Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You Break It - You Buy It

Yes, this gringa lost her cool again. While shopping. So I'll tell you again how uncool I was. Why not?

In the last post, I mentioned that most of our glass glasses have broken. Well, our glasses aren't the only thing that we are short on. Our dish supply continues to shrink as well. Saturday while doing dishes I broke the 3rd out of 4 ceramic plates. The kids and I went to the mall for lunch on Sunday and afterwards stopped into a local department store. They have a large kitchen and dish section and they also have a section where they sell single pieces of dishes. This would be from sets that are incomplete probably due to damage , so they sell them separately. I figured a few pieces would be good enough for the time being.

I've never really liked shopping here in Honduras. It's a different kind of experience. A lot less gratifying than the shopping I've done in the US. Now I could get sued for talking bad about this one particular store, but I just have to say that I will probably never go shopping in another Lady Lee department store again. I had had enough and this was the last straw.

I'll tell you what I experience here in San Pedro Sula when I go shopping. It may change a little from store to store. Most stores have security when you walk in. If you have any other bags with you, you must check them at the front. There is usually a sign that says firearms are not allowed in the store. All these things I can deal with. It is when you get past the security you will notice one or a plethora of store personal ready to follow you around the store always a few feet away. They may ask you if you need any help. They at times can be very helpful. But I don't always need undivided attention when I'm shopping. Sometimes I want to just look. But often there will always be someone right there to roam the store with you. I've experienced this hovering the worst in Lady Lee and in that other grocery store where I lost my cool. It makes me wonder what they are thinking. I also know that they work on commission so maybe they hover around me more because I'm white and think I might spend more money? Do they think I might steal something? Whatever the reason, this hovering drives me mad and makes shopping very unpleasant for me. I can usually feel my stress level go up when I walk into a store. And I guess on Sunday I hit a breaking point. (Pun intended)

We were in Lady Lee by all the random dishes display. There are dishes and mugs and bowls all precariously stacked from the ground up to about chest height on a glass shelf display. I stop to inspect some dishes (of course being closely watched) and my daughter and son walk away from me to look at something. A moment later I hear a mug break from the other side of the display. Yep, it's my son. Now I don't know if he picked it up and dropped it, bumped it or what, but these mugs were stacked one on top of the other. Not the best way to display mugs in the middle of a high traffic area of the store IMO. Crap. If you go shopping in Honduras and you break something - you buy it. So here I was ready to spend some money in the store, but because as soon as the mug broke I had three store personal surrounding me I felt irritated and decided to see if they would let me slide out without paying for the broken mug. Wrong. I knew better and was stopped. I was questioned and told that I needed to pay. I could feel my irritation rise. I think it was a combination of the fact that I couldn't communicate with them on what happened or what I thought of how irritating it is to shop at their store. After a little bit of trying to communicate and my anger feeling almost unbearable I took out a 20 lempira bill (About US $1) - the cost of the mug - and pretty much threw it at them and walked out. I said something to the effect that I wouldn't be back to shop there and oh...I said a swear word too. Oops.

Why did I get so upset? This is what baffles me. I'm not one to feel so hot headed about something so stupid. I can blame it on the annoying hovering, the lack of communication since I don't speak Spanish, or the break it - you buy it policy, but ultimately I think it's a combination of everything. I was brought to a point where I felt like I couldn't control my anger. To the point that I swore in front of my kids to strangers. We walked out of the store and I had to apologize to my kids. It was horrible. I felt horrible! I lost sleep about it that night agonizing about what horrible behavior I had. Why didn't I just get out the money as soon as it broke? Why did I want to be let off the hook? I don't know, but I drove home from that experience telling myself that I will never get used to living in Honduras and feeling very discouraged.

BTW, the mug my son broke, it was a very nice Care Bear themed mug. Just what every Honduran wants - right? Probably some cast offs from some silly themed gift set.

How do you feel about the "you break it - you buy it" policy? I'm curious.


Akinoluna said...

The constant hovering and stalking by store personnel is by far the most irritating thing about shopping here. I HATE it. I end up just leaving stores that do that and not buying anything because it bugs me so much.

Aaron Ortiz said...

What I dislike the most about stores here is that they seldom provide an unpackaged display of an item, which prompts many people to open a package and take one out, "to look at it". Afterward they don't package it right.

I usually decline when store employees offer help, or at least until I've decided I want to buy something.

Most stores here treat the customer as a potential thief...which I believe actually promotes theft...but unfortunately in Honduras, is not always far from the truth.

Jennifer said...

I can see that I am not going to have a fun time shopping. Maybe you are wrong, but you come across as a much more calm person than I am. A much more patient person. I may have to send my husband shopping, LOL. Or just rely on my mom to send me stuff (I know that isn't really something I would do). Otherwise it may get to the point where they will say here comes that *#^%* white woman and all her kids, lock the doors, LOL. I wonder though, in Tocoa, if stores are the same way or not. Since La Ceiba and SPS and Teguc are all major cities, KWIM? Like here in MD, in Bethesda, alot of the store employees are snotty, where as in little old Laurel, they are alot more laid back. And drive 20 minutes down the street, and they are ghetto. And so Tocoa, being so much smaller, maybe (wishful thinknig maybe?) it wont be the same.

I know when I was there back in 2003, I didn't really have a problem with people. BUT I didn't go to the mall (to be honest, I didn't know they had a mall). In SPS we walked the streets and went to shops right off the streets.

Jennifer said...

OOPS I meant to say, maybe I am wrong (not you are wrong).

So that should say maybe I am wrong, but you seem to be a more calm and patient person than I am.

Sorry for the mess up, LOL

Trish said...

Oh, I hate the "hovering salespeople" too! I'm used to them, I guess, because now I can just smile at them fairly pleasantly and ignore them, for the most part.

The bigger annoyance, for me, is having to check my bags. This isn't too common here in Gracias, but where they do take your bags, they are placed in open cubbies. I don't use a purse when I go out, I usually carry a small tote (so that I can put my small purchases into that), and so I always have to remember to get any valuable items out of the bag before I check it. It's just a pain.

Also, I try to boycott stores which don't label the items with their prices. I hate having to ask for the price of every interesting thing I see, and I have a suspicion that the quoted price for me is a bit higher than it might be for some others . . .

I definitely don't shop for fun, anymore. That helps the budget, though. ;-)

Jacinta Mucosa said...

I agree with you and the others who have commented on the hovering. I too, just want to leave the store as soon as they pounce. One thing I do like is shopping in pulperias where there is a lot less pressure and the person working there can take more time. Often things can also be taken on credit or things can be tried on and brought back.

wolfie_cr said...

well, first of all don't feel bad for exploding, even if you felt bad its probably better for your health (blood pressure and also menthal health) to explode rather than try to contain it (I remember reading that is one of the theories of why women live longer than men)

Second, I agree with you that it is annoying to be followed around, simply ignore them

Third, the 'you break it you buy it' policy is alive and well in many other parts of the World specially when its about pricy stuff, of places I have been to I can remember Hong Kong and Switzerland they had similar signs posted all over, in my book it makes sense, tourists for instance always walk into crowded stores with backpacks, they turn around and there is an instant 'oops' moment as things end up on the floor

Finally, I am off to the US next week to get among other things a new laptop......I cant wait to say "no thanks" to the annoying salesmen trying to get me to buy their useless extended warranty.....to the point where the veins on my forehead pop up.....

After thinking about it I already feel I need chamomile tea

Honduras Sprout said...

I sure do appreciate the comments!

Akinoluna - I should do what you do more. There has been a few times where I will turn and look at them like "back off". If I had a way of telling them why I am leaving, it would be hugely more satisfying.

Aaron- products being opened to inspect by customers has been a big problem the world over. I've seen it done for draperies here in Honduras and some other things at Sears Mi Casa. Its something called "perfect placement" in which a sample of the product is displayed. It's been perfected by Target in the US in recent years.

Maybe I read your comment wrong, but it sounded like you said most Hondurans are thieves? I think it may be arguable that there is more theft in Honduras verses in the US or anywhere else in the world. What I do see is the stores' security measures here in Honduras are such that it offends the ones who they need to keep returning to shop. There has to be a better way to deal with security.

Jennifer - I knew what you meant ;o). Don't worry about that. And I'll admit I may be wrong too. Maybe my perception is not reality. I'm sure shopping will be different in a smaller community. It will probably have it's own type of customer service and treatment. But also like Trish said, it may help you keep from spending too much. We know how easy it is to go over board in Wal-Mart.

Trish - I can see why you may have issues with the bag checking. It's not really bothered me too much. Mainly because I don't usually have other bags to check since I don't have to stock-up shop the way you may need to when you come to the city.

Jacinta- I am totally unfamiliar with shopping in a pulperia. Maybe if I ever get proficient at Spanish I may try to venture into a new shopping zone. Unfortunately, I tend to avoid places where I may have to communicate or worse have to negotiate.

Wolfie- It makes me feel better to hear your theory on why it's okay to let off some steam. I'll have to tell my husband that one...no wait, I better not...ha ha ha

Yes, the warranty up-sale techniques for electronics is annoying too. Here's an idea. Just tell 'em up front that if they try to up-sell you without you inquiring they will lose the sale.

I hear you on many stores possibly needing a policy for "you break it - you buy it" due to negligence. Especially in the pricier stores especially where they sell one of a kind types of things. Here's my thought. In the US the policy of "you break it you buy it" is enforceable when you can prove negligence. Often the policy also needs to be clearly stated in the store. Honestly, I left Lady Lee thinking that I will never go shopping with my son again in Honduras. Seems to me there may be a missed opportunity when you scare your customers away with their policies.

I went to the grocery store yesterday and I accidentally broke a carton of eggs. I didn't know what to do. I felt immediate stress thinking someone was going to come and find me and make me pay. I didn't know if I should just get out the money and wait for someone to come over or pick up the eggs and bring them up to be paid for. I was seriously stressed!

I mean...at Lady Lee they seemed to go nuts over a L20 mug.

I guess I have thought about this more and here is what I have thought up. If I invite someone over to my house and they or their kids break something of mine, I probably wouldn't demand that the broken item be paid for. Sure, if they offer, I may or may not take it, but they are a guest in my home to which I invited them and I don't want them to feel unwanted or ashamed so that they never return. They are my guests with honor in my home. I think a store should treat their customers like guests in their home and treat them with respect and integrity and hopefully they will conduct themselves properly. And if they don't...well there is always a policy for that.

Theres my 2 cents on that policy.

Kim said...

The 'you break it, you buy it' policy is fair. Why should the store have to pay for an item that a customer broke? It is the same in most stores in the states.
The hovering thing is common in many countries where there is a high incidence of theft and the cost of labor is exceedingly low. Common but annoying. I've had a couple of meltdowns in SE Asia where store staff would hover around me from the minute I walk into the store and the DH had to get me out of there before I beat someone down. Of course many blacks and Latinos in the US find this behavior common from American store staff!
Finally, I was buying a TV for a friend in the Philippines--how hard could it be? It takes all of 10 minutes at WalMart to buy a TV in the states. How wrong I was! First choose the TV then wait in line for someone to demonstrate it to us (I already knew what a TV was jeez). They unpack the TV, plug it in, turn it on, find a station, test the volume... Next you wait in line to pay then you wait for someone to wrap the TV back up and carry it out of the store...it took a good hour or more to buy a stupid TV. Aarrggg

Jennifer said...

Mama Sprout - Don't I know how easy it is to overspend in Wal-Mart.

Kim - I think if the stack of mugs where done in such a way, that they were about to fall over, well then the 'you break it, you buy it' policy isnt fair. I haven't ever had to buy an item that I broke in the store her ein the US. Ever. So I don't know which stores would have that policy.

La Gringa said...

I guess I understand the "you break it, you buy it" policy. So many things in Honduras are priced at rock bottom, they don't allow for breakage or spoilage in their pricing schemes as they should -- same with groceries! They go bad and the store keeps selling them anyway because they can't afford to throw them out. I'm not saying that is right by any means! Al contrario! Just that I understand where they are coming from.

I couldn't tell you the number of times I've caused an avalanche of toilet paper or pasta or kleenex boxes or similar (nothing breakable, thank goodness) because of the careless way they were stacked on the shelves.

Anyway, I think your feeling might have been what mine is sometimes and what Aaron said, "Most stores here treat the customer as a potential thief..."

THAT is what is hard for me to deal with. It's so personally insulting. And for them to surround you like you were some lowlife shoplifter ready to escape.... As you said, their security policies are offensive. I understand how you felt!

I guess that I've gotten more used to it or the girls that follow me around lately seem more bored than anything and I think they are just doing what they've been told. When they are hanging too close, though, I have been known to act like I don't realize they are there and make a quick 180 and run right into them, maybe step on their toes, but apologizing the whole time. ;-)

I've yet to meet a single one of those hoverers who ever could answer a question (other than to say "no hay" or find something for me! I can be looking for blue flipflops in a size 7 and they'll say "Here are some pink heels in a size 10" and then actually pressure me to buy them!

No, I don't do much shopping either -- but hey, if you think it's bad in San Pedro, don't ever try it in La Ceiba. I love shopping in SPS by comparison.

I'm with Trish: I hate checking my bags and worrying that someone will walk off with them and I hate stores with no prices!

Interesting post. I hope that you feel just a little better knowing that we understand how you feel. That sort of thing has been very helpful to me in keeping my sanity!

Sorry for leaving my own rant on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sprout,
In the US you coulda' sued for your son's duress! ;-)

When I was a kid, I remember some store personel that hovered. I always asked them if they had a certain item in purple with pink poka-dots. Or what kind of discount they could offer if I bought a 1,000 of the items. Mess with their heads! :)


Theresa said...

In Mexico we have the bag check and sometimes the hovering clerks. I just hand the clerks the stuff that I want, or point to it and ask for it. They may as well be useful. As for the line jumping, I deal with it by reaching over the person and handing my stuff to the clerk smiling and saying con permiso. My friend just smiles and says loudly "Buenos Dias (or tardes)". It's as if they can pretend that they don't see you they don't have to be polite. It also helps if you shop in the same store and call the cashier by name. Always smile. We had some clerks who used to give Husband the wrong change etc, so I had to got to the manager and say "We live in the nieghborhood, and we want to shop here, but if this continues we won't do it anymore, and we will tell everyone we know the reason." New more honest clerks work there now, so Husband wasn't the only one.