Thursday, December 14, 2006

Family Jewels

We may have to revisit my blanket praise of Korean customer service. I was out with my partner and Korean Mother at a jewellery store yesterday looking at several items. The store was in a district alongside maybe fifty other such establishments, but what's more, it transpires that while one store may appear to be a singular unit, in fact it may be sublet to a number of separate businesses, which is not an uncommon practice here. This particular store-within-a-store was a husband and wife affair.

It was the first business we'd visited - and not being able to find it immediately the owner had volunteered to come out and find us - although as it turned out we were only just around the corner. So the initial service is good, a few items were subsequently tried on and prices pleasantly discussed, before the owner encouraged us to have a look around the district. As fate would have it, we instead bought a couple of rings and some jewellery at the second store we visited, preferring the styles they offered.

In the evening Korean Mother was called by the wife from the first jewellery store to find out our situation. She hadn't given the woman her phone number but of course she'd phoned them to get directions earlier in the day. So the jewellery store wife was told that unfortunately we had made our purchase elsewhere. This caused the wife to unexpectedly launch into a tirade of abuse over the phone, and when it ended, her husband took over. The wife took back the phone for the final flourish - she hoped we all would have unhappy lives from now on. In a land that places great stock in Karma, feeling that your harmony with the universe is somehow being cursed by someone else is a deep insult indeed. It seems safe to say Jewellery-Store Wife wasn't a Buddhist then.

It seems a lot to get worked up about, but maybe there was a fat profit margin in it for them - after all, unusually Korean Mother hadn't haggled. The reason why she hadn't haggled might also in turn provide another answer to the jewellers' anger - she'd been referred there by a friend who'd done business with them and therefore there was a connection. Connections are important in Korea. Perhaps then, the jewellers' thought the business was guaranteed.

But in a connected society like Korea, having a temper tantrum over losing a potential customer never seems wise. As I write, I feel the story is being related to an ever-widening circle of friends and it seems unlikely that that particular business will be seeing anyone connected to our network again.

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