Saturday, July 28
Service with a Smile
While the Romans have understood the importance of hospitality, every once in awhile you come across someone with say, a more Milanese attitude toward customer service. And, sometimes it happens when you least expect it: and in that moment, in your little microcosm, you see all of Italy in a macro sort of way. Today, it happened at noneother than the local gelateria. Before I had a chance to peruse the myriad ice cream flavours, I first worked my way around all the signage and notices slapped here and there on the front doors, walls, and ice cream cabinets and cash register: No Dogs, No loud talking at night, No use of the Bathrooms...
Once through my reading of the local regulations governing gelato eating, I scanned the little flavor signs and then, picked out the usual, Chocolate & Choc Chip. Naturally, there were signs for just about everything except the pricing. I was in the center of Rome and wondered at this point if I'd need to take out a home owner's loan for this little treat. Receiving the gelato, I was about to turn and sit at any one of the nice tables, then thought better of it: I hadn't yet paid, and of course, that would signify that a 5 euro (already exorbitant) small gelato near Piazza Navona would price out to double that. So, I decided to simply pay and eat outside where my dog was waiting anyway. Surprisingly, the gelato was exceptional and competitively priced (just 2 euro).
But, I was met with a taste that was decidedly not Chocolate. Instead, it had a Belgian Chocolate flavor, the kind made with hazelnuts--and I'm terribly allergic to nuts. I strolled cautiously back into the store, hesitating to even mention it to the gelataio guy. After all, this is a country where you can't take back a defective stereo should you have the misfortune to purchase one (I have); a country in which, after buying a wonderfully sophisticated (and equally expensive) pen set, it did not write. Fifteen minutes later and back in the store, I was told under no uncertain terms to "get lost" and that I had probably damaged the goods myself in the time I had left the store and set fancy pen to paper; a country in which, the old adage goes, 'If you Buy it, It's broken, You still own it.'
But, courteously, the guy behind the counter asked me if anything was wrong (I must say, the place had only recently opened). So, I told him the problem. At which point, he chose to do what every red-blooded paesano does in a case of Customer Disatisfaction: he lied.
He insisted he had, in fact, dished out the Chocolate and that's what I ordered and that's what I got.
I then went back to Rule No. 1 of Life in Italy: never take 'No' for an answer. So, I proceeded to explain that while, yes, both varieties were in fact a sort of chocolate, one was made from pure cocoa, the other, from cocoa and nuts, or, in this case, Hazelnuts. And, if I just so happened to be very very allergic, we really wouldn't even be having this conversation because I'd be sprawled out on the ground in anaphylactic shock.
Hearing this very convincing argument, he then did what the next red-blooded Italian would naturally resort to: He blamed it on me. 'That I must have pointed to that very bin, that I got what I asked for, etc. etc.'
At which point, a very nice young woman stepped in, probably someone who had just finished her very own Hazelnut Delight and explained that both versions, were indeed, chocolate, but in order to obtain what he had served me, one would have to ask for it by name (gianduia, or nutella). And, since I had asked simply for chocolate, well, it would make sense to serve the pure cocoa version to me.
And, for about the 2nd time in my 15 years in Italy, I actually got a return accepted! I was so elated with my success, I did not even complain about the fact that this time, however, I was given nearly half the ice cream as before...