Saturday, August 21, 2010

That's Another Fine Mess . . . 8/21/10

Has there ever been a nation in the history of civilisation that opened its mouth so much and yet said so very little as the USA?

Yes, it’s been another nightmare week in the LA service industry that so enamoured me when I first arrived.

Having finally managed to sort out my ongoing saga too boring to detail with Best Buy, this week it was the turn of the grocery store, Vons.

As I do not have a car, I have been mostly using the store’s online delivery service. Vons, like its sister store, Pavilions, is, in fact, Safeway, and far cheaper than, say, Ralph’s or Wholefoods. Every few weeks, Vons will deliver your groceries for free, although this is usually dependent upon your purchasing five items from whatever their specials of the week happen to be.

So, for example, when they had a healthy options week, you could get a free delivery if you bought things such as vegetable juice, bran flakes, oatmeal bars – stuff you would never normally touch, let alone swallow, but, for the sake of saving $6.95, were prepared to spend three times that amount on the useless products.

I was having a party and therefore bought the wine in bulk, when I saw a special offer allowing you free delivery on an order over $150. So far, so good – well, almost. Apart from the defrosted pizzas, the bulk order of creamed corn instead of peas, and soft drinks clearly belonging to another order. Customer service ignored my complaining e-mail.

When the party came around some weeks later, two of the bottles of Pinto Grigio turned out to be corked, so I contacted the store to see how they might be replaced.

Now, you have to know this about every single American in LA (at least, the ones I have met): they know nothing, nada, zilch, about wine. Every restaurant, every bar, every snooty bloke sitting down once a month with his mates for a blind “tasting” (basically: rich, ignorant, old guys with nothing better to do - and you see them in many hostelries) – they wouldn’t know a decent wine if it spat at them.

On the few occasions when I have had to send back a corked bottle, the members of staff have examined the glass, declaring that they cannot see any cork floating in it; or they have just looked at me blankly.

And it's not just a problem with corked wine. This week, I had to send back a 2007 Tavel because it had, quite simply, been kept too long in the wrong temperature and had turned to sherry; I know that Tavel is a dark rose, but honestly, I’ve seen more attractive diverticulitis.

The waiter was polite in removing the offending receptacle, but with the comment: “Well, if you don’t like it.” “No,” I said. “It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s bad.” More blank stares.

Bar, restaurant, or five star hotel, it’s been the same story every time, so I wasn’t holding out much hope for the Vons sommelier.

Sure enough, after being put through to various people on the phone, each claiming to be a different branch of Customer Service, I tracked down the store from which my wine had originated. But no. I could not return it, as it had been bought online. More calls. This time: no, any goods had to be returned within 48 hours; it was “company policy”.

So, I said, if I buy 20 bottles of wine, I have to taste them all within 48 hours, purely to ascertain whether they are corked, in order to be allowed to bring them back? Apparently, yes. But then, according to the small print, no; I discovered that it’s not even that easy. Once wine has been delivered for an online order, it cannot be returned – for any reason.

None of the people I spoke to knew what a corked wine was, anyway, so I have downloaded the Wikipedia definition, which I intend to show to everyone I meet who pleads ignorance on the matter.

It’s an awful lot of effort to go to for the presence of a bit of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) (that’s corked, for those of you still in the dark; and smell a wet dog, if you’re still confused as to what you should be sniffing for); but why should anyone lose their money because Vons has a policy on refusing to accept returns on what are, essentially, damaged goods?

So, my disillusionment with the service industry that so impressed me when I arrived, continues. The “Yes, ma’am, I can help you with that today” continues to mean “No chance” with every single company I am trying to wind up my affairs with.

I’m going to need more alcohol just to get me through it. I’m just not going to be buying it from Vons.

I’ll just head for the Napa Valley, hook myself up to a vine and cut out the middle man.

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