The Customer is Always Annoying

First published April 5, 2006

Service and Sweden. Two more words that never go together. As a customer in this land, you are a mere irritation, something to be put up with or preferably ignored. If you accidentally get good service in Sweden, you are so surprised that you give a big tip and grin like an idiot for half a day.

An example? Oh, you bet your ass I have an example…

16 months ago, lunchtime. Me and associate go to the Yellow Sub sandwich deli on Götgatan in Stockholm in order to buy some sandwiches. In the line before us is a woman who is holding a plate and is very upset. On the plate is a pie she had purchased minutes earlier, and also a large black insect.

– I found this in my pie, she says, visibly shaken.

The sour old lady at the counter looks at insect, and then up at the customer.

– We only use fresh produce in THIS café, she says with a sniff.

The customer is not sure what to do.

– But it’s an INSECT, she says, on the edge of tears.

– Well I suppose you want your money back then, the old lady says, grabs the plate with the pie and shoves the customer’s money into her hand.

Note – the words “sorry” could not be heard.

The customer stands there for a moment, still confused as to what is happening.

– Can I have my plate back? she asks meekly.

The old lady brings the customer’s plate back from kitchen and shoves it at her. The customer leaves.

Now then, what went wrong here? I’ll tell you what – the customer, all of her family, friends and workmates, as well as the rest of us who saw the incident, along with OUR family friends and workmates never went back again to Yellow Sub: a loss of perhaps 50 customers and hopefully more.

Now the sour old lady could have prevented this by treating her customer as a human being, and showing that she was in fact sorry for a big, spiky insect in her lunch, and maybe shoved a free latté or bottle of wine at her. Instead she acted like a moron, and practically blamed the customer for the problem.

Insects in food I can accept; rudeness I do not.

I was planning to start a website called “” where people can put their experiences of various cafes and bars all over the world, a sort of Internet Movie Database for catering and service. And on this site Yellow Sub would get five big fat dead rats. No doubt about it.

/ paddy


7 thoughts on “The Customer is Always Annoying

  1. My favourite rant concerns the airport shuttle busses, “Flygbussarna”, from Stockholm to Arlanda Airport. We were a bunch of people waiting at the gate to Flygbussarna at the City Terminal in central Stockholm one morning. Please note that we were there before the bus came to the gate. We had already bought tickets for the ride.

    When the bus has arrived, the gates open. The gate lock room takes only half a dozen persons or so, so the rest of us have to wait. Then the bus leaves. We wait for the next bus to come. (They leave at an interval of ten to fifteen minutes.) People are queueing up in front of the two gates for this destination. When the bus arrives, the doors to the other gate opens, some of those queuers are let through, and the bus leaves. At both times, there were about twenty vacant seats when the bus left.

    Then I remember that some persons were waiting outside, on the other side of the gate, so I go around to the door to the big outside, only to find that the company has put up a little wall to stop people from doing that. Of course they cannot stop them from coming around from the street at the other end of the block…

    Finally I get on board the third bus, and I ask the driver what this was all about. “Well, we do this all the time. You see, if we let you board the bus at the City Terminal, the people waiting at the bus stops down the road might not find a place to sit. Besides, if we open the gate doors twice, the departure displays will change to the next departure time, and we can’t have that.” There were twenty vacant seats in the bus.

    That made me start thinking. The Flygbussarna company works in a competitive environment. I can take the commuter trains to Märsta and change to local bus to Arlanda, or I can take the supraluminal train, Arlanda Express. I can take a taxi, or even have a friend drive me there. So are they trying to compete themselves out of business? Or can’t they afford the extra bus to accommodate all travellers? I mean, the aircraft won’t wait for late incoming Flygbuss…

    It’s more than a year since this happened, and I’ve never ridden Flygbussarna since (and I work at Arlanda Airport). Have they improved? I don’t know. Do I want to know? No.

    The commuter trains may take longer to reach Arlanda, but I have never been refused to board the train with the limp excuse that “there are only 200 vacant seats in the train, and if we permit you to board, the commuters at the next stations will perhaps have to stand”.

    I am a docile swede all right, but I am not docile enough to ride Flygbussarna.

  2. Oh yes, do it, Paddy! I’ve always wondered where I could complain about the big spit ball in my chicken wings at the Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar, Dublin. I annoyed the waitress by tapping on the table as I waited for my food – hey, I apologised, it’s a bad habit – but too late, she had obviously complained to her buddy, the cook in the kitchen. I never went back. In fact, I shudder every time anyone mentions going there and I tell them my story.

  3. “Service is Sweden is a four-letter word!”

    In fact, the Swedish language doesn’t have a word for “service”.

  4. I think Canada and Sweden might be sister countries.

    My pick for the most consistently crappiest service ever is Bar Italia (Winnipeg, Canada). Essentially it’s a cafe in the daytime and bar at night, as if it just couldn’t decide which one it wanted to be when it grows up. Whether as a cafe or bar, service is always slow to non-existent. If you order food, prepare to wait a half hour at least. It doesn’t matter whether it’s busy or empty. Even when you skip the middleman server and order at the counter in desperation, they peer into your inner soul with disgust or ennui.

    For a while, I just thought that it was me (maybe I have really offensive fashion sense? maybe I’m ugly? maybe they read my blog and are now seeking vengeance?) until my friends also started getting fed up with all the waits and stuck-up attitudes.

    After 10 PM, the “cafe” is taken over by scary bar rats, mostly spoiled 20-year-old hetero crackheads with chips on their shoulders, sex on their brains and non-stop, in-your-face hostility toward personal bubbles. The last time I set foot in that shack was when a mentally fragile waitress had me kicked out by the bouncer because I didn’t say “no” to her services politely enough for her liking. I simply had waved my hand away at her when she asked if I wanted coffee and this somehow disturbed the poor, emotional wreck enough to up the ante. Wt*??? But as a business person once said: “The waitress is always more right than the customer.” Sufficed to say, said business person is now on welfare.

    Sadly during the summer I see it always finds new victims… erh… I meant to say, “customers” but I think this is only because there aren’t many alternative locations for single, quiet, non-drunk adults to relax and people-watch with their laptops at the end of the day without having to avoid loud alcoholics, loud kids or loud, alcoholic kids.

    Somehow though, I manage despite. <:o) Hooray for the democratizing effects of customer choice and word-of-mouth!

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