Sunday, March 16, 2014

Buying appliances

Some dear friends are about to get married and Alla suggested that I go out and buy them our favorite kitchen appliance. In the process, I discovered several surprising differences between the way it would happen in America and the way it happens here in Belarus.

It started out pretty typically. I went to a big appliance store in a major shopping mall and spent a half hour or so learning about the advantages and disadvantages of the many different models on display. In pleasant contrast to the American version of this story, sales people swarmed the floor and whenever I had questions I found clerks quickly and got clear and concrete answers. So, finally I chose a product and the clerk got one for me in a sealed box from under the display case. She took the box with her and directed me to a testing island near the cashier.

This is where the story diverges strongly from the way it would go in the US. If you buy anything that plugs into an electrical outlet here, the sales people will test it before you pay. This holds true even for light bulbs. They’ll take each bulb out of a packet and jam it into an unthreaded testing socket to demonstrate that it works. So here I am with my Bosch appliance, manufactured and packed in Slovenia, still in its sealed box. I would be very reluctant in America to give a wedding present in any other condition, but I know I’m about to have my strong cultural preference tattered by a clerk bent on demonstrating that it works. I think about telling her not to open it, but realize that I must relent because if I don’t let her validate the warranty with her two rubber stamps and two signatures, the two-year warranty suddenly decreases to zero. Sigh.

At least the clerk had already opened plenty of appliance boxes in her career and she looked pretty confident. She knew about the various flaps and tabs and she moved carefully so she wouldn’t damage anything beyond the outer seal. Out came the various accessories and the customized bits of packing material intended to hold them in place and create the best possible un-boxing experience. I should have made a video, because I’ll never see that again. Next thing I knew, she had bits of wrapping paper, plastic bags, cardboard spacers and appliance parts all over the table. Fantastic. I wondered if she would demonstrate that each accessory works properly. She did not. She just plugged in the main appliance, revved it up and sent me to the cashier to pay.

When I returned with the receipt, she was still trying to figure out how to get everything back into the box. She was good, but her professionalism didn’t reach quite far enough. She succeeded in fitting all the key stuff inside, but she left out a couple of the spacers. I took the box home, along with the leftover spacers, and re-packed it a little better. Then I went to buy some wrapping paper and a card.

They didn't sell ribbon at the paper store, so we scavenged.
The card presented its own challenge, because out of a huge selection at the bookstore, only four didn’t say “On your wedding day” on the front page. Americans generally give wedding gifts ahead of the wedding, and our cards say something like “For your wedding” or “To the bride and groom.” We won’t even be in Belarus when they get married, so I felt limited to the four cards that didn’t start out with “wedding day.” Of those four, I couldn’t understand one of them and didn’t like the inner text on two others. That left me with one choice, but I think all results are satisfactory.

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