Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Doing business

As I wrote to a friend, “Doing business in Belarus is a maddeningly obtuse process, softened by displays of great kindness and generosity.” Here’s the story of the day.

I decided this morning that I’d like to go hear some music, and maybe bring along one or more of my blind friends. I went online to see if I could find a show they might like, maybe a rock concert of some sort. I found nothing promising, but stumbled across a jazz show by a group called the City Jazz Quartet. I listened to some of their music on YouTube, and they’re the real deal. Far better than the third-rate American musicians who sometimes come to perform in Minsk. And somehow, in the midst of a few unsold tickets, they had a block of four tickets off the center aisle in the orchestra section. They looked like ideal seats for this show, and I tried to buy a pair online.

I failed, of course. I don’t have a Belarusian bank card, and my Visa card never works for online ticket purchases. I tried, but couldn’t even reserve a ticket. Theoretically I could have reserved on the phone, but nobody answered either phone number so I want down to the nearest ticket agency, which turned out to be closed until August. The sign on their door said to go to October Square and see their affiliate. At October Square, they had different tickets to sell, but not the excellent seats I expected. I checked online. The tickets were still there. I tried to reserve them from my phone, but again without success. So I clicked through to get the address of an outlet with access to these seats. It was right where I started, beside the Metro station near home.

By the time I got to the right agency, the tickets I’d been trying to buy were no longer available. They’d been reserved but not picked up. I took second best and went home for lunch. After lunch, however, those two tickets were available again. Since the lady who sold me my tickets told me to keep the receipt “in case something comes up,” I figured she could help me swap them out. I assumed incorrectly, it turns out. She told me that they only sold tickets and if I wanted to make a return, I’d have to go to the main office. I opined that this sounded not worthwhile, but asked to know where it was. Maybe it would be useful information. She went into the back room, ostensibly to look it up.

She came back a few minutes later, stony faced. She walked right past me, over to her computer terminal. I followed. She typed. She scowled at the screen and typed some more, never saying a word to me. Somebody who appeared to be the shift supervisor came over to see what she was doing, and told her that she couldn’t take tickets back. My stony-faced clerk ignored her and made a couple of phone calls. I told her how grateful I was for her efforts. The big boss came in from the street and interrogated me on what the heck I was trying to do, but when she noticed her employee making progress she put her finger on her lips and went to the back of the store.

Now I have the tickets I set out to buy in the first place. It took far too long, but things often take a long time in Belarus. And, like now, the resolution may depend on somebody’s personal kindness. Somehow I find this frustrating and delightful at the same time.

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