Sunday, November 20, 2005

Letting the Bitch out...

So, on Thursday I let my Inner Bitch out to play

Sometimes this is a necessary thing, you know. Bitchiness, like any other negative behaviour, actually has a useful place in one’s repertoire of interpersonal skills. The trick is not to allow it to become a personality trait, but to keep and use it as a tool…a tool of last resort…when it is necessary to accomplish something that is sufficiently important to warrant its use.

Allow me to elucidate, please…

Two years ago, newly wed, I followed my freshly-minted husband from my home in Silicon Valley to his home in Cape Town, South Africa. Unlike many Americans, I was not so insular that I expected to find lions roaming the streets and giraffe ambling along the dirt tracks connecting the dusty villages full of barefoot villagers. I knew that South Africa was the single most modern and powerful nation on the continent and, although technically an “emerging nation,” it was a country full of modern conveniences and a wholly Western-style government and infrastructure.

I was not disappointed when I arrived. It looked a lot like America. The weather was a lot like the Bay Area’s. I saw more Mercedes and BMWs on the roads than in Silicon Valley. The food was mostly familiar, virtually everyone spoke English (if I listened hard enough), and with the exception of learning the currency and how to drive on the wrong side of the road, the integration process was mercifully brief and virtually painless. Unashamedly, for my only paradigm was that of a liberal, “Left Coaster,” I saw Cape Town (and by extension, the rest of South Africa) as being more like America than different from it.

For the most part, this impression has borne itself out, at least in the white, middle-class sector. In fact, the majority of white South Africans enjoy a higher standard of living then their Silicon Valley counterparts, a completely counter-intuitive declaration but demonstrated readily by the sheer magnitude of the domestic service industry: almost every white South African householder has a maid at least once a week. Many have “sleep in” maids. And, when perusing the property ads, the phrase “servant’s quarters” is not uncommon to find.

South Africa, for all its similarities to America, has profound differences in even the most superficial aspects. And one of the differences that I have found most glaring is in the service sector. To put it briefly and bluntly, it sucks. And not just with South African marques, either. We have endured three years of dismal service from the local Honda dealers and nearly two years of equally bad service from Mercedes (although I must say a complaint to Mercedes HQ got a much better response than a complaint to the Honda HQ). Even American companies…which pride themselves on good service…are not immune to the service malaise that infects this country: my latest run-in was with Whirlpool!

I must confess to having owned Whirlpool appliances in the States and having been very satisfied with them. But, sadly, I can’t give them anything but a grudging “not exactly excrement” grade for my service interaction with them this week. You see, my husband and I own a rental property here in Cape Town, a property that has been under renovation for several very expensive months. A large house has been divided into two spacious flats and the maid’s quarters, a dark, dismal, foul, barely habitable hole has been completely gutted and renovated and made into a bachelor flat (studio cottage). Now, Cape Town is the holiday destination in South Africa, for Europeans and South Africans alike, so we decided to put the little cottage up for rent as a “self catering” holiday flat (that means we provide everything but your food and your clothes: dishes, pots 'n' pans, appliances, etc.). We can make more in one week than the flat could rent for on a month-to-month rental so, since holiday season is hard upon us (is it gloriously summer here!), we listed ourselves on some holiday websites and, in the very first week, we had a bite! R2000 for five days (the long term rental is R2000 a month!) and the man was pleased to pay it! We eagerly confirmed his booking, grinned like two Cheshire cats when his deposit showed up in our bank account, then scrambled to get the last minute things done to get it ready.

Hubby put together the kettle braai (Webber BBQ), cleaned the pool, got a TV for the place. I got a TV technician in to set up the antenna leads. We picked up a cute little stainless steel microwave at a ridiculously low cost, and a small refrigerator with a little freezer on the top. Last Saturday, Hubby and I spent hours getting the place ready, running the extension cords to the appliances (everything runs on extension cords and “multiplugs” here) and confirming everything worked, and I popped some bottled water into the fridge for our guests. Tuesday, three days before our first guests were due, we stopped by to water the gardens and I pulled a bottle of ice water from the fridge…only to find it wasn’t cold. Not even cool. Dear God, the brand new fridge didn’t work and the guests were arriving in two days...and had taken four days to get the thing delivered!

For two days my husband was shifted from one place to another. Salesmen and department managers and service people promised to “look into it” and call him back…few did. By Thursday, things were looking critical…our guest was arriving the following day and we still didn’t have a functioning refrigerator…and neither the store from which we bought it nor their service arm had come up with a plan. And then Hubby had to go into a meeting and said that I had to call the supervisor at the service company which, by the way, was Whirlpool.

“Whirlpool?” I asked, aghast. “Whirlpool the American company, Whirlpool?” He confirmed and then rang off, saying he just had to get to his meeting.

Steam escaping from my ears, I picked up the phone and called the supervisor. I could understand the “hang loose” attitude that many South Africans evidence in their own daily workaday worlds, but this was an American company and I fully expect American levels of service from them. The company that has been jerking me around for two-and-a-half days is not a laid back South African firm but an American one? I’m pissed!

The phone was answered and the accent was definitely South African…but the company was not. “This is Mrs. Gxxxxx,” I said by way of introduction, “What is the story with the refrigerator?”

“The technician says it needs to go into the workshop,” he tells me.

Huh? How the hell would the technician know anything? Nobody has been out to see it! Nobody has called me, and I have the keys to the flat where it is locked up… “How would he know?” I asked. “Nobody’s been there.”

Now it was his turn to be confused. He was sure his technician had been there to look at the machine. Soon it is discovered that the technician did see the refrigerator, he just failed to telephone me…my builder, who is still renovating the other two flats…let them in. Hours ago. And neither I nor my husband knew a thing…which wasted hours of precious time needed to arrange for a replacement.

“I need a refrigerator in that unit by noon tomorrow,” I tell him. “It is a holiday flat and we have guests arriving tomorrow afternoon and I need something in there by noon so it will be cold by the time they arrive.”

“Weeeeeeellllll,” he drawls out in his South African accent, “We have to pick up that unit and it needs to go into the shop…”

“Look,” I interrupt him, “I don’t care. If you can’t have a working fridge in there by noon tomorrow, just come pick up the broken one…and bring my money with you. I’ll just go to House and Home [a major competitor] and buy a bar fridge that I can get there in the back of my Mercedes.”

“It’ not that easy…” he drawls out. Again I interrupt him. “This is an American company, right? And I am sure you can tell by my accent that I am an American. In fact, I owned Whirlpool appliances when I lived in California. And I fully expect the same level of service from Whirlpool here in South Africa that I would get from Whirlpool in the States. I don’t care if you have to stop at the warehouse and pick up a brand new refrigerator and swap it for the dead one, if you cannot have a working fridge in place in this flat by noon tomorrow, bring my money with you when you come for the dead one!

He said he would see what he could do and call me back in five minutes.

Fifteen minutes passed, then twenty, then half an hour, and my husband called to see how it was going. After relating the conversation to him…and the fact that the fellow had not called back, Hubby said he’d look into it. Five minutes later it was the Whirlpool guy on the phone.

“We can bring you a loaner fridge,” he tells me.

“Excellent,” I respond, softening my tone. No point in being tough when things are moving in the right direction. “What time will it be here?”

“Well, it will have to be tomorrow as it is too late to get anything from the warehouse today…”

“What time tomorrow?”

“Well, the delivery guys are in the Southern Suburbs until 1 pm…” I, of course, am in the Northern Suburbs…

“Nope,” I interrupt him sharply. “If you have to put it in your own personal bakkie and drive it over here your own personal self so that it is here before noon, that is what you are going to have to do…or have those delivery guys bring my money with them because, one way or another, there will be a functioning fridge in that flat by noon tomorrow, if I have to go over to House and Home in the morning and pick one up myself!” He again promised to call me back.

He was only fifteen minutes late…but this time he had a solution. That “Southern Suburbs” delivery thing was suddenly flexible…apparently it was worth nearly R2000 to them to “adjust” the delivery schedule, particularly in view of the fact that their facility was located in an industrial park only a couple of miles up the road from the flat!

Next morning at 8:30 the fridge shows up and the driver and his helpers wrestle it into the flat and carry the dead one away. By 6, when our guests arrive, the bottled water we have put in for them is nicely chilled, and they “ooooh” and “ahhhh” over the flat, tiny, cosy, compact, with “everything we could possibly need!” Including a functioning refrigerator.

Sometimes a bitch’s gotta do what a bitch’s gotta do…


  1. Way to go! Hope that your visitors have a wonderful time and give a good rating on your rental.



  2. Have tried twice to leave a comment. Hope that this one stays!!!

    Sounds like you handled everything beautifully. I really like the look of your new blog and look forward to reading all of the entries.



  3. Hi SV,

    Glad to see you're up and running again, albeit with new drama. I think you should be the new Isabel Jones, you have an amazing ability to get things sorted out. We consumers are really treated shoddily in this country, probably because most people don't complain.

    Chat soon

  4. here i am.. just got back from kruger park, it was an absolute dream!! I'm more in love with my man that i ever thought possible and can't wait to go back there again.

    i might just start another blog...
    wp x


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