Sunday, June 28, 2009

We're not in Kansas anymore

I thought it was fitting to use that title since two of the visiting faculty here for the summer are from Kansas. It's been awesome having interns and visiting faculty here in Kuwait and living in my building...and it still feels strange to be the "knowledgeable" one when it comes to life in Kuwait. There's something nice about knowing my way around, being able to give them rides, pointing out the best places to eat, and filling them in on what really happens here behind the scenes.

But anyway, back to not being in Kansas anymore. I was reminded of this fact last week in what I like to call "the saga of the car." As you might remember, I got my rental car about 6 weeks ago. It's a great little Toyota Yaurus...except it's not been so great. By the time last week rolled around, I had a litany of 9 things wrong with the car...yes, NINE! The belt screeched every time I turned on the car, the breaks squeaked, the passenger window would get stuck down, the windshield wipers were worn down to metal, the plastic on the outside of the car was peeling up, the tires were low, the jack was missing, the flashers button would get stuck on, and it was due for its 30,000km service. I tried calling the company a few times to schedule a maintenance visit, but could never get through to anyone who spoke English. Eventually, I decided that the best option was to just drive down to the leasing company after work one that's exactly what I did. Upon arrival at said company, I was informed that once the car is leased to me, they don't do anything with it anymore. I needed to bring it down to their service department in Shuwaikh. Where is Shuwaikh you ask? I don't know...thus the problem. They also informed me that the service department is only open until 3:30 every day...and I work until 4. I had started off being nice, but decided it was time to be more insistent. I told them that it was their problem that their car had a million things wrong with it, and that it was their problem to figure out how to get the car to Shuwaikh. My tactic worked! After two phone calls and 45 minutes of back and forth, they arranged for a tow truck to come to my house that night and get the car.

When the tow truck arrived, a cheerful Bangladeshi boy (and by boy, I mean he could not have been more than 16 years old) jumped out and started to chatter in Arabic. I kindly informed him that my arabic was somewhat lacking. However, I made the mistake of attempting to communicate with him...when I tried out my little bit of arabic, he assumed that meant I was fluent so the next 45 minutes he kept up a steady stream of dialogue...I mean monologue since I couldn't exactly respond. It was about a million degrees outside, and windy and by the time he was done inspecting the car, I was just ready for him to take the car and leave. He then started pulling out a bunch of metal attachments from his truck, showing each to me with an unhappy look on his face. Since I couldn't understand him, I just stood there. Eventually, I realized that he didn't have the correct attachment to connect my car to the tow truck. He chattered on for a bit, then got into my car and started it up. He proceeded to drive it onto the truck and then jumped down to give me my copy of the paperwork. I asked if he was going to secure my car to the truck and he cheerfully shrugged. I asked again...and again, a smile and a shrug. Apparently the answer was no. So I took my copy of the paperwork (as a guarantee that I had turned it over in one piece)...and went home...wondering over the next few hours if I would get a call in the morning telling me that my car had flipped off the truck and was now lying upside down on the side of the freeway. Luckily, that call never came.

Fastforward to the next morning. I figured it would take at least a week to get the car fixed, and I needed a loaner for that period of time (it was a Thursday...last day of the workweek here). So I got to work and called the service department to request that a car be brought to me at work. I finally found someone on the phone who could speak some English...and after 20 minutes of explaining the events of the previous day (of course, they had no record of it), he told me no problem and transferred my call to an unknown person. Repeat entire process (explain my problem and what I need)...when I asked for a rental, the man said he would need to inquire about it. I asked how long it would take and he hung up on me. I called back the main number and got the first person. When he heard me (I'm sure I was the only American female calling with a Toyota Yaurus), he hung up the phone. I called back...they proceeded to screen my calls and refused to pick up! Incredibly frustrated and watching the minutes tick down toward the end of the work day and work week, I had my Kuwaiti friend Hala call. They answered a few of her questions, but when they realized she was calling on my behalf, they hung up on her. We tried calling over a dozen times, and they refused to pick up.

Enough is enough. I decided to take two hours off work and head to the service company. So I trudged through the 115 degree heat, hailed a cab, and told him the location. 1.5 hours later (it was only 15 miles away) and a nasty neck sunburn from sitting in the back of the taxi, we finally found the place. I paid the stressed out cab driver and walked into the company. There were tons of people standing around, so I went up to the desk and told them I needed to see a manager. The guy's eyes got wide, and he said "are you Toyota Yaurus?" I couldn't help but laugh, and I nodded yes. He hurried away to get a manager. By this point, I was tired, sweaty, sunburnt, and not at all happy. Luckily, it was an English-speaking nice man named Nidal who came out to help me. Nidal is my hero this week. He made an official report of the car complaints (they finally found where my car had been towed) and was shocked by the litany of problems. I also told him about the fact that his customer service department hung up on me and then started to screen my calls...he said that happens quite often when foreigners call because very few of the customer service agents speak English and they get flustered and embarrassed when they can't find a solution to the they just don't pick up! Craziness. Twenty minutes later, I had a 2009 Lancer ready for use and Nidal's personal guarantee that they wouldn't even call me to come back until he had personally inspected my Yaurus.

Lessons learned...never attempt anything over the phone in Kuwait. Never expect customer service to actually provide customer service. And always always just go in person.

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