Today I went into a big-box sports shop in town looking for a pair of running shoes. I saw a few pair I liked and stood near them, waiting patiently for one of the two sales clerks who loitered nearby to assist me. After a few minutes of being stared at, I did a little hand up gesture, the polite and non-verbal “oi” to let them know I needed help. No reaction. One of them, a young woman, walked over to me (or so I thought) but then passed and started arranging shoes on the very shelf I was standing next to. “Excuse me,” I said. She turned, pretended not to hear me (there was just no way she didn’t unless she was legally deaf) and walked away. She then strolled over to a boy, no more than 10-years-old who stood about 5 feet away from me and asked him, “You doin’ all right there?” She then turned again and started to walk toward me, and again I said, “Hi, excuse me…” but my words hung in the air like one of those cartoon bubbles of text as she passed me by, again ignoring me.

I’ve touched briefly on customer service (or the lack, thereof) in Ireland before, but I think it’s time for a full-blown rant. To be frank: I’m fed up. Even after over 10 months of living in Ireland, I’m still taken aback by the blatant disregard for customers around here. For a country in the depths of a dismal recession, I’m surprised that businesses are still ignoring the need for better customer service. The big-box stores are especially guilty of this. Almost every time I’m in the check-out line at Dunnes, I’m standing there, waiting while two register clerks exchange weekend gossip, completely ignoring the fact that there are numerous customers waiting to get on with their lives. Thankfully Tesco offers a self-checkout line, which I always use as I am over the slow and often rude service there.

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Speaking of Tesco, a while back I went looking for an alternative to corn syrup – a common baking ingredient in the United States. I found a bottle of glycerin in the baking isle, but wasn’t quite sure what it was. I asked a clerk and got only a puzzled look and an “I don’t know.” It was clear the clerk wasn’t going to assist me further, so I asked if there was someone else there who might know. “You can ask her,” he said, pointing to another clerk half-way across the store. I asked her, and got the same, “I don’t know.” When I asked her if anyone there would know, she laughed and said, “I don’t know. You should Google it.” Believe it or not, this was the second time in Ireland where I’ve been told to Google something by someone whose job description requires them to know something about the products they sell. I wanted to retort, “Why don’t YOU Google it, you miserable cow!” but of course I didn’t.

Earlier this week I went to buy a calling card at the bookstore where I purchase one nearly every other week. That day, they were out. And no one knew when they’d get more in and no one offered to check. When I asked if someone could find out, the answer was a shrug and a “no one knows.” An exasperated glare from the salesclerk was enough to let me know that this was the end of the line for my inquiry. What’s amusing about the sad state of customer service in Ireland is that everyone acknowledges it’s a shoes problem; my Irish friends readily admit that this country has a reputation for lazy, incompetent customer service. Stranger still is that most people just accept it as something they can do nothing about. WRONG. To business owners and managers: There are a lot of out-of-work people in Ireland who would be happy to take the job of an insolent, inept employee that’s currently doing nothing for your business. Providing good service to clientele is a simple, cheap and effective way to increase profits. To consumers: Don’t be afraid to speak up. Demand better service. File a complaint. Choose to spend your hard-earned money at places where you’re treated with care and respect.

As for those running shoes I needed, I went to a local shoe store and was assisted by a very honest and friendly saleswoman. I bought the shoes, even though they were €12 more than the price of the big-box store. Let me tell ya, it was the best €12 I ever spent.