Rotterdam Gesloten (Monday mornings)

Imagine if more countries would be like the Dutch, who do not dub foreign movies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to watch movies in their original language but with subtitles instead of dubbing? I am convinced that that is one of the reasons why EVERYBODY in the Netherlands speaks perfect English. And that makes my travels through the Netherlands easy and very enjoy. However, with the good comes the not so good: Mondays in Rotterdam are a rest day for plenty of businesses including museums, restaurants and shops. However, if you do find yourself in Rotterdam on a Monday, as I did, here are a few things you can do:

1. Walk across the Maas Tunnel, the oldest traffic tunnel in Netherlands.
The tunnel was built right before the second world war. As I rode the escalator down into the tunnel, I marveled at the wooden escalators and the fact that cyclists could take their bicycles on them. After you arrive at the bottom of the escalators, about 20 meters below sea level, notice that there are separate tunnels for cyclists and for pedestrians. The tunnel for the pedestrians are below the tunnel for the cyclists.

2. Walk around the Old Harbor and emerge at the curious Cube Houses Rotterdam, by Dutch architect Piet Blom.

3. Stop for a delicious lunch break at Spirit, an organic and vegetarian cafe, not far from the Cube Houses. Spirit is flanked by a whole-foods supermarket on one side and a lovely home/lifestyle shop called Vanbinnen on the other.

4. Sleep in and, after noon, go shopping along Meent.
I made the mistake of getting up early and going out, only to realize that Monday mornings in Rotterdam is like a ghost town. Most shops’ signs announced “maandag gesloten”. And the few that are open on Mondays open around or after 1300. Thus shopping on Mondays is possible only between 1300 and 1700 or 1800, if at all.

If you’re looking for unique, independent designers’ wares, head to object trouve, on Pancake Street. I was thrilled that the shop was open on Monday. It’s exactly the type of shop I seek when in a new city; but I am not always successful finding such treasures in the sea of chains, boring brand names and same-same, that is our current consumer market.

5. Walk along the many waterfronts and eventually end up on Witte De Withstraat, an artist area with museums, art galleries and cafes.
By the late afternoons, some shops and stores will be open. By evening, more restaurants will be open. If you’re craving good Italian, try Oliva, where delicious, seasonal dishes are prepared and presented by a team of attentive staff. Although only in Dutch, the wine list is easy to understand and reasonable. Even if most things are “gesloten” on Mondays, Rotterdam has much to offer, if you know where to look.

Rotterdam Gesloten (Monday mornings)


Why is Germany a customer-service desert?


Although the U.S. offers its share of great customer service, Japan is the best place that I have lived where customer service reigns supreme.  “Irrashaimase!”, as any who has entered a Japanese restaurant or sushi-bar hears, is the ubiquitous greeting welcoming new customers as they enter an eating establishment.  From there, the hospitality and service blooms and improves.  Whether it is the waitress running to get the pitcher of green tea or sake or the warm hand towel that is placed in front, so that you can wash and freshen up, the Japanese know how to treat their customers like royalty.  Sadly, that doesn’t exist in Germany.

When I first asked my teacher the German translation for customer service, she replied, “Customer service.”  Our class laughed, but that should have been the clue, and we should have cringed.  Walk into any German department store or shop and it is rare that someone greets you.  Try to find a salesperson at department stores like Kaufhof, Karstadt, or Peek and Cloppenberg to pay for a purchase, and they are usually nowhere to be found.  The salepersons usually stand behind a counter talking on their cellphone, talking to other salepersons, or trying to hide behind rows of WMF knives.  They avoid eye contact with shoppers or rarely approach shoppers to ask if they need assistance.

Today I stopped in the Galleria Kaufhof at the Hauptwache to look for some linen place mats.  As I walked through the housewares section, looking at different items, not a single salesperson approached or asked if I needed assistance, which I did.  When I finally managed to find a saleslady over by the glasswares, she was standing by the wine glasses staring into space with a look of boredom and apathy.  As I approached her, she looked right through me: no greeting, no eye contact, no acknowledgement that another human being was within her presence.  After I said, “Entschuldigung Sie bitte; koennen Sie mir helfen?” she didn’t answer, but her expression was loud and clear:  “Why are you bothering me?  I don’t want to help you.  Why can’t you let me daydream in peace about my six weeks of vacation that I am entitled to take any day now?  Whether I help you or not, I still get paid and I still get my vacation.”  Normally, I would have allowed her sour mood to affect me, but for some reason, I didn’t this time.  Maybe it was the festive Christmas music streaming throughout the store.  But no matter what the cause, I didn’t react to her.  Instead I ignored her unpleasantness, her rudeness and just peppered her with my questions, talking to her as if I could not see how uncomfortable she was or how she, obviously, didn’t want me to interrupt her peace and quiet.   Why does she work in a service industry when she obviously has no desire to provide service to customers?  For that matter, why do so many Germans who work in a ‘service’ industry lack any aptitude, skill or even feigned interest in customer service?

Obviously, I am not being completely fair comparing Japan, the epitome of customer service, to Germany, where even the word doesn’t exist in the language.  But come on, I don’t expect salespersons to throw bouquets at me when I enter a store or carry my shopping bags to the front of the store and bow to me as I leave (as they do in Japan), but a little smile, a greeting or eye contact surely isn’t going to kill anyone?