May 4, 2009

The Wondrous BHV

BHV is an institution here in Paris. It is really just a big, rather dumpy department store, but it is also something else. I mean something surprising and vexing at once. For example, BHV has a huge hardware store in its basement. While we were finishing our apartment we made weekly trips to the basement of BHV to get saws and paintbrushes and then would stop at the perfume counter on the ground floor on our way out. Surprising. In the very middle of the city, a Home Depot of sorts - with high-end lingerie and perfume.

Vexing: Nothing new. This revolves around the simple fact there isn't customer service in France. The French would agree with me here and would pride themselves on that fact. No need for the capitalist customer to decide how an employee should do her job. OK. Fair enough. Fresh, new perspective, right? Except when you want buy and return something at a large store like BHV. Simplicity become complexity.

I wanted to buy some paper products (because, yes, BHV has a huge arts section as well). I chose my paper and approached the cashier. Nope. Apparently there was a "paper counter" I had to go see first, who would quantify and package my paper products before they could be purchased. Over to paper lady. She was busy. I mean, really busy. She had four other paper orders before mine to fit into plastic BHV bags - I mean, her task was, as it seemed, overwhelming. After a long wait, during which my eyes were opened so wide that they started to hurt - I was shocked that she would be so staunchly inefficient without even a glance in my direction - paper lady eventually gave in, counted my paper and gave me a ticket to take to the register. There was that.

Later on in the day, I realized I had purchased the wrong size paper for the project. Oh, no - I really thought to myself, BHV twice in one day with a return involved. This spells trouble. To the register. I present my receipt and explain that I just need to exchange the paper bought earlier for a different size.

"This is becoming complicated," the dear cashier-ist pronounces.

"On the contrary, this is very simple," I retort, trying to just keep it cool, bracing for what is next.

"But, no, Madame. You see, you have to go back to the original person who checked you out," she clarifies.


"You have to find the cashier who performed your original transaction."

"I don't even understand how that is possible. I don't know the people who work at BHV," I am lost. What is she talking about?

"Well, let's see. Here is her name on your receipt. Adeline," she says.

"Who is Adeline? Where is Adeline? What does Adeline have to do with my exchange? This is not personal," I try to reason with her.

"Let me get my manager."

Excellent idea.

...10 minutes later...

Manager appears and these words float out of her mouth as a definitive statement: "Adeline is on her lunch break."

How are we still discussing Adeline? "OK, but I still do not understand her role in this. All I need is an exchange for something I purchased this morning."

"Right, and Adeline was your cashier," she insists.

I concede, hoping she will move on: "Yes, Adeline was my cashier." It comes out like a confession.

"So, what do you need?" she asks.

"I just need to return this paper for paper of a different size," I say, losing hope that it will happen.

"Ehh, uhh, well I will need to void the earlier transaction and charge you for everything again. Yes, I will need to cancel the entire transaction from this morning and start all over again, since Adeline is at lunch. "

That is a non-sequitur. A real customer service logical fallacy.

"Whatever you need to do is fine," I reply.

The worst thing was that even after she figured out how she would manage without Adeline, she insisted that I go back to the paper lady to sort out the sizes and then come back again after all of that. Through the mazes of aisles, to the paper lady, who has at least 7 pieces of paper to put in 7 different bags this time, waiting waiting, and then I have to explain the mess to her. And all I could think of was, Where is Adeline when I need her?


Julie said...

this really made me laugh - i love the wry tone in which you point out the logical fallacies appearing in the return process.

i have to admit you are much braver than i, i would just buy new paper and forget about returning it. i don't think i could handle the complexities of returning an item.

Jill said...

I love this Emilie! How you have the patience for this stuff is beyond me. I'm with Julie, I probably would have just bought new paper, although it seems even that would be a very long process indeed.

Mels said...

Sorry you had to go through all of that trouble, it is frustrating, thanks for sharing

Brad said...

This was a priceless post. It brought back many memories of my years in France. Art Buchwald often wrote about the customer service one received in France.

My guess is Adeline was Employee of the Year for 2008.

Xavier said...

So well written...I have never had the patience Emilie had shown in this. BHV is indeed symbolic of the Service Client à la française and much more. Too bad they do not sell machine guns; it would be returnable much quicker I believe ;-)

Anna said...

You are much more patient that I am. I actually got yelled at in BHV once, when I asked the cashier to check a shirt again because it was supposed to be on sale.

I've always thought that putting French cashiers on stools, rather than making them stand, gave them an excuse to be lazier than usual about customer service.

Anne said...

Classic! I had a friend who returned a pair of pantyhose to Galleries Lafayette because they were stained. When she returned them, she had only put them on one leg before discovering the problem, so the second leg was clearly unworn. Still, they insisted on sending them to the "lab" for anaylsis to be sure that she hadn't stained them herself before they would give her a refund.

D1Warbler said...


Your writing is amazing. What a picture you painted of the store, their insane policies, and the priceless clerk. I'm still laughing.

Love, Chrys

Jonathan Hayes said...

That place IS a trip! I'm renovating an apartment in the Marais, and have quickly worn a groove between the apartment and BHV.

You're right, though - NOTHING is simple in French department stores.

On the plus side, that BHV is close to the Hotel de Ville McDonald's, which is a plus because all the McDonald's have free WiFi...

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