Subduing Russian Airline Employees

In the US, when dealing with customer service reps, it is of utmost importance to be authoritative: show them who’s the boss and ask to speak to a manager every time something doesn’t go your way. Customer is King, even when customer is an asshole, even when he’s wrong. Especially if he’s wrong.

At least, that’s what any wise American will teach you, with a conspiratorial look that’d make you think he is letting you on the secret masonic handshake of the customer support guild. Equipped with these conceptions, he will then proceed to use them abroad, wherever he goes, perpetuating the accepted worldwide standard for Ugly Americanness…

Having done my fair share of jobs involving being nice to obnoxious pricks while patiently explaining blindingly obvious stuff all day long, I am quite able to empathize with the average clerk. I can even accomodate a small bit of moodiness, not directed at anybody in particular, when getting served: we all have our bad days, don’t we.

Amazingly, that easy-going attitude works all the same in the US. In other countries, I often get faster and better service than the loudmouthed American neighbour who has usually been vainly asserting his god-given customer rights to an unapologetic and otherwise indifferent personnel. While I have very little patience for machines and other poorly designed robotic customer services so trendy with margin-gnawing corporations nowadays, I can keep my smile, however frozen, for quite a long time, when dealing with old-fashioned carbon-based minimum-waged support droids. And I have had numerous occasions to piquet such paper-pushers days on end in the past.

All that to say: it takes a huge fucking lot to piss me off this way.

I will spare you the minutiae of my dealings with Aeroflot customer service over the past ten days: let’s just say it involved a dozen fruitless calls and as many visits to their offices in three different cities… all that to fix some detail on a ticket precisely left open for that purpose.

The apex was reached last week, when following a phone call and an invitation to come get my ticket fixed in person, I showed up at their Paris office… to be immediately sent away by the middle-aged counter lady in the rudest possible way. I had not been talked like this ever since middle-school. And even there, they were probably more courteous.

Still, I kept my cool.

But when I showed up this morning and she seemed ready to go down the same road again, I snapped.

Or more exactly, I changed strategy radically: there was nothing really spontaneous in the way I suddenly raised my voice many levels to express my discontentment. I just knew I had to try something different. Additionally, having noticed she was in fact Japanese (she spoke French near perfectly, but was studying a Russian-Japanese dictionary), I made sure to weigh in a few angry Japanese sentences about her attitude… which seemed to make a certain effect.

The most disturbing part was not how she instantaneously proceeded to expedite my matter quickly and efficiently, but how her whole attitude changed. Instead of turning wary, apologetic or showing any kind of acknowledgement about the fact I had scolded her like a 10 year old, she just clicked into nice-lady mode. As if I had said the magic word to get a humane treatment or something…

I’m not yet sure what I must think of all that. Quite frankly, I would be tempted to jump to the conclusion that being rude and arrogant is the only way to get acknowledged by a Russian customer service rep… but it can’t be…

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