Customer Service

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Joe at Cape Lopez - just outside of Port Gentil

Customer service in Gabon is really one of a kind.  Sometimes it's just outright laughable.

Let me explain...


I notice my fuel light comes on in my car so I head to one of the small gas stations not far from where we live.  I see other cars pulling out so I pull into the proper lane, shut the car off and lean down to open the fuel door.  When I sit up, there's a young man standing in my driver's side window staring directly at me with neither a smile or a frown and waving his finger back and forth.

There was no "I'm sorry but we're out of fuel" or even a "We're closed."  Just a finger wave and a cold stare to reprimand me for even driving in.


Joe and I decide to go out for dinner and we choose a 'nice' restaurant we've eaten at dozens of times.  We enter and sit down at a table for 2 and await the server to bring menus and to take our drink order.  After several minutes, I glance around and catch the attention of one of the women working and motion that we'd like to order.  With a scowl, she shuffles over and stands beside the table.

There is no "Good evening" or any exchange of pleasantries.  In fact, there is no "Would you like something to drink?"  She stares at  us, paper and pen in hand, scribbles down our order and leaves.  Not a word was exchanged.

Later on, she returns to take our food order.  I commence in French, choosing something off the menu but pause to make sure she's got it.  When I look up, she's shaking her head at me.  I ask, "Non?" and she continues to shake her head at me.  I choose something else.


At the airport in Libreville, Joe and I have to pay for extra baggage weight at the airline counter.  There are 2 women sitting behind the glass partition on computers and no one else in line.  We approach the counter and wait to be acknowledged.  Minutes pass, nothing happens.  I slide the receipt through the deposit area and continue to wait.  Without addressing us, one agent asks the other agent to help us.  She refuses and they argue back and forth about who should do it.  I catch a glimpse of her computer and she's playing solitaire.  

After several minutes of this, the one in front of us finally breaks down and grabs the receipt to process it.  She tells us the amount we owe, we pay, she returns the receipt and she goes back to her game of solitaire.


Joe and I head to the hardware store on a Saturday morning to search for a couple of things needed around the house.  After perusing the store, we can't seem to find what we are looking for.  We find an employee sitting behind a counter and proceed to explain in French what we are looking for.  We aren't acknowledged.  "Excusez-moi?" we ask again to which the employee looks directly at us, turns, and walks away.


At first, this lack of customer service used to really bother us.  I mean, we come from Canada where people are generally pretty friendly (and occasionally over friendly.)  In fact, I used to hate going out for dinner because it just felt like we were paying to be treated badly and to eat mediocre food.  After 2 years in Gabon, it's fairly run of the mill and this is a fairly common occurrence.  You just couldn't live here if you let it get to you.  Now, we just laugh as it's so ridiculous - and probably one of the myriad of reasons that tourism has yet to take off in Gabon!


  1. Lol that's pretty bad! In South Africa customer service is hit or miss. You get your really really nice experiences - on our anniversary in Franschoek our waiter even offered to take photos of us with his cell phone and then emailed them to us because I forgot my camera - or really, really terrible.

    Sometimes I must admit that I secretly enjoy the fact that people don't greet me when I walk into a shop or constantly ask if I need help finding something. I'm a little anti-social in that since and I usually like to zip in and out of shops without being bombarded by sales people like it is in the US.


  2. Customer service in England is nearly non-existant.

    The other day I had to call the US to activate a new credit card and was really shocked at how friendly the woman from the card company was. And she wasn't even being overly friendly, just...pleasant.

    It's one of the things I miss most about home.

  3. I agree with both previous commenters. Sometimes I prefer to be ignored when I go into a shop and not have someone try to pull their sales pitch on me. When I was in Senegal people were very nice almost overly as well. At times I just wanted to be left alone. If I wasn't smiling for a second I was asked if something was wrong. Somewhere in the middle would be nice. If people could be pleasant, acknowledge your presence but not be pushy is ideal. This must exist somewhere.

  4. Daily Photo - I've only been in Aberdeen but people have been friendly here. We've yet to have any bad experiences!

    Melissa - I feel the same... I don't like being hassled but if I ask for assistance I expect that they won't just turn around and walk away! When you find somewhere that has the balance, let me know!

  5. Ah, but Aberdeen is Scotland - whole different country!

  6. Oh my gosh! Those stories are ridiculous! I hope people in norway are much nicer!

  7. Hopefully England will start treating you better Daily Photo :) I'm from Lincolnshire and I know from working in retail and as a waitress in both the US and the UK there are fairly large differences in customer service! But sometimes it annoys me here in the US when servers are just too overly friendly, and you know it's just because they want the tip!

    I'm a new follower to this blog and the blogging world in general- but definitely enjoying following along!

  8. Hi Katie,

    It's true - there's a huge difference between UK and US customer service - and you're right - it's all about getting a tip in the US. But having waitressed for 8 years to put myself through school, I have to say, we need those tips because unlike in the UK, waitresses aren't paid a living wage. Wish that would change, but I don't see it happening any time soon.


  9. Katie - Thanks for reading! I too hate when the server doesn't feel genuine. There has got to be a delicate balance somewhere!

  10. Jenna- totally understand. I paid for myself through undergrad on waitressing tips. It's a pretty nice way to make a living in the US if you find the right place. Will pop over and look at your blog sometime- I'd love to see what you think of living in England!


  11. I live in Switzerland the customer service here is totally non-existant!! I feel like I'm putting them out if I need help or have a legitimate complaint, it's so different than the states. I must ask, what are living in Gabon for? My sister in law spent a lot of time on mercy ships in africa, so the africa tag caught my eye. and i read back that you are moving to norway, that is awesome! where to? we took a trip to oslo, kristiansand, and stavanger last year and loved it!

  12. Wow, that is some seriously rough customer service! In the line of work I do, I partner with customers pretty closely, and if my customer service doesn't call them back quickly enough, or uses a snippy tone - it sets me off! That's unreal that people get away with that behavior.


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