Every day life, food & strangeness in a big city

Month: July, 2012

Baddie and the Drycleaner Wars: the Battle of Hobbs

For anyone who mildly worries about my dress Julia after reading her story, you have my thanks, and my assurance that all’s well that ends well: the posh drycleaners I took her to managed to restore her to her pristine condition.

This, dear reader, is the narrative of yet another silken item of clothing and its unfortunate encounter with a drycleaner. But more than that, it is a large and incredibly dark episode in my everyday quest for tolerable customer service. I almost cried yesterday. Here’s what happened.

About a month and a bit ago, I took four blouses to the drycleaner nearest to my house. A week later, when I went to pick them up, the guy there said that well, there had been a little problem, and he only had three of my items. Would I care to take them with me and return for the fourth? Sure, I said. After all, I had experienced such delays (for no obvious reasons) before. A few days after, on my return, I was told that my top seemed to have gotten lost. By the cleaning company that the drycleaners outsourced to. And since they serviced loads of drycleaners across Berlin, it was a bit like the proverbial needle and the haystack.

Not to worry though, I was assured. If only I would leave a detailed description of the brand, colour, style, size and fabric of the top, chances are that they would find it. Most likely. So I did all that, and left home a bit sad – it was my only cream sleeveless silk top, and a real bargain from the excellent brand Hobbs. It wasn’t a recent purchase, but I had only worn it a handful of times – but each time with utter delight at its elegance. Since I didn’t live in the UK anymore, Hobbs tops were a bit more difficult, if not impossible, to come by.

A week passed, and then ten days, and the expected phone call to let me know they found it didn’t come. Somewhat worried, I decided to drop by again. No, they haven’t found it. Would I confirm the description? I was getting a bit suspicious that anyone was actually on top of this, but decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. “Oh, and by the way, how much did the top cost?” asked the owner. “I don’t know” I answered truthfully, “it’s a silk top; it wasn’t 10 euro, or 150 euro… I guess 50?” “Do you still have the receipt?” “Well, no” I replied. “Ah, ok, we’ll sort something out.” Hmm… somehow I was not convinced. I went home, looked up the top online and found its exact picture, printed it, took it to the drycleaners. They proclaimed the picture as very helpful and told me that they would keep looking for a month. If the item was not found, they would arrange a refund.

A month and a bit later, nothing had happened. In the meantime, I looked for a similar top, and found an almost identical one – same fabric, colour, and from another brand I adore, Repeat! but even in sales, 99 Euros… I thought ok, I can get it, show it to them, and say I would like it refunded – at least 70 or 80% of it. That is surely the least they can do, since it’s the only replacement I could find.

Ahh, so wrong. On my next visit to the drycleaners, I was told by the smirking guy that the new top and receipt doesn’t help him one bit. That it’s obviously a new top I just got. “But of course” I replied “that’s exactly what I just told you. This is a replacement, an almost identical top.” “Well, it’s no good. Are you sure you don’t have the receipt of the original?” “Quite sure.” “How imprudent.”

By this time I was getting a bit pissed off. “I do have a lot of clothes. I don’t keep all the receipts.” “Ah, but you should” came the owner’s advice “I keep receipts even for 5 Euro T-Shirts”. “But that’s unfeasible for me, I have too many clothes!” “Well, you should keep receipts for everything” comes the uncompromising retort.

Next, I get told that since the sum of almost 100 Euros is rather large, they have to call someone else at the central drycleaning company to check what to do next. So they call, and find out a claim has to be filed to the insurance company. They do not have this form, but if only I could go back in a few days, the central company would have sent it to them. I go back a few days later. Surprise, surprise, the form isn’t there. “Uhm… the manager there is on holiday… hence the delay… we can send it to your address when it comes in, in a few days” comes the explanation. I wait again. No luck. I pay them another visit. “We’ll just fill in the form in your name, if you leave us the details.” Which I do. About five days later, I get a phone call (the first time they contacted me of their own accord) to confirm the details, as the owner had finally got the form and was filling it in. “They’ll transfer the money into your account” he promised. That was more than 2 weeks ago.

Yesterday, I went to see my favourite drycleaners again. I said hello, and said that I was wondering what was going on.

“What?” came the owner’s innocent question.

“Well, nothing’s going on. I haven’t been refunded”, I say, somewhat at the end of my patience.

“Really?” The owner smiles superciliously. “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Well, how long does it usually take?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“What? How come?”

“Well, it’s not my business.”

“What do you mean? Wouldn’t it be in your interest to know how long these things take?”

“No, I passed this thing on, and now it’s out of my hands.”

“Listen, Mister. You lost my item of clothing. And you have not kept me informed about anything.”

“I didn’t lose it, it was my colleagues in the central company. I am not to blame. And well I have better things to do than deal with your problem. Like real work. I can’t spend my time on the phone on your account.”

“What do you mean by that? You promised to call me repeatedly and called me only once in one and a half months. I find this barely sufficient. I expect you to call your colleagues and find what’s going on.”

Finally, the guy picked up his phone and called his colleagues. About half a meter away from me, he told them that he had this client who was “raising hell” and “expecting him to magick a solution” even though it wasn’t his fault. In the end, he told me that the manager  was on holiday, that his mother processed insurance claims in his absence, and she wasn’t there; the person who was there knew absolutely nothing of my claim, and also couldn’t say how long these things took. So after some procrastination he decided to fax my claim to them – again.

I didn’t really think that I could trust this person or his colleagues; I felt mentally tortured within an inch of my life by their incompetence and lack of caring. Yet the worst was still to come.

I made one last attempt to ask this owner if he didn’t feel responsible for this thing at all. “No, I don’t care” he came out with it. I almost couldn’t believe it. “I passed it on, and now there isn’t anything I can do. And anyway, you are making such a big fuss over your 100 Euros!”

“But it’s my money!” I exclaimed. “Not yours!”

“But it’s just 100 Euros. If it had been more, like 1000, I would have made more effort with my colleagues.”

“WHAT? So 1000€ would have been more interesting for you, but not my 100?!?”

“Yes. And anyway, first you said the top cost 50€ and then you went and bought yourself a 100€ top and expect us to reimburse it. Even if you didn’t have a receipt. Who’s to say it was the same top?”

“Well, I told you it’s almost the same. And I didn’t remember the exact price of my old one – I bought it in the UK a while ago, in sales. But anyway, if you could only produce my old one, I could show you how similar they are. But you can’t, can you? Because you and your colleagues lost it. So don’t tell me it’s not your fault!”

“NO, it’s YOUR fault, for not having a receipt!”


“And” he continued “I would have paid you 50€ myself, but you changed your story, so I had to apply to the insurance company. You should be happy I played along and said ok…”

“I am not happy!” I breathed out “and you are implying that I am a liar and that I am trying to profit from this”.

Eloquent silence.

“That’s it. Give me 50€ now and let’s forget about all this.” I suggest.

“No, I can’t. The claim has gone to the insurance company and you’d get double the money.” comes the smiling reply.

“See, I don’t believe I will get any money, ever.” I retort.

“Oh, yes you will. I just can’t tell you when.”

“Alright.”  I sighed, defeated. “Goodbye.”

That’s it, folks. Maybe I was in the wrong. Let me know what you think. But surely there are so many things that are deeply wrong with the owner’s behaviour – not getting in touch; not bothering to have the necessary forms, or tracking them down; not knowing anything about their processes, or bothering to ask his colleagues; shirking all responsibility; saying to my face that he doesn’t care about my problem; and having a full-blown argument with a customer, accusing the customer of this and that when in fact it was the customer who suffered a loss which to this day is not compensated for.

Sometimes I feel very powerless and sad. And all the words in the world don’t seem to mend the hurt caused by one person’s demeaning manner.


Baddie’s Customer Sorrow

There comes a time in every blogger’s life (or at least so I assume) where the general happy-go-lucky attitude and bubbly writings take an unexpected dark turn. Reader, this is one of those times.

What, oh what, could have caused this dreadful turn? I imagine you saying in a (hopefully) sympathetic voice. Strangers. I answer full of sorrow. Strangers working in customer service.

Much of it was triggered by the Julia incident, but to be quite honest, I’ve had worse. Let’s take a little inventory of what’s what. A couple of months ago, a tiny screw fell off one of my bag clasps, something necessary for holding it all together. Since once such a tiny screw is lost, it is lost forever (!) Mr. B and I decided to go to a local cobbler and ask if they might sell us this item. So we went in, and the conversation with this senior Russian shop-owner went like this:

Us: “Excuse us, we lost the second screw for this bag clasp… would you happen to have a similar one we could buy?”

Shop-owner: “What?”

Us: “Would you have something like this we could buy?”

Shop-owner: “What? You want me to fix it?”

Us: “No… we actually just want a second small screw. Could we buy one from you?”

Shop-owner: “What? What do you mean? Can’t you look around? I have dozens of bags I have to repair.”

Us: “Yes… but what about the screw?”

Shop-owner, laughing at us: “Are you serious? People come here to ask me to repair their bags!” 

Us: “Err… so you don’t have a similar screw?”

Shop-owner, derisively: “I am not selling any screws.”

Us: “Okay then… good-bye.”

At first glance, this might seem like one of those conversations at cross-purposes. What it was, in fact, was an unpleasant type of commercial blackmail. The message was pretty loud and clear: you either leave your bag here to be “repaired” or you leave empty-handed. But we didn’t want to pay lots of money for a job that we could do in one minute with a screw-driver. It all left a bitter taste, especially the  outraged, peevish attitude of the shopowner. He could have told us, in a friendly way, from the beginning, that he didn’t sell screws. Instead, he chose to mock us, and in the process managed to make us sad and angry and ruin our day.

But that is ages ago, I hear you argue. You can’t still be brooding on that. Not so, beloved reader. Bad customer service follows me wherever I go. Six days ago, as I was walking out of the door of a central Zara shop after happily purchasing a pair of new shoes, the same thing happened that happens 4 out of 5 times I buy shoes in Zara: the security gates beeped. I didn’t panic, having had loads of experience with this, and knowing with certainty that it was once again the strange inability of their employees to properly de-activate whatever makes those things beep.

I came back in the shop, willing to go to checkout, when I was stopped short in my tracks by the over-zealous security guard. Who made me take everything out of my bags, and show him. And kept repeating things unnecessarily, like “So, these are the shoes you bought… and this is the receipt…” We went together to the checkout, where he kept eyeing me like a criminal. The clerk did some things to the shoes, and handed them back to me, without apologizing for the inconvenience (I was actually wearing the shoes and had to take them off… but I suppose that’s my own fault, given my history…)

And then, after all this debacle of getting stuff out of my bag, walking through the shop, taking shoes on and off, sweating, and generally being looked at like the offspring of Hannibal Lector, comes the wise advice of the security guard: “here, put this receipt in your bag… yes, keep it accessible – even if you haven’t stolen anything, it’s good to have it handy.” Excuse me? I swear that at that point I thought the heat had gotten to me and I was hearing things. “Even if I hadn’t stolen anything?!?” Not only did I not get an apology, but this store-employee was to my mind on the threshold, if not already crossed into the territory of, casting aspersions on my character. I cringed inwardly, and swallowed hard. Outwardly, I nodded my thanks and went out in the blaring sun…

Shibumi turns Wabi-sabi

I have been interested in things Japanese for a few years now. Like many girls of my age, I grew up with Sailor Moon and Mamoru-san, singing along to the high-pitched main theme song and wishing I had long blond hair and magical super-powers too. Hmm. So you could say that my interest sprang from that successful first contact with Japanese pop culture through one of its most ubiquitous representatives: the anime.

In recent years, I have begun to leave the kiddie pool and venture out to less shallow waters. I tried some of Matsuo Basho’s haiku. (The likes of which sound something like this:

Old pond / Frog jumps in water / Sound.) Double-hmmmm. I chortled at the humour in Mori Ogai’s Wild Geese, and became sad and ponderous reading the lines of Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. I shook my head in wonder at Canadian-Japanese Hiromi Goto’s magical worlds, and devoured her Chorus of Mushrooms and Hopeful Monsters. I continued to watch animated films, with a predilection towards the works of Hayao Miyazaki, and was thrilled to write an academic paper on Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. I discovered Japanese film directors, going past the genius of Akira Kurosawa to smaller, less-known names. I have taken Japanese lessons for more than two years, and practiced religiously with my lovely and patient hair-dresser in Covent Garden. Arigatou, Takashi-san!

I went to a few tea-ceremony classes in a traditional school in Greenwich, complete with Japanese garden and tatami mats. And I discovered the pleasure of concentrating on a small task and repeating it in order to perfect it. On focusing your mind completely on your body. And finding the beauty in simplicity. My friends asked my why I was interested in the tea ceremony, as there was little chance I would ever practice it. To my mind, this made it even better. Learning an ancient, graceful ritual with no ulterior purpose gave me an intense, profound  satisfaction. Finally, I became enamoured of Japanese food. Most of it anyway, since I hate fish and such with a vengeance. But I am a sucker for dishes like okonomiyaki, or delicate sencha tea, or miso-soup with cruchy algae and a bit of fluffy tofu. And there is a God called William Curley in London, and he makes the sweets of angels: Amedei-chocolate truffles, with Japanese inspired flavours (think apricot/ wasabi, or yuzu filling). If there was one thing I could take with me to a deserted island…

Maybe it will come as no surprise to anyone that when I stumbled across the title Shibumi a few months back, I was intrigued. It is after all, a novel describing a European who grows up in Japan and becomes more traditionally Japanese than the Japanese themselves. It is about a genius. It’s funny. It has been hailed as a fantastic post-modern work. And the author, Trevanian, apparently wore a cloak of mystery until his death, or something like that. Well, I said to myself, we might be on to something here…

And so I ordered the book on Amazon, from a second hand dealer somewhere in America. What I got was one of the most battered and yellow-paged books I have ever had the (mis)fortune of owning. You see, I love the look and feel of books, and I take an extraordinary amount of delight in, say, the thick paper and well-defined ink of a new hardback. The textures, the fragrance, the overall impression… Needless to say, this book was different. But while reading all 400+ smelly pages of it, I began to think of how its character might relate to the concepts the book discusses.

Shibumi (渋み) is not only the title of the novel, but also the state that the hero strives to attain throughout his life. It is an ascetic, holy level of leading one’s life that commoners need not even dream of. Shibui, in contradistinction, is described as the weaker, stylistic manifestation of this particular aesthetic: simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. The third concept which appears in the text is wabi-sabi; this has to do with the acceptance of transience and imperfections.

It is perhaps worth mentioning at this point that Shibumi plays at least one major joke on the reader. The text introduces the Japanese game of Go and pretends to rigorously label chapters in accordance to its tactical moves. It boasts a brilliance which has been exposed as an intentional hoax. The reader is tricked, and lured onto uncertain grounds. I knew all this before I started. The effect this knowledge had on me was to give birth to a healthy dose of suspicion towards most information offered by the text, some of it so outrageous it must (might not?) not be true. And finally, towards the end of the text, I grew so tired with the main character, Nicholai, whose flamboyance and arrogance seemed so far removed from even the shibui he seemed to deride, never mind the shibumi he claimed to practice. That is why, when I finished the novel, I placed it in my bookshelf with a certain resentment. Two minutes later, I heard a thump accompanied by a splash.

Through an uncanny coincidence, Shibumi had fallen into the little plastic basin I had, for the first time ever, placed in my living room. It was filled with “handwash only” laundry, and naturally, soapy water. Obviously, the book got thoroughly drenched, so much so that it spent three days in my bathroom drying. Pitiful and crinkled, it is now shabbier than ever. Petty of me, but take this, Nicholai Hel: Baddie can turn shibumi into wabi-sabi!

Baddie has a Bad Day: Julia’s Story

Last Friday came very close to being a Friday the 13th to yours truly. No, I did not see ten black cats or other members of the feline persuasion. And the day started out nicely enough, sunny and with the arrival of a super-pretty parcel from England.

But let’s start at the beginning, because this story goes a little back. First of all, Baddie has a confession to make: “I am a shopaholic.” Yes, you can nod and tut all you want, but if you saw the size of my dress closet… and of my shoe closet… you would weep. Mr. Baddie certainly does. Anyhow, I am a shopaholic with a particular weakness for lovely dresses and shoes. And my favourite place to buy dresses is England – because there are so many wonderful patterns and fabrics, and sales, and… well, you get the picture.

Last time I went to London in February, I tried on this gorgeous Damsel in a Dress silk Julia dress in John Lewis. I fell in love with it, but the price at 139 quid was… let’s say it was a tad steep. So with a heavy heart I filed Julia in one of the drawers of my mind, the one labeled “beautiful clothes that must be stalked in sales”. About a week ago, the “search and purchase” button was activated in same mind, and to my utter happiness I noticed that the dress was 50% off. Still a lot of money, but a good investment. (it’s versatile, it’s silky, it has dots etc etc etc) But as it sometimes happens because I am short on working braincells I saw a wonderful grey dress as well, ordered it, went through with payment, and then realized that I had not ordered the pink spot one. Which wouldn’t be so bad, if shipping costs to Germany weren’t 16 quid per order. ARRRRRGGGHHH!

Ok, ok, don’t panic. I wrote them an email, asking if I could just add the coveted dress to my existing order, and they can ship it together. The lovely people at Damsel in a Dress replied asap, said no, but if I placed another order and gave them the number, (because they are super nice), they would refund the postage. My heart did a joyful little fluttering. So far, so good. Que Friday morning. I get up, have my coffee, and the postman rings with a promising parcel. Yes, it was the dress. It looked diaphanous, and sweet, and special, and I fell in love. So I decided to wear it that evening…

… For going to an ice-cafe. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Sad to say, I didn’t. Now let me be completely honest. I hardly ever spill anything on my clothes. Unlike other people I know… And this time was no exception. I also almost always order sparkling water. This time, tragically, I opted for a coke. Which the waitress brought on one of these tiny round trays… as she got to our table… and now imagine some slow-motion movie… I could see her tripping… and losing control of the tray … so that the glass fell, broke, and I was drenched with 300 ml of coke from waist-down.

I don’t think I have been so furious in my life. What also didn’t help was that, while the waitress went for some towels, she didn’t seem too apologetic. As Mr. Baddie sipped on his coffee and tried to eat some of the half-molten ice-cream, I was dripping with anger. And coke. After a few strained minutes, I decided I wanted to go change. That’s when the bill came – with our drinks deducted. I frowned at the young woman and told her I’d rather pay for our drinks, and she pay for the dry-cleaning of my silk dress, which will surely be more expensive. Her eyes widened a bit, and she offered: “but coke should come out easily… can’t you just hand wash it?” I looked at her in disbelief: “The label says dryclean only.” “Ahhh ok I’ll have to ask my boss.” Which she did. And the boss offered not to charge us for anything (including the icecream) and kindly remarked that “Pech gehabt” Yes, bad luck indeed.

On my way home, I went in some posh-looking drycleaners and asked for their professional opinion. That was, I quote: “Coke will not come out with drycleaning. We’ll have to do a wet treatment, which is against the recommendation on the label, so if the dress gets ruined, we are not responsible.” Jolly good. I limped home in utter misery. Where I decided I’d do my own “wet treatment” of the dress. So I sprayed it with stain remover, and then hand-washed it with gentle detergent, in cold water. I handled it as you would your invalid baby, all the while cursing all clumsy people muttering soothing words.

Reader, the stains faded. Now don’t go imagining a happy Hollywood ending. There’s still some yellowish tone both in the silk shell and in the viscose lining. So Julia will still go visit the professionals one of these days – experts might do better than me. But luckily, if you don’t know or get your magnifying glass out, you would not notice anything amiss. Of course I would (because I’m a bit OCD). But I can still wear it.

What struck me, however, is this total disregard and lack of remorse on the part of the waitress and even her boss. How can people be so casual about damaging other people’s property? How can they not even offer to take on the drycleaning bills in such a situation? Someone recently told me this is a typical attitude in Berlin. And I am disappointed to say, I am starting to believe it, as this is the second unpleasant story I’ve experienced recently. To be continued…