Saturday, March 5, 2011

Courteous or Solicitous?

I often tell people that Berlin is inexpensive. Instead, I should say that Berlin is inexpensive relative to other German and European cities. It’s not a bargain but it certainly won’t bankrupt you. The cost of living in Berlin is what you would expect to find in most American cities. A cup of coffee is around $2.00, a pizza is about $6.00, and a nice meal for two people costs about $40.00, including wine.

The days when you could travel in Europe on $50.00 or even $100.00 dollars a day are long gone. For example, the sales tax (value added tax) in Germany is 19%. It's 19.6% in France, 20% in the United Kingdom, 23% in Greece, and whopping 25% in Denmark and Hungary. (Btw:  the only country with a sales tax lower than 15% is Switzerland at 5 %.)

So while Berlin is relatively inexpensive by European standards, I still need to be price conscious. I splurge once a week by going out to eat. I usually go to Escendo, a pizzeria across the street from my apartment. It’s quick, cheap and very good. Another dining option is lunch specials. One of my favorite places is Garçon, a family run restaurant serving southern French cuisine. Their lunch specials include a salad or a soup, a choice of two main courses, and a beverage (water, soda, coffee, or wine). Their potato and broccoli casserole, and their salmon-cod soup are particularly good. It’s a good deal at $10 dollars. 

The last time I was at Garçon, I noticed a young couple sitting at the table next to the kitchen. What annoyed me about the couple was their complete indifference to the problem their very large dog was causing. It’s not unusual for people to bring dogs into restaurants. In this case, the dog was well-behaved and quiet, but he did manage to sit right in the middle of the main restaurant aisle. Each time a waiter or a patron needed to cross aisle, they literally had to leap over the dog. The couple noticed the disruption Rover was causing but did nothing to remedy the problem. This lack of consideration is unusual but not completely surprising. I’ve noticed similar things throughout Europe. It’s as if the Europeans take pride in being inconsiderate.
When I’m asked to describe the differences between Americans and Europeans, I always answer:  MANNERS.  By and large, Americans are more polite, considerate, and thoughtful than Europeans, including, the British. Of course, this is a gross generalization, but it’s something I’ve noticed time and again.

When it comes to customer service at restaurants, hotels, stores, and other public facilities, Americans again score high. Even my European friends agree that American customer service is exceptional. However, they often use the word “solicitous” when describing it. It’s as if they view American customer service in a negative light. I often tell Europeans that American customer service means being “courteous,” a word that may not translate into their language.  

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