Kerala Encounters – Part 1 Store employees

Kerala, known as God’s Own Country for its beautiful natural beauty,  has some quirky characteristics exhibited by its people.  They are commonly known as ‘Mallus’ which is another short form for ‘Malayalis’ as the Keralites call themselves.   This is a series of posts of encounters with the local people on a normal day.

In this first part,  I would like to highlight the way the shopkeepers in Kerala treat their customers/clients.   Frankly, the Mallus in retail business, are a bit on the backward foot compared to their counterparts in other places like Mumbai,  Gujarat,  Rajasthan, etc.  The Mallus believe the ‘Customer is last,  labourer is first’.  Kerala is highly influenced by  communism which has resulted in higher wages and stricter labour laws compared to other states.   This happened in a departmental store in Kottayam.

My cousin had bought an expensive dress for her  teen-aged daughter from a big departmental store in Kottayam.  The store has 5 storeys, selling only clothes for weddings and daily wear.   As luck would have it,  the daughter didn’t like the dress purchased by us older generation folks.  So, we went back to the store the next day to get the dress exchanged.   At the entrance to the store itself,  the guard was not amused that we came back to exchange the dress and asked us the reason for the same.  Though it’s really none of his business,  my cousin explained.  The guard, then put the dress in another distinguishing bag and asked us to return it to the Floor Manager.   As soon as we entered the building, we were greeted by one of the beautiful ladies who welcome us with a ‘Namaste’ to the store and direct the customers to the relevant floors.   We again repeated our story and had to explain to the lady the reason for the exchange,  even wondering if she is really listening.  The moment she realized we will not be purchasing and adding to the income, her interest waned.  She handed us over to the nearby Floor Manager.

We again told the FM our story.  He probed a bit to know the real reason, telling us –  but you can get a different color,  wash the dress by hand twice and all will be okay.  When he felt, we still want to exchange, then directed us to the same area with a slip in which he mentioned in bold ‘EXCHANGE’.   We then went to the section and got the dress exchanged.

But to my cousin’s horror,  the teen-aged daughter rejected this one too.  At this, my cousin was mortified of going back to the store.  She then decided to call up the store to check if they will have it exchanged a second time.  To come up with an excuse other than the daughter didn’t like it,  she said, the sleeves of the dress are too short and the daughter cannot wear it to school.  She had to literally plead with them to get the dress exchanged.

Day 2 – we went back again to the same store.  Since, my cousin was very scared about the whole process,  she asked me to do the needful explanations.  We passed the guard, the welcome lady and then finally to the Floor Manager.  Dialogues and expressions remained same with the guard and the lady.

I explained to the FM about the sleeves of the dress and the need to exchange the dress as she has to wear it for a school function in a few days.  Initially,  he said ‘No’ to the entire business saying you can exchange only once.  I pointed out that we did speak on the telephone and were asked to come over, otherwise, we wouldn’t have made this 90 minute journey.  That convinced him and then he started his normal cross-questioning.  I told him the sleeves are too short and the daughter cannot wear it to school function.  What he told me next left me flummoxed.  He asked, “Why don’t you get some black cloth material and attach it to the sleeves to make them long?’.   My cousin may have agreed as she was ready to do anything to get out of the situation,  but I just gave an indifferent stare.  And he finally, reluctantly agreed to the exchange and directed us to the section to get it done.

I felt the whole thing was rather odd,  but it is considered normal by people living in Kerala.  My argument is

1) My cousin as a customer was petrified to approach the store people.  Aren’t they supposed to be welcoming the customer?  With multiple stores at the same destination selling the same  wares,  aren’t they worried about losing customers?

2) We have already paid for the dress,  all we want is an exchange.  The dress is not used, not damaged, still tagged.  Then why should the store bother about explanations, especially since it is not even noted down for future use.  In stores in Mumbai,  they do ask us the reason.  But, they ask the same with so much concern and will try to maintain the goodwill.

3) Aren’t the people working at the store trained to handle the customers?  A lack of interest among the employees is very much evident.  They are intimidating the customers.

I have more stories of similar encounters with shopkeepers.

Let me know if you have had similar experiences.