Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Rage of Paris

I was out with my girlfriend and her friend yesterday evening when we found our way in a branch of Paris Baguette on our way to a DVD Bang, to stock up on snacks for the movie. Having selected three items, the friend took them to the counter but while paying the shop assistant's face suddenly developed the kind of look people only usually have when their mother has been insulted. She froze to the spot and I didn't need to speak Korean to know that she was refusing to do something and offended into the bargain. Two other shop assistants - who might have been even younger than the 18-or-so the first one looked, hovered on either side of her in a vague show of moral support.

It turned out our friend had asked the assistant to cut the items she'd bought into smaller pieces before she put them into a bag, something which apparently was no problem in every other branch of Paris Baguette she'd ever been in but inexplicably seemed to amount to a crime of heresy in this one. More words were exchanged and with great reluctance - and no attempt to hide the disgust on her face - the girl cut up the two smaller items with a pair of scissors from behind the counter which our friend had pointed out to her in a 'why-can't-you-use-those' kind of way. But the third item - a plain piece of sponge cake was the final straw and the girl just stood there motionless. Our friend grabbed the scissors and cut it herself, demonstrating to the still motionless girl how such things were done while admonishing her for her unhelpfulness.

In my time in Korea I've never met anyone in a retail environment that was anything less than bend-over-backwards helpful and accommodating, and I'd thought this so ingrained in the culture that it stopped occurring to me that the experience here could be anything less. The incident in Paris Baguette proves otherwise, though it wasn't so much the refusal to cut the items as the unhidden disdain on the shop assistant's face to an elder that really caught me off-guard. I don't know whether it's just this one girl, or whether it may be an indication that Korea is catching the Japanese 'shinjinrui' disease which saw the social cohesion that had kept the country ordered for generations start to break down.

1 comment:

Whitey said...

The Paris Baguette in my neighborhood has the worst service that I have experienced in Korea. Coincidence? Maybe. I go to another PB where the service is excellent.

This one near my home, though, is terrible. It seems that there is never a manager. The service is so lackluster; it's really a change from the usual excellent Korean service.

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