A friend reported that NPR (tried to find the story to link to it and could not find it) recently did a story on how customer service was quite bad in Belgium. She wanted to know if it was true.
I guess the short answer is yes - customer service is not like we are used to in the US. In the US we are spoiled with numerous options for spending our money. Stores cater to our whims, our desired shopping hours, our attitudes and changing tastes.
Here in Belgium, many stores are closed on Sunday and Monday. There are limited options when it comes to making purchases and stores certainly don't feel any need to cater to the consumer.
I would not say that cashiers, receptionists, or customer service representatives are rude they just are not in any hurry to help. They are usually polite but they also take their own sweet time. Clerks will walk away from their station even if there is a line of people. Grocery stores frequently have limited lines open. Bank tellers will ignore a line of customers to attend to email or a phone call. I have not noticed any employee going the extra mile or even the extra foot to assist a customer.
At this point I am used to it. I allow an hour for a trip to the bank. Sometimes it only takes 20 minutes and then I am pleased. When I go grocery shopping in the Belgian store, I go on a week day first thing in the morning. I am used to long wait times for repair people and odd service hours (closed at lunch and early on Friday).
This doesn't mean it doesn't frustrate me from time to time, just that I am growing more accustomed to it. My latest experience was with the language center on base. I enrolled in the advanced French class and asked to purchase the accompanying books. I was told not to buy the books as the class might not be fully enrolled and thus cancelled. The books once bought could not be returned (even if unused). I returned at the end of the week to see if the class was fully enrolled (it was) and to buy my books. The books at this time were sold out and the language center had no plans to order more. I was told to go find the university book store in town and see if they had any.
Frustrated - yes. Surprised - no