The Playmate (husband) had been enlisted to be chauffeur and co-shopper on a trawl of surf shops for a suitably large and sturdy piece of luggage to accommodate the affordable blocks of cheddar cheese and other treasures placed here beyond our reach which we planned to acquire on a visit to Australia.
He is not a good shopper, I remind myself, as great wafts of his characteristic and good-natured playfulness oozed from his being at each progressively unsatisfactory stop.
“No have,” was quickly identified as the catchphrase of the day of the collective sales staff of southern Bali’s surf shops. And we got that only after scouring the depths of a store unassisted and breaking up the staff’s session of infantile flirting which they embraced with deliberate disregard for the potential business around them.
It was worse than apathy or a neglect to engage the brain. It was a blatant and widespread attitude of: I am here so I can get paid, so I’ll use the time to play with my friends and bugger the customer. At the initial stops along the bypass between Jimbaran and Kuta, we were not once spoken to or offered a product to consider.
And while The Playmate is convinced he is becoming increasingly invisible with age, I made sure at the surf shops that we were seen and noted; but it didn’t matter a jot.
We pondered why and settled on the theory that staff believe they can afford to alienate customers because, no matter how little service they give or how little interest they show, there’ll always be another tourist on a mission to Shop Till You Drop in Bali who will gather the goods himself and insist on paying.
Harrumph. Enough with the stand-alone surf shops and on to the malls, I informed The Playmate, who clearly wished dearly to pull up stumps. This looks hopeful, I said, pointing out the two male staff in front of a shop who seemed to be energetically touting for business. We pushed through them, expecting to be followed. Nothing.
After a quick and fruitless scan of the shelves and windows, I approached the staff in the doorway. I couldn’t get too close as they’d pumped up their pace of activity and their arms and legs were jerking about, all over the shop, as it were.
I locked eyes with one, who managed a smile so quick it did not interrupt the robotic rhythm of his wayward limbs. It was then I saw he was brandishing a long rod, some kind shop fitting, which he was using as a “microphone” and into which he was screeching out the lyrics of the mall music. His colleague was playing air guitar with equal enthusiasm. And bugger the customer. Nice song, one called to us.
Bugger you, I thought, hauling the wilted Playmate towards a department store in one last-ditch effort to get the suitcase of our choice. We knew exactly what we wanted. Its cousin had visited us often in the company of a frequent traveller to Bali. So big, strong and accommodating was the cousin that we’d named it Tibibi (TBB – The Big Bastard). And we wanted our own. We needed it, for the precious cheese.
Here was a display of luggage, some bits quite big. Not quite Tibibi’s design, but some good brands and worth an inspection. Twenty-percent discount, Madam, whined the unsighted and obviously pint-sized attendant from behind a suitcase. Yes, I can read, I snapped. This one 40-percent discount, Madam, whined a second young woman who had crept up behind. Yes, thank you. I can read. I just want to look, okay?
After the two had exchanged pained looks, one manoeuvred into a blocking position with a case whose redeeming feature was its lightness; the other closed off our retreat by wheeling out a number featuring “four wheels, Madam!” We were trapped, so we had a cursory look and established the prices. Lightness was somewhat less expensive than Four Wheels.
This one very light, Madam, came the whine from the frontline of attack. Then from our rear came a stammered and anguished: No, no … but this one have four wheels. And Four Wheels was thrust between us and Lightness as the thruster inflicted a barrage of invective in a foreign language at the promoter of Lightness. It was not hard to work out that Whiner 2 was attacking Whiner 1 for failing to join forces against us to promote the item with the highest price tag and therefore the highest commission. And bugger the needs of the customer.
The Playmate had long ceased to register any part of this scene he was in, but I was, frankly, more than a tad miffed. How blatant. How rude. You don’t have what we want, I announced firmly.
Where you stay in Bali, Madam? Here it comes: the too-forced attempt to recover lost ground. Kami tinggal di Bali (We live in Bali), I snapped back.
In immediate reply, the whiners emitted an alarmed and high-pitched “Oooh” in perfect unison. I like to think they had the grace to go red, knowing they’d been caught out, and perhaps were inspired to reconsider their attitude to customers. But that’s just wishful thinking. The reality is there’ll always be another tourist doing retail therapy in Bali.