Customer service.

One of the best inventions known to man is online grocery shopping. As someone who has a hectic job, no car (yet) or energy sometimes, this is a (lazy/tired/exhausted/working) woman’s dream come true. So once I got settled into my own flat, I took full advantage. I pick up items from the big-box versions of (online & non-online) stores when basic items run out or I need something quick, but most is online.

Most people in the United Kingdom get paid only once per month, so we’re careful with grocery shopping. While I don’t have a family to feed, I make sure that I have enough cash to buy food along with paying annoying bills. So I was quite annoyed a few months ago when I missed my grocery delivery from a certain store because of its terrible customer service.

I’d just been paid and, as usual, placed my grocery order. I thought that everything was fine until I received a text message from the grocery store (something to the effect of)

Please contact customer service as soon as possible at (phone number), otherwise today’s order is canceled.

Again, I don’t have a family to feed, but I have to eat just like everyone else. So even though I was on public transportation and hate talking on the phone in public, food is important so I called back. The customer service representation, a woman, said “We’re having trouble getting your payment for your order.” I said

Alright. I’m on my way to work, so I’ll go to the bank and see what’s going on because I know that the money is there. I’ll call back afterwards; maybe there’s an issue at the bank.

So instead of going to the office, I went to the bank first. After waiting in the queue for a few minutes (rare), the bank teller (known as “cashier” in the United Kingdom) was ready for me. I explained the situation, she checked my account and said

Everything’s fine. You have more than enough to cover the order.

I said

Would you mind if I called (grocery store) in front of you to see what happens? For some reason, my order isn’t going through.

There were very few people in the bank (rare) so she let me go ahead.

I called customer service & spoke with a different representative. I explained the situation, requesting that he attempt the order again. He tried it and the order didn’t go through. He said (something to the effect of)

It’s isn’t going through. You don’t have enough money, so you need to go to your bank and see what’s going on.

I said

Sir, I’m in the bank now standing in front of a cashier who already checked my account, and there’s more than enough to cover the order. Please try again.

He tried again and said

It’s not going through. You don’t have enough money. It’s not a problem on (grocery store’s) end.

I repeated myself again and added

It has to be on your end. I’m telling you, the cashier is showing me the computer screen with my account information as we speak and there is more than enough to cover it. You can even speak to her if you’d like.

(By this time, she was speaking loud enough for him to hear that the account is fine and that it has to be on [grocery store’s] end and not the bank’s end.)

He stated that it wasn’t necessary because it was the bank’s fault and “the bank needs to fix the problem, not (grocery store).” I asked to speak with a manager or supervisor, and he said that no one was available (liar).

By this time I was late for work, annoyed & hungry since I didn’t have breakfast, and pissed that I wouldn’t have groceries because my refrigerator was close to bare. I also had a strict exercise schedule after work so if I had to go to the store myself, it threw a wrench into my after-work plans. So I let him have it nice & loud. (That’s also the day that I realized the strength of my New York City accent and boy, did it come out that day.) I can’t remember every word, but it went something like this:

I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve ordered groceries from this store ever since I moved here. I’ve given you my business each month without fail, and this is how you wanna treat me? I told you for the hundredth time that I’m in the bank in front of a cashier and the money is there, I asked you to let me speak with a supervisor and you said no, and you refuse to bend. You refuse to consider that (grocery store) have the issue, not me. So you know what? Cancel my order and my account. I’ve had it. You’ve lost another customer.

He said “Okay.” and I hung up on him. Friggin’ jerk.

I thanked the teller, apologized for being loud in the bank (she understood), and went to work. I told my co-workers what happened and while they found it amusing, they also found it annoying. I didn’t know that customer service in this country was so… lacking.

Coming from the United States, I’m used to better customer service overall; some representatives even brown-nose when it’s unnecessary. I salute good customer service representatives because I know the nonsense they have to deal with – rude & downright disgusting customers, terrible pay, sometimes no health or vacation benefits & terrible bosses/employers. I’ve worked in customer service as a teller & in other capacities and know how bad it is. I’ve walked away from a few customers in the past – didn’t wanna catch a case. 😐

So, I “get” it. Customer service isn’t the best job to work in. Been there, done that, the customer is not always right. I also understand, having been to European countries, that Europe’s overall culture isn’t into customer service that brown-noses like the U.S. But no matter the country, representatives should offer a level of service such that the customer is helped as much as possible. That level of service is lacking here overall; even native Britons complain about it. (I’ve heard that France is worse.)

I doubt that it’ll ever change and that’s fine. I don’t have to like it but I’m used to it. I’ve written this rant for wanna-be expatriates and/or travelers: no country is perfect, including so-called First World countries. You’ll run into annoyances like this sometimes. You don’t have to totally assimilate into the adopted country’s culture, but understand that some things are standard & may never change. Figure out ways to deal or return to your home country.

Epilogue: I e-mailed a complaint to the store. A woman e-mailed me and her response was utter garbage – no apology for her colleague, no request to stay with the store, no offers to make me reconsider leaving the store – nothing. That evening, I skipped the gym and went food shopping at another store. I order online from the new store instead & haven’t had any issues since. I also found out that the former store is a Wal-Mart affiliate. Now it all makes sense. 😐

Does anyone have any annoying customer service stories? What’s customer service like in your adopted country? Do you prefer customer service in your home country, or is it better in your adopted country?

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Travel resolutions (again).

I’m not going to wax poetic about my year in review, ups & downs, what I plan to do in 2012, etc. I think that I’ve poured out enough in my writing for you to know about my past ups & down. I will, however, wish you a Happy 2012. May you fulfill all your goals, especially your travel goals.

I didn’t fulfill my travel goal/resolution to go to Germany. I did, however, go to Italy – always one of the top countries that I wanted to visit. In 2012, I hope to visit Germany & Belgium, and I want to visit a warm island for my birthday. (I used the word “hope” in case I don’t get to those countries and/or visit different ones unexpectedly.) Everything else is up in the air and will be spontaneous, so I won’t list any other countries as definite choices.

What are your travel resolutions? How will you meet them? If you document your travels, how will you do so? And finally, if you plan to expatriate, where are you going and why?

Have a happy New Year. Don’t see it as the start of a new year; see it as the start of a new day.

Happy New Year.
Happy New Year.

Home (sweet home).

Happy holidays.
Happy holidays.

It’s that time again…

I’m heading home for a little more than a fortnight and will be on a plane by the time you get this. I’ve got a couple of posts scheduled to keep you reading whilst I’m away, so please stay tuned.

This time will be a little different, though. This will be my 2nd Xmas at my 1st home while working in my 2nd home. Many of my insights are the same, but there are some that are definitely different. I don’t know how these new insights will affect my time back home, but I’m anticipating the outcomes once I return to my 2nd home. Here are a few of my new insights:

– My friendship group has gotten smaller. It comes with the territory of being an expatriate. Rather than mourning the losses, I’m gonna try appreciating the ones who are still around.

– My definition of friendship has changed. It’s hard to explain and, therefore, I’ll test things out while I’m home.

– My definition of family has changed. A wise friend told her husband that “there is a difference between family and relatives”. That’s one of the best insights I’ve had this year and goes with my edited version – “blood is not (always) thicker than water”. Contrary to popular belief, one can choose one’s family, and that’s powerful.

I almost stayed here for Xmas for financial reasons. But I decided to break away from the usual Spinster and take care of my Self first. I can’t control everything, so I’m allowing the universe to take its course for once. I wanted to go home, so I made choices to make it happen, and I think that that’s what the universe wanted. I’m looking forward to seeing my loved ones & getting some rest/recovering from jet-lag because things are hectic at work & I haven’t had a proper vacation since June. With so much vacation time in Europe, that’s a long time to go without self-care and time off. Perfect timing from the universe.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays, no matter what you celebrate (or don’t). To those of you traveling, I wish you a safe journey to your destination(s) and a wonderful time when you get there. Be mindful/careful and have fun. Relax, take a chill pill… whatever you do, just enjoy.

Melts in your mouth.

What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories?

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What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories? Does it bring back adult memories? (*evil grin*)

When I think of chocolate, I reminisce about being a kid and drinking Nestle Quick chocolate milk. I remember learning how to make S’mores in home economics class. I reminisce about the different varieties of chocolate chip cookies that my mother would bring home – Chips Ahoy, Keebler, Pepperidge Farm, Mrs. Fields, Sean’s cookies, local grocery store bakeries. I think of my all-time favorite ice cream cake, Carvel, with the layer of chocolate ice cream and chocolate cookie crumble. Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes aren’t too bad either.

The memories. *drool*

While I’m far from a chocoholic, based on my nostalgia I can understand how millions of people worldwide have such unconditional & undying love for chocolate. So when I found out that the annual Chocolate Festival was coming back to town 12.09-11.2011, I decided that unlike last year – when I was more lazy & colder than I am now – I’d definitely attend to see what the big deal is. I wanted to go with at least 1 person, but life doesn’t work out the way that I want it to so I went solo. And as usual, it was nice.

(Well… except when the cash machine laughed at me when I tried getting cash to buy some chocolate. Maybe that’s a good thing for my health.)

The Festival was held for a full weekend and took place on 2 levels – street level and inside a venue. I didn’t feel like going into the venue so I stayed on the street.

Street level.
Street level.

For someone who isn’t a die-hard chocoholic, that was enough for me. Check out these photos to see why:

Red velvet & chocolate cakes.
Red velvet & chocolate cakes.

Santa Claus.
Santa Claus.
Pretzels.
Pretzels.

Along with buying ready-made chocolate products, one vendor sold kits for people to make their own chocolate and has a program specifically for 16-24 year olds to make & sell their own chocolate – entrepreneurship at its best. One of the partners, Kieran, said that he & his business partner are available to visit schools to showcase the business. In this terrible economy, I applaud them for giving others the opportunity to make a little legal change.

Click me & make your own.
Click me & make your own.

Although I couldn’t buy anything, I took many samples and collected many business cards. I plan to give 1 or 2 of them my business in the future.

Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate with raisins & etc.  I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside.  That's how good it was.
Chocolate with raisins & etc. I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside. That's how good it was.

Did you miss the Festival? Don’t worry… it’ll be back and it might be in your area when it returns. In the meantime, check out the long history of chocolate (Wikipedia).

Thanks for coming.
Thanks for coming.

Happy Thanksgiving. (Thank you.)

Last year, Thanksgiving was easy. My friend A & his wife R had an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at their house.

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(My apologies for falling off with posting. Things have been really busy at work this month and likely won’t slow down unless/until I go home for Xmas.)

Last year, Thanksgiving was easy. My friend A & his wife R had an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at their house. R cooks so damn good that I took pictures of her food & e-mailed them home, and a few people back home were jealous! 🙂 It was nice to be around expatriates who understood how important it is to keep a few American traditions. Unfortunately for me, A & R moved back to the States earlier this year, so I’m missing R’s delicious cooking and – of course – A & R’s warm & genuine presence.

In spite of wishing that I was home for it today (if possible, I may go home for Thanksgiving next year just to have R’s food), I’m thankful for 1 thing in particular. It’s something that I’ve meant to write about since the beginning of the month, but I didn’t have time until now (for just a few minutes). I’m thankful for you. Yes, you.

When I began this blog 13 months ago, I began it to document my experiences – the good, the bad & the ugly – of living in another country, mostly for my nephews’ (and my 2 godsons) benefits. I want them to read this one day and see that just like their aunt (and godmother), they can see different parts of the world without anyone or anything holding them back. I want them to branch outside of their neighborhoods, states & countries to discover a world outside of themselves. In small part, I also started this blog because a few of my Twitter followers – those few whom I know in real life – expressed interest in reading about my experiences here. But I never thought that anyone else would read this blog. That’s a bit of my own issues speaking, but it’s true – I thought to myself, “No one is gonna read this shit. My life is not that exciting.”

But you’ve proven me wrong. As of today, I have over 20 followers who receive my updates in some form or another. I know that more popular travel and/or expatriate bloggers (hell, bloggers in general) have way more followers than that, but for someone who wasn’t expecting anyone (other than those whom I mentioned) to pay any attention to my ramblings & musings, this means a lot to me. So this post is well overdue:

On this Thanksgiving Day 2011, I’m thankful for you. I thank you for reading me, even if it’s every once in a while. I hope that I bring something to your days when you read this, whether it’s a laugh, a sigh, food for thought or inspiration to see the world. I’m honored to have you as my reader, and I hope that you stick around.

Enjoy today, and please gorge yourselves for me. Bless.

Happy Thanksgiving. (Thank you.)

Just another day on the IRT.

(This post title is from a movie that I’ve heard of but never saw before, Just Another Girl On The IRT.)

Growing up in New York City, I’m quite familiar with traveling on an intricate public transportation system. Its rapid transit system is one of the oldest & the largest in the world, carrying millions of passengers daily. And a few of those passengers are quite colorful. For instance, a pole dancer graced riders with a performance (YouTube video) earlier this year. There are also musicians playing everything from African drums to mariachi instruments to steel pan drums and everything in between. There are dancers doing everything from break-dancing to acrobatics, self-proclaimed prophets & preachers proclaiming that the end is quite near, and even sub-human pieces of shit jerking off in front of and/or on people people who masturbate and/or expose themselves to innocent passengers.

In less-developed nations, some people ride with live animals on certain modes of transportation. Transportation in these countries is already tricky because of overcrowding with people sometimes sitting on top of each other, so if you add a few chickens to the mix, public transportation is one hell of a ride in these countries too.

Coming from a major city, and having been to a few different countries ranging from extremely wealthy with efficient modes of transportation to less-developed with a van that comes on time if you’re lucky, I’ve seen & experienced a range of interesting rides. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see some ridiculous shit interesting stuff on public transportation over here. Here are a few examples:

– A man got on the bus with his pit-bull. It wasn’t a service dog; it was just a man with no disabilities bringing his pet pit-bull on the bus with no objections from the bus driver. He was nonchalant about it and (thankfully) had it on a leash, but I wasn’t too happy about them sitting across from me. It was a crowded bus so I couldn’t move elsewhere. 😐

– A man got on the bus and began drinking alcohol & smoking marijuana; a few passengers moved away, including me, and I reported him to the bus driver and he got off 2 stops later. That’s right – I snitch.

– One man in a nearby neighborhood is notorious for getting on a certain bus or buses drunk, first thing in the morning, during daily rush hour. Luckily, I’ve only been graced with his presence once. He likes talking about Babylon & Jamaica, and he loves cursing in front of young children on the way to school.

Babylon drunk.
This 'diamond in the drunk' said that he'd fight everyone in Babylon... during morning rush hour no less.

– Yet another man got on the bus with his young daughter… and drank a big can of beer.

Drinking beer on the bus with his kid: totally appropriate.

Drinking alcohol on public transportation has been banned in a few places in England, but clearly some people don’t care.

– A man was being verbally aggressive on a bus one weekend as I was heading to my friends’ house. The bus driver refused to move from the bus stop until or unless the man got off of the bus, which is understandable because there are plenty of signs that explicitly state that any form of abuse against public transportation workers is not tolerated. I got annoyed along with a few other people, told the man I had somewhere to be at a certain time, and to either pay the fare & leave the driver alone or get off of the bus because he was inconveniencing everyone. After extra uproar from other passengers, he finally got off. (Jerk.)

– The singing bus driver during morning rush hour. He was hysterical. He sang old-time gospel songs with an operatic voice. I was on his bus twice. At the end of the route, the passengers gave him a round of applause. I laughed my ass off. (I don’t even speak in the morning, so he had to be hilarious for me to laugh that early.)

– The children. Ahhhh yes, the wonderful cherubs. The screaming babies & crying toddlers in their gargantuan carriages [better known as pram(s)], and temper-tantrum-throwing children are an absolute delight during morning & evening rush hour.

Twirling kid.
This cherub twirled around the pole on a crowded bus while whining loudly. His mother sat next to me, oh joy.
Another darling little cherub, standing on the seat with Mother Dear's permission (sitting next to her).
Temper tantrum.
This cherub threw himself on the floor, and Mother Dear had to drag him off of the bus.

– A former expatriate & friend of mine, who was studying here but has now repatriated, got into a physical fight with a drunk woman on the bus. The drunken dame heard her accent, asked her where she was from and upon hearing the answer, began name calling & cursing. In spite of this, my friend was calm and tried staying away from Dame Drunk-A-Lot. Dame Drunk-A-Lot kept it up, along with purposely stepping on her foot 3 times… and after the 3rd time, my friend slapped her in the face.

What are your colorful stories in your part of the world? If you’re an expatriate, what are some differences that you’ve noticed between public transportation in your home country and your current country? Do you have public transportation stories and if so, are they more colorful in your home country or your current country, or are the stories just as colorful in different countries?

Life savers.
Life savers.

Bonfire Night.

Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night) is an annual celebration observed on the night of November 5th involving fireworks displays and, of course, bonfires involving Guy Fawkes effigies (and sometimes Pope effigies) throughout cities & towns in the United Kingdom (and some other countries). (Food is a major bonus.) Guy Fawkes attempted to overthrow King James I on November 5, 1605 in what’s now known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He & his co-conspirators got caught & executed and the king’s subjects, only knowing that an uprising almost happened (they didn’t know the who/what/where/when/why behind the attempted uprising), celebrated their king being saved by having celebratory bonfires.

I bought myself some bangers & crumpets to eat in solidarity. 😉 There have also been fireworks going off throughout the week in my area, as well as other areas through which I travel. When this occurred last year, I didn’t know much about the celebrations and thought that the fireworks were gunshots. (I grew up in a rough neighborhood so I can’t always tell the difference between the two.) Now that I’m settled in here, I not only know what the noises are, I’ve also taken on a few British customs – Bonfire Night being one of them. One of my co-workers also gave me some history about it because a few months ago, there were rumors that a certain council wasn’t going to celebrate this year (those rumors were later confirmed to be false), and since I only knew the basics about the celebrations she was kind enough to send me some information about the full history.

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!’

A children’s song for Bonfire Night

Toffee apple bangers.
Toffee apple bangers.
Local fireworks.
Local fireworks.

Wanna learn more about this festive celebration and its history? Take a look at the links below.

Guy Fawkes http://www.guyfawkes.me.uk/

Bonfire Night http://www.bonfirenight.net/

Guy Fawkes Night (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night

Bonfire Night recipes (BBC Good Food) http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/content/recipes/occasions/bonfire-night/

Gunpowder Plot of 1605 http://www.gunpowder-plot.org/

What if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded? (The Telegraph) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8870255/What-if-Guy-Fawkess-Gunpowder-Plot-had-succeeded-in-1605.html

Guy Fawkes mask inspires Occupy protests worldwide (CNN) http://articles.cnn.com/2011-11-04/world/world_europe_guy-fawkes-mask_1_mask-protests-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange?_s=PM:EUROPE

Guy Fawkes Day: Remembering the straw man, bonfires, and treacle toffee http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/10799095-guy-fawkes-day-remembering-the-straw-man-bonfires-and-treacle-toffee

Going through the motions.

It’s been a while – well, a little less than a month – since my last post.

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It’s been a while – well, a little less than a month – since my last post. My stepfather surprised me with a visit for 5 days about 2 weeks ago and we had a wonderful time. He’s wonderful and, despite him no longer being married to my mother, still considers me his daughter & vice versa. It was a necessary (albeit short) break, a breath of fresh air, in this thing called my life.

But since he left – hell, even before that – I’ve been a bit out of it. I’d rather not go into too much detail, but some of it is why I’ve not written in a while. Along with the typical “No one is reading this shit anyway” thoughts:

– I may not go home for Xmas, partly because who really gives a damn & partly because of finances

– I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck; I thought that I could leave the overworking 2-jobs-to-make-ends-meet life behind but I may have to return to it

– I still don’t know what to do with my life even though my goal is self-employment

– The list of those whom I consider family has greatly shrunken

– The list of those whom I consider friends has greatly shrunken

– Health

And more. But I don’t complain much because people have their own lives and either don’t want to or can’t hear it, and I only 50% blame them for that. But after reading another blogger’s post today, I decided that maybe I should let out a bit of it for the world to see… oh wait no one reads this shit myself.

I’m going through the motions. I survive. I live. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. But I’ll be back to blogging sooner than later… hopefully. Although he doesn’t know it, thanks to the blog author for sparking this post.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Comfort.

https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/124930892253765634

For more about how the Weekly Photo Challenge started, take a look at this link. For more about this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, click here.

Have it your way.
Have it your way.
Pie & mash.
Pie & mash.
My baker.
My baker. Oatmeal butterscotch, oatmeal chocolate chip, chocolate chip. Click on the image to get yours.
Music.
Music.