Service In China. Good Luck With That.

I love it when my wild assertions are proven right.

I am always writing about how terrible the service is at China’s hotels and restaurants and I have often posited that service in China is the worst in the world.

In “This Is China. I Laughed, I Cried,” I wrote about a blogger’s “Kafkaesque situation that  so often occurs at hotels (or other businesses) in China” and concluded by noting that “China does not have a monopoly on bad service, but the [horrible] treatment TFF received is so way more likely to happen in China than anywhere else.”

In “Win-Win Negotiating In China. It Is More Than Just A Panda,” I again lit into China for its service and compared it very unfavorably to Vietnam:

Every time I go to China, I come back planning to write an excoriating post on the place. I mean, let’s face it, it is one of the (if not the) most exasperating places on earth. I found it even more exasperating this last time because before hitting China, I spent two and a half weeks in Vietnam (mostly Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi) and once again was shocked at how a country like Vietnam (which is considerably poorer than the places I tend to go in China) can, at least on some levels, appear to have its act so much more together than China.

Let’s take service for example. I am never ceased to be amazed at the downright horrible service in China, and that includes at so-called five star hotels.

I am feeling vindicated today after reading a New York Times article, entitled, “Where to Get the World’s Best Service,” which puts China next to the last in service, behind only Russia. And I agree with the rankings, based on the following countries I know well:

Japan.  Japan came in first place and anyone who has been to Japan knows why. The taxis there are impeccably clean and their drivers are always polite and know where they are going. No matter how cheap the restaurant, service is quick and professional. The hotel staff are so good and so pleasant, it’s almost scary.

Canada and the United States. Canada came in third and the United States came in seventh. Not sure why the difference as to me they are pretty much the same but I agree generally with their rankings. Both countries usually provide excellent service. Excellent, but not amazing.

Turkey.  Turkey came in twelvth and that seems about right to me. I lived in Turkey for a year and I’ve been back a few times for extended stays. The service there is generally very friendly and sincere, but probably not top tier.  

Vietnam. Vietnam came in fifteenth and that seems about right to me. The hotels and restaurants and even cab drivers there just “seem to get it” more than in China. They actually try hard.

China.  Twenty-third and next to the last. Russia got the honor.

Russia.  Service in Russia isn’t so much bad as non-existent. They don’t even try and on some level, you have to respect that. I once was fumbling with my money at a really nice store in Vladivostok when the storekeeper derisively yelled across the store to everyone else there to “look at this stupid American who can’t count to ten.” My Russian was at its zenith at the time and so I was able to understand what she was saying and deliberately counted out my payment ruble by ruble in Russian and then swore at her and left.  Russian service is consistently rude, bordering on mean, but without any pretense. You do not get the unbelievable type stuff that you get in China, but I guess that it is consistently worse.

So does China really deserve such a poor rating? I say that it does.

UPDATE:  This post has received a number of fairly strong comments, to which I say great, but would like to respond.

Some imply that good service equates to being a servant and imply that I am a snob for seeking it out. I will leave it to others to decide if I am a snob (I don’t think I am), but I will say that good service does not mean being a servant. I kill myself and I expect my collogues to kill themselves as well in providing good service to our law firm’s clients. Is it because we are servants. Hell no. There are countless times where we just flat out tell our clients they are wrong and there are other times where we tell them that if they want a lawyer to do what they want us to do, they need to hire another law firm. I view that as good service in that we are doing exactly what we think is right for our clients, but that is not being servants.

“Service” goes beyond hotels and restaurants. If you have a plumbing problem in your house (and come on people, be honest here) that needs an immediate repair, in what countries do you think you will get it fixed quickly and correctly and in what countries do you think it will be difficult to get someone to fix it correctly at all? That too is service.

And to all those who make it seem that the Chinese service problem lies with me, I say bunk. You could claim that if the article were not based on interviews with hundreds of world travellers. In fact, I am going to flip it around and say that your love of China or your lack of travelling elsewhere may be blinding you to reality. 

I also have to say that I really notice the lack of Chinese service when I take my wife and kid(s) with me to China. Just by way of one recurring example is how often the people at the hotel have absolutely no clue on how they should go to major tourist sites and they make no real effort to find out. That is a phenomenon pretty much peculiar to China.

One commenter asked for examples so I am going to reprise some that I set out in a previous post, all from just one China trip:

Let’s take service for example. I am never ceased to be amazed at the downright horrible service in China, and that includes at so-called five star hotels. Some examples from this last trip:

  • At breakfast one morning, I was waiting as an employee was loading massive amounts of French toast. I wondered to myself whether he had seen me and knew I was waiting and gave him the benefit of the doubt. He then looked right at me and continued loading, while I waited. This at a five start hotel in Shanghai.
  • Towards the end of my stay in Shanghai, I got sick and needed to keep extending my stay. Twice, I called down in the morning and received confirmation that my stay would be extended at the same rate and twice at around 4:30 in the afternoon I would receive a phone call pretty much giving me three minutes to get the hell out of the hotel or the police will be called. I should further note that for at least five years I have been the highest level frequent stay member at this particular Western hotel chain.
  • At a Beijing five star hotel, two days in a row for breakfast I was seated where someone else had already been seated. One of those days, I was re-seated, got my food, then got up for maybe 30 seconds to get my drink and my food was gone. I probably could have gotten my food faster by going to the grocery store.  

Then there are the cab drivers who have never made any effort whatsoever to learn anything about their city and who get mad at you when you are unable to give them street by street directions to where it is you are seeking to go (another, as far as I know, peculiarly China phenomenon)

And here are a few more that pop into my head with no effort:

  • Restaurants in China, way more than restaurants in any other country I have ever been (with the exception of Russia) simply do not have what is on the menu. Come on people, can you honestly tell me that you have not ordered something at a Chinese restaurant, been told it doesn’t have it, ordered something else as a replacement and then been told it doesn’t have that either, then ordered yet another replacement item and been told it does not have that item either and then, in complete frustration, ask what exactly it does have? Has that ever happened to you anywhere other than in China?
  • How many times have you ordered something in a restaurant or bar and then had it substituted without your permission in China as compared to elsewhere in the world? China wins hands down on this, doesn’t it?
  • How many hospitals in China do not make you wait five+ hours and are clean?
  • The planes in China run later than in any other country (except Russia) of which I am aware and the information given out regarding flight times is typically either non-existent or just flat out untrue. 
  • Back to the plumber example above. in what country do you trust your plumber, your landlord, your accountant, your hospital, your baby formula, your milk, your eggs, or your fake Ikea or fake Apple store less? That’s service too, isn’t it?

Keep the comments coming….

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