Thursday, April 01, 2004

Story time. So earlier this week we tried to fix one of the fridges at Tulip. Long long time ago, before I was the Man In Charge, one of our big fridges broke. I forget if it was originally the meat fridge, the veggie fridge, or the dairy fridge -- all those things are supposed to separate according to the Czech hygiene code, oh yes and don't forget about the egg fridge -- but anyway the fridge broke, and some guys came and looked at it and said it would cost Kc 10,000 to fix. (That's about $400.) Motor's broken, they said. And we said Jesus, for that price we could buy three or four used fridges from a bazaar. So the fridge just sat there, broken, for a long long time.

So I come along and I'm all like, hey, let's fix this fridge already, and let's get some more quotes, because this Kc 10,000 that somebody said to somebody a long time ago just doesn't sound right. So I went to the Yellow Pages and I called two places in Prague 1 that fix fridges and asked them to come take a look at it. As you do.

The first guy's name was Jara. He came in the morning and said the motor's not broken and it would cost about Kc 4,000 to fix. We said thanks, we'll think about it. The next guy -- I forget his name -- came around noon and said it would cost about Kc 2,000 to fix, and he could do it immediately. I wasn't there, but the manager on duty called me and asked if we should do it, and I said Hell-yeah!

Apparently the problem, both repairmen said, was that somebody (probably our former chef) had tried defrosting it with a big knife and had poked a hole right through the cooling element, so the cooling element was totally kaput. So the guy patched up the cooling element. I arrived at the cafe and took a look at his work -- fridge seemed to be working -- and exchanged some rudimentary words with him. I mentioned that somebody told us it would cost Kc 10,000 and he laughed. "I hope they didn't tell you the motor was broken!" he said. I said indeed, they did. He laughed again and shook his head. You know, as if to say, "Those thieving bastards!"

You can probably see where this is going. I left, and about ten minutes later the manager on duty called me again and told me the fridge isn't really fixed, the guy now says the motor really is broken and it's going to cost another Kc 6-7,000 to repair or replace it. I said, "Tell him to take a hike." The manager said OK, and then called back and told me the guy wants money for reparing the cooling element. I said, "Tell him to take a hike." The manager said OK, and then called back and told me the guy wants money for repairing the cooling element and isn't taking a hike until he gets it. Apparently he admitted that he made a bad diagnosis, was willing to reduce his overall price because of that, and offered to fix the whole thing for, I think, Kc 7,800 total. He also claimed it would have been impossible to know that the motor was broken before fixing the cooling element, which I simply don't believe, based on the fact that we already received one diagnosis (the original one) saying the motor was broken.

I called the other manager and asked her to call Jara (the guy who'd come in the morning) and tell him the situation and try to get a sense of whether Kc 7,800 is a good price. She did, and Jara said he could offer us a better price, but to complicate things, he warned us that if they guy just patched up the cooling element instead of replacing it, that solution just wasn't going to last.

To make a long story short, we paid the guy Kc 1,600 -- which I thought was more than fair -- and told him thanks, but we'll not be calling you again. Actually, that's not what we said, because before we could, he told us he probably wouldn't be coming back even if we did call him. And, by the way, he doesn't like working with foreigners. He has the same experience with Chinese people in the Czech Republic, and that's why he never does work for Chinese people either, and if we're not careful one day the fridge will break and we won't be able to find anybody willing to fix it.

If I can step back for a second and offer some sociological commentary on this... I think the problem has something to do with "activity" versus "productivity." People here often seem to confuse the two. Activity is spending two hours patching up the cooling element. Productivity is fixing the fridge. I could go to your apartment and do 600 push-ups, and that would be a lot of activity, albeit not very productive. Should I then hand you an invoice? "I spent two hours working on your fridge, now pay me for it!" OK, but I asked you to fix the fridge; is it making stuff cold, as fridges should? "Look at our wondering seamless steel pipe factory in Chomutov! We make 10,000 seamless steel pipes a year! Look at how big, how beautiful, how seamless they are!" OK, but does anybody actually buy them? No, no and no!

Oh, right. The broken fridge. Jara hasn't come back yet. Story's not over.


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