Thursday, July 26, 2007

Many Happy Returns...

It is so easy to return or exchange merchandise in the United States. To a be customer, period.

Even if you've lost the sales receipt, 99.9% of stores will give you a refund or store credit if the item is still being stocked. Other retailers with rotating merchandise have "60-Day Refund/180-Day Store Credit" policies. Within 14 days, most retailers will refund you the difference if the item has since gone down in price. Then there are companies like L.L.Bean and Lands' End who stand behind their products for LIFE--glady exchanging or repairing merchandise that is even over twenty years old!!!

Once you've lived in a country where customer service is an oxymoron, it's a shock to do business again the USA.

Cashiers rarely have enough cash in their registers, and they often simply refuse to let you purchase your items unless you have exact change--or small bills. I'm not talking about asking a cashier to break the equivalent of $100 or $50 bills--they often even balk at the equivalent of $20! Can you imagine that happening in the USA?!

Making a return or exchange can also be an arduous process. I once accidentally paid for children's shoes that were one size too small--realizing my mistake immediately. The box with the size I needed was right there on the counter--but they wouldn't exchange them. I had to have my passport with me, which I didn't, in order to make any kind of exchange/return. That meant three more hours of travel time to and from the store, three pages of return slips to fill out (with my passport number, place of issue, residence, reason for exchange, etc. filled out on each page)--and I could only make the return during certain hours when the return/exchange office was open.

The return period is also a strict 14 days in Russia; this was a problem when I hurried to get what we needed before our trip to Turkey in May! The day after we returned to Moscow, instead of unpacking and settling in again, I had to rush to two shops before our two weeks expired.

I know that this is a random topic to post among tales of summer activities, but I know that soon most parents will be busy with back-to-school shopping. Those of us who are expats are even busier since we must also procure: all English-language reading material our families will need; all medications not readily available in Russia; all holiday and birthday gifts/party supplies (you couldn't be certain of getting any specific item if you waited to buy it there--and it would cost much, much more--and party supplies are limited to generic streamers, etc.--if your kid really wants a certain character, etc., you need to get it here); all Halloween-related items (Halloween really doesn't exist there, so we throw our own Halloween party and I try to have some traditional American candies, etc.); and as much of the family's outdoor clothing/boots/clothing needs that you can fit in your suitcases (since it's so much more expensive there). This year I'm co-leading our Brownie troup, so the other mom and I also have to be sure to bring back all the badges and craft supplies, too (Thanks for carrying almost all of it, Ann-Tyler, since you have more kids and a larger baggage allowance!).

As I engage in all of this getting-ready-to-head-back-to-Moscow-errand-running, it's so nice to be treated kindly everywhere I go...
  • The operator at L.L.Bean suggested, "I know this isn't on our website, but the winter coat you wanted for your daughter is actually half off if she'd like turquoise instead..."
  • Barnes and Noble and Borders give me a 20% discount since they consider me a homeschooling mom--I mentioned I couldn't get beginning English books where I live, they asked me why, and then told me I qualified for their Educators' Discount Card!
  • The operator at American Girl opened up the Birthday Party game I wanted and read through the playing cards to make sure the reading level and content wouldn't exclude Katya's friends who aren't from the USA and don't read as well as the native-speaking girls she'll invite. (She then told me I'd better order the game a.s.a.p. since it was actually being discontinued, was half price, and there were only four left in stock!)
  • The employees at the grocery store carefully bag up all my groceries (which are so much cheaper than in Moscow!) and offer to bring them to my car--I certainly don't need the help, but how nice to have them offer.
  • When my car broke down yesterday, the AAA operator asked me if I was stopped "somewhere safe;" her question jarred me. I was thrilled to simply have access to a free tow (included in membership, which certainly doesn't cost much); that they were so quick and kind was an added plus.

We've really "got it good" in the good ole USA!

Certain, ahem, relatives will be quick to post a response to the effect of "Then why are you living there???? When you will you be back????". Yes, life is pretty great in the USA and it is always nice to be here. We'll eventually be back here; this is our home. But while we're in Russia, there is a lot to appreciate.

So why be there? Now that we're over the initial culture shock, it's interesting! You get to watch a country evolve. History lessons come alive. Even the most tedious day is interesting in a different language. You expect things to be harder, so you're prepared. You get some help if you can. And when it's really a pain, you can at least talk about what a pain it has been with your kids who are now bilingual. You are literally friends with people from around the globe; your kids grow up aware of the multitudes of cultures and languages on this earth. They see the world as separated by different frontiers, not boundaries. When stuck in traffic, you know that at least the cars are all moving slowly--so you're unlikely to get in any kind of accident. You're thankful for your ipod, and you and the kids enjoy some good audio book or music together. You, and your kids, have a much deeper appreciation of what it means to be American and fortunate; you're exposed to so many people without the same freedoms and opportunities.

And doing all our shopping while in the US has many benefits: our kids never ask for things during the year, because they know there's no way they'll get them. They're also not exposed to mass media (advertising, store displays, friends with the latest fad) and desire little. Holidays and their true meanings don't get overshadowed by last-minute preparations, since everything is already done! December is spent enjoying our decorations, baking cookies, reading Christmas stories and singing carols.

1 comment:

Zhenia Burilova said...

Wow! I didn't even know how good they have it in the States!
See, as a native Russian, I just feel fortunate that there's actually a law that obliges the stores to take unused merchandise back within 14 days, because otherwise there's no way in the world they would do it and I would be stuck with a lot of clothes that I don't like ;))).