad experience there. We walked in and saw there was a woman behind the counter. It was apparently her job to sell wine. She was giving off unwelcoming vibes, and looked quite annoyed that we’d come into her shop. In retrospect, we probably should have just walked out. But we wanted to buy Alsatian wine, and were planning to leave the next morning. So we approached her.
Bill asked her if she spoke English or German. Her response was a flat “no.” Okay… well, it’s France, so we don’t necessarily expect that she speaks any language other than French. She had a menu available. We spotted a package we wanted. It consisted of three Pinot Blancs and three Rieslings. We pointed to that, and I said more than once, “No Gewurztraminer.” Granted, I didn’t say it in French, but “no” means “no” in English and French. So, actually, I probably did say it in French.
The woman packed up the wines in a box. We weren’t able to see which bottles she put in the box before she taped it up. Bill paid for the package we indicated, and we quickly got out of there, because we felt unwelcome. The whole interaction lasted maybe five minutes.
When we got home, we found three bottles of Gewurztraminer instead of the Riesling we wanted. I was immediately annoyed, because not only were we treated very rudely, but we also didn’t get what we ordered. So Bill and I wrote reviews of the shop on Google, noticing that we weren’t the only people who got bad service at that particular establishment. However, we appeared to be the only Americans who had reviewed their shop. Everyone else was evidently either from France or Germany.
Last night, Bill saw that he got a response from the wine shop about the review he wrote. The woman responded in French that she was “very sorry” about her “attitude” if she was the one to whom we were referring. And she added that it was “unfortunate” that we got bottles of Gewurztraminer instead of Riesling, since Gewurztraminer is “more expensive”. Her implication seems to be that we should be grateful that we got more expensive wines when we paid for cheaper wines.
I was a bit taken aback by the woman’s response. But here are my four takeaways from this experience.
- This woman doesn’t care about giving people what they ordered.
- I don’t know if she owns the shop or is just an employee, but apparently she doesn’t care that she cost the business money because she gave us the wrong wines.
- She thinks that things that cost more are automatically better.
- She doesn’t realize that Riesling and Gewurztraminer are different wines and taste different.
I will admit that I am not an expert on Gewurztraminer, but I have never had one that I’ve enjoyed. Perhaps if the shop had offered tastings, the saleslady could have convinced us that Gewurztraminer was the better choice. She wouldn’t have even needed to speak English or German to do that. Bill and I have done tastings at other vintners in France in which all the proprietor did was pour sips of wine for us and let us decide if we wanted to purchase it. But her shop didn’t offer tastings, which is certainly fair enough.
But, since they didn’t offer tastings, and I know I like Rieslings and haven’t historically liked Gewurztraminers, I ordered Rieslings– not Gewurztraminers. It doesn’t make a happy damn to me that Gewurztraminers cost more than Rieslings do. It’s not worth anything to me if I don’t want to drink it. And while I don’t necessarily assume that the customer is always right, I do think people should get what they ask for, and pay for, or something that comes reasonably close if what they want isn’t available. This morning, when Bill and I were talking about this, he said “I’m sure a pink, diamond encrusted, Mercedes Benz would cost more than our Volvo did. That doesn’t mean I want to drive it.”
I decided to write about this incident on Facebook. I posted about it on my page, and in a wine group I run. I kind of knew in the back of my head that posting about it in the wine group would be risky, since a lot of people in the group are affiliated with the U.S. military, and a lot of people in that community seem to think that no one ever has the right to complain about anything. If you complain, you’re automatically labeled a “karen” (a term I usually refuse to use because I think it’s stupid). Below is what I posted:
That last bit was a reference to an experience Bill and I had in Ribeauville back in May 2018, when we visited a restaurant. I had ordered an entrecote steak. Bill ordered smoked salmon pancakes. The waiter came out with the pancakes and choucroute garni (Alsatian dish with sausages and sauerkraut), which was NOT what I ordered. When I politely pointed that out to the guy, he immediately got really pissed and insisted that I had ordered sausages and sauerkraut. Why would I lie about what I ordered? I didn’t want the choucroute garni, because I don’t like sauerkraut. He took the dish away, then came back and tried to get me to accept it, since it would take time to prepare the steak I ordered. Bill, being the prince of a man that he is, offered to take the choucroute garni. I took the salmon pancakes, since they had been my second choice. Unfortunately, the pancakes were badly scorched.
The Ribeauville wine shop lady reminded me of the waiter at the Ribeauville restaurant who gave us very bad service and expected me to shut up and color. But… in fairness to the town, everyone else there has been fabulous. That’s why we’ve visited there six times so far!
Anyway, I had a feeling that someone would assume that I brought on my own problems at the wine shop. Sure enough, I was right. Someone responded that I shouldn’t have “expected” the wine shop woman to speak English or German at a shop in France. Where in my post does it say that I expected her to speak another language? I wrote in a matter-of-fact way that the woman didn’t speak German or English. We don’t speak French. There’s no judgment about that. Many people in that region speak German, though, because it’s very close to the German border.
Lots of Europeans speak English. In fact, a lot of people from other parts of Europe speak English to each other even if they don’t come from an English speaking country. English is a very commonly studied second language in many parts of Europe. Say you’re a French person visiting Spain, and you don’t speak Spanish, but you can speak English. You visit a Spanish restaurant and the waiter doesn’t speak French, but does speak English. You can both speak English and get what you need. See? I’ve seen this happen on many occasions.
It’s generally not possible for everyone living in Europe to learn every language, although I have met some impressive people who had seemed to try. It’s not uncommon to meet people in Europe who have mastered four or five tongues, especially among the Romance languages, but they’d still be struggling if they were somewhere in rural Croatia, Latvia, or Poland and the person they were trying to talk to didn’t speak one of the languages they happened to know.
The person in my wine group continued that she had studied French in high school and college, so she has never experienced rude behavior in France. The implication, apparently, is that I’m an “ugly American” and ignorant because I don’t speak French and had the nerve to ask the saleslady if she spoke English or German.
I was pretty irritated by that reaction and response, because I felt it was pretty judgmental. I’ve lived in Germany for ten years of my life. I like living here. Otherwise, I would have gone back to America or somewhere else a long time ago. Moreover, I completely understand the importance of being culturally sensitive. Besides Germany, I’ve also lived in England and Armenia. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia, where I taught English to little kids. And yes, I do speak some Armenian, a language that I’ll bet relatively few Americans have ever learned a word of.
I also understand that it’s important to study foreign language in school. I studied Spanish for six years, stupidly assuming I’d be living in the United States, where more people speak Spanish than French or German. Believe me, if I had known I’d be living in Germany, I would have studied German and/or French. But I didn’t have a crystal ball back in 1985, when I started taking a foreign language course for the first time. I learned the language I thought was most practical. Based on how my life has turned out, I was wrong.
Someone else wrote that maybe the woman misunderstood me because I don’t speak French. She reasoned that her mother is from Greece and sometimes misunderstands accents. But I don’t think that was what happened, because “No Gewurztraminer” is pretty clear in French and English, especially when we also point to the menu and PAY the price for the box we ordered– which the proprietor says is cheaper than the price is for a box with Gewurztraminer.
Why do people feel like they need to play devil’s advocate, even when the other person isn’t even around to be offended. The wine purveyor isn’t in my wine group, after all. I didn’t even mention which shop she runs. I was just sharing an experience. Why can’t people simply have empathy, rather than try to blame the victim?
The saleslady was not only rude to us, but she also made a mistake; then she shamed us for daring to speak out about it. And instead of apologizing for making the mistake, which everybody does sometimes, she responded in a way that indicated that we were right about her disposition. She’s just plain rude, and probably should find a new line of work that makes her happier. I mean, it’s not like she was slammed with people on the day of our visit. We were the only people in her shop, which was legitimately open for business. We made a very simple request. She botched it, and was very unpleasant to boot. Then, when we legitimately complained, she continued to show everyone her ass.
I think that experience warrants a complaint… or even just a comment, so that other people can avoid that experience themselves. I comment about what happened to Americans, and some of them imply that this was my fault. Isn’t that really nice?
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I can be extremely annoying sometimes. This was not one of those times. This was a five minute interaction that went terribly awry for some reason, in spite of our best intentions. I simply wanted to write about it. But some people want to make anyone who sounds off a villain, especially if it involves Americans. Oh well.
We donated two of the offending wines to a Thanksgiving celebration. Hopefully, someone will enjoy the “more expensive” wines that we bought in Alsace. And next time we go to Ribeauville, we’ll try one of the other wine purveyors… providing they’re open for business. I probably should give up wine, anyway… and whine. My liver would surely thank me for it.