I should begin this story with a disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been, a damsel in distress who can not change her own oil/tires/filters/battery, etc.  I’m no mechanic, but I can do the basics (no matter how much I hate it).  But first, from the beginning:

Costa Rica has a very customer-service minded approach to staffing and running most shops.  Most of the department stores here are about the size and variety of a dollar store, but never will you walk into one and find it staffed with just one checkout girl at the counter and a stock boy in the back like you do in the states.  Walk through the door of the local shop here and you’ll find four or five sales girls/guys hovering near the front or wandering around.  Immediately one of them will peel off from the group and greet you.  From there on out, this clerk is your shadow.  She (or he) will stay just out of your line of sight, dusting shelves and organizing while keeping an eye out for you.  The moment you have a question, seem to be looking for something specific, or need help reaching an item, she will be at your side.  She’ll stay quiet and out of your way, but she’ll be watching, ready to offer customer service the moment you need it, and when you’ve chosen an item, she’ll offer to set it behind the counter while you continue shopping.  When I first came to Costa Rica, this absolutely drove me nuts.  I’ve never liked overly attentive sales clerks, preferring to be left alone to shop in peace.  “Don’t bug me, I don’t need your help,” was my attitude.

I’ve changed my mindset about that a little, after doing some comparison in the last 8 months.  In Panama, the clerks don’t just watch but actively “help” you shop by handing you items that may fit you or they think you might like, taking from your hands anything you start to carry around intending to try/buy, and ending up in your way every time you turn around.  It’s stifling, and a little nerve wracking.  On my last visit to the states, I encountered the exact opposite problem.  A visit to Target sent me on a “find a sales clerk” quest that took me 20 minutes to accomplish.  20 minutes(!) to find just one sales guy, to ask just one question: “I can’t find X.  Do you have any in stock?”  A store that big so understaffed that I had to search for 20 minutes to find anyone working other than the kids behind the cash registers?  Ridiculous!

Clearly, I have reason to appreciate the helpful-but-not-invasive customer service in Costa Rica.  Today I appreciated that approach even more.  For the second time in 2 days, I went to start my truck only to find the battery dead.  Dead, dead.  Not a click.  Not a light on the dash board.  Nothin’.  Bah!  Yesterday, my next door neighbor was home and helped jump my car off.  I’d left the lights on, so (duh) dead battery.  Today, nope… Lights off, fan off, no reason for dead battery.  Once I found a neighbor at home, introduced myself, and begged his help with a jump, I hauled myself all grumbly-like to the auto-parts store, figuring I’d get a battery, hit the grocery store, and then go home and install the new one.  I think I have a pair of pliers somewhere…

But I had forgotten about the customer service here.  I didn’t just buy a battery and haul it home like I’d have to do in the US.  I bought a battery, watched the kid from behind the counter pop my hood, test the old battery, confirm it was bad, pull it out, pull off and replace the beat up cables, put in the new battery, hook everything back up, test it all again, close my hood, and declare me ready to go.  I didn’t have to ask, and it didn’t cost me one penny extra to have him do all that.  He just offered to do it…with a smile, even though it was lunch time and he was minding the shop alone while the other three guys were taking their break.  I never have to pump my own gas, either.  Ah, bliss!  Sometimes, I really, really love Costa Rica!

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