I want to share with you a key to enjoying Spain. A secret I just, only recently, discovered for myself, about sharing a mutually positive experience with someone who could potentially offer you customer service. It seems strange that it would take someone who has spent so much time in Spain to figure out, but listen up. My advice will be counter intuitive to the American reading.
Whenever you walk into someone’s place of business, be it a restaurant, bar or a gift shop, a clothing store or even a bakery, assert yourself. By this I mean, speak to the person working immediately by saying, when appropriate, one of the following: hola, buenos días or buenas tardes. This may go against your experience in the US or elsewhere, where shopkeepers are generally expected to acknowledge you first and ask if you need help with anything, but in Spain the rules are different. It is expected that you, the patron of the business, will initiate the business transaction. Once you establish rapport with the shopkeeper in this manner, I can almost assure you that you will be treated with much more respect that if you had waited for him or her to speak to you. In fact, I have naïvely, many times, waited to be helped in a shop. When I left the store without ever having been spoken to, I took it personally, as an affront to the customer. I also interpreted this to mean that customer service was viewed with complete disdain here on the Iberian Peninsula. Of course, I was the one to be faulted, according to Spanish cultural norms.
Since I have started saying hello whenever I enter a store, I have noticed that the person in question has a different attitude toward me. An open to helping me attitude, an “I’m happy you’re here,” attitude. As of result of practicing this cultural necessity, I’ve been complimented on how good my Spanish is (whoa), had excellent customer service (jewelry being cleaned before being boxed and wrapped, multiple items separately bubble and then gift-wrapped, I’ve even been showered with small talk!) and been overall more satisfied with the quality of life in Spain. Whether you speak Spanish or not, I encourage you to try this trick: to be direct, to be assertive and not to seem like you don’t know what in the world you are doing. And when you leave any place of business, speak to the person once again, telling them any of the following: gracias, hasta luego, adios. Or, if you want to fit in even better, say all three in succession. I promise, I speak from multiple self-conducted experiments. Let me know if you implement this technique and how it works out for you.