Customer Service? C’est quoi?


Just recently, a good New Yorker friend of mine came to stay with me. He spent a week strolling around in glorious sunshine people-watching and taking in the aesthetics of Paris. Having lived in New York for over 13 years, it was really interesting for me to hear his first thoughts of the city and the differences between them. He confirmed my adorations, frustrations and added new perspectives to what has now become my home even if my heart is running around somewhere on Tenth Street in the East Village. He pinpointed one big difference: customer service.

Without a doubt there’s a kindred connection between New York and Paris. Nearly every week, there is some young creative begging me to help them to go there to work. New York is always the dream place to start a graphic design, painting, photography career. Likewise, when I return to NY, many New Yorkers have a romantic image of living in Paris.

Yet the differences are many. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Paris is the complete antithesis of New York and vice versa. For this very reason, the two cities complement each other very well. Paris has beautiful buildings, New York hasn’t so many. New York is all about work, Paris is about working out your holidays at work! Even partying. Parisians do not party like New Yorkers. In NY, the night is for everyone, in Paris it’s private. And as a Parisian friend pointed out to me recently, in New York you go out to be seen—a city for socialites who love to be seen by everyone. In Paris, you go out to be cool. No networking, no gate-crashing (without your posse? are you mad?), just position yourself in a corner taking it all in but acting as if you aren’t bothered.

And it was this very ‘not bothered’ attitude that my New Yorker found so intriguing. Especially in regard to Parisian women. In general he found they look more feminine, more ‘French,’ the way they held a cigarette, a glass of wine, or tied their scarf (it’s all about the scarf). And with all that he also observed they’d probably be a lot more ‘work’ than New Yorkers who seem more friendly.

It was also this very ‘not bothered’ attitude that confirmed the differences between the two places. In the stores he experienced it, restaurants, train stations, almost everywhere. Customer service doesn’t exist here. And once you accept that fact, those times that you do get good customer service will leave you stunned! That one glorious day when you hear ‘A votre service, Madame’ you will cherish it for a long time. Now don’t get me wrong my friend stopped people along the way to ask directions, help with a shopping list in English etc and everyone came to his aid. And those that could speak English were only delighted to help out, and literally brought him to the aisle to find his ingredients.

When I go to New York, I’m blown away by just how nice New Yorkers are. From the minute I get into JFK until the movie starts. Some old Irish American in Immigration joking about something and from there to the stores, to the restaurants, the customer service is always at a high level. Everyone wants to help you. Customer service is the best in the world in New York because it’s a city all about people. It seems only natural to smile and say ‘can I help you?’ because New York is for everyone and there to help. On the other hand, Paris is Paris and perhaps that’s why we all love it. They’ll never bend over backwards, they’ll never bend anything for anyone. And that’s how it is. And perhaps for this reason, we New Yorkers and the world love it and are intrigued by it.

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