Customer care

I was leaving the FAO building in Rome a few days ago when a display of half-price books caught my eye in the international bookshop there, run, I believe, by the Lion Bookshop. The last thing I need is more books, so naturally – in the way these vices perpetuate themselves – I stopped to see what was on offer and found some nice new Penguin editions of a handful of Maigret novels marked down from €10 to €5. I’m a sucker for Simenon (I can’t believe I just typed that), so I picked out four and walked into the shop to pay. There were two women behind the counter, neither of whom showed much inclination to attend to me, so I waited in my usual polite way until one of them took the books off me in a crabby, ill-humoured way, as though I’d interrupted her in some more rewarding task. I told her, in English – it was, after all, an international bookshop – that they came from the half-price box outside. Ignoring me, she asked her colleague – in Italian – who had put the books there. Pat, said the other woman. She had no right, snapped Crabby. I can get full price for these books. Well, I don’t know, said the other one, you’d better ask Pat when she gets in. She can’t just take books off the shelves and put them in the box when she feels like it, continued Crabby. The other woman shrugged. Well, you’ll have to tell her yourself, she said, while I stood there, wallet in hand, waiting for the discussion to finish. Eventually, I asked Crabby, also in Italian, if she intended to sell me the books or not. My intention, if not my tone, was ironic. She clutched the Maigrets to her chest. I suppose I can give you a 30% discount, she said, in a tone that suggested I’d been caught in the act of extracting a tenner from her purse. Normally, if anger is a cooking technique, I’m more of a pot roast than a stir fry, but this time my temper flared and I told the woman I wouldn’t have the books if she gave me them, and left. But I wish I’d made her sell them to me at the full discount, if only out of spite. What she’s done, of course, is make it unlikely that an incorrigible book-buyer (me) will use the shop again; she’s also responsible for this post. On the other hand, she did save €6.


Thinking about it afterwards, I realise I shouldn’t have been surprised. The main branch of the Lion Bookshop is notorious for its ill-mannered staff and over-priced stock, despite its claim to be an important reference point for the English speaking community. Perhaps someone should tell them about the Almost Corner Bookshop.
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4 Responses to Customer care

  1. Anne says:

    No, she only thinks she saved 6 euros. She merely saved the books. She may never sell them.

  2. JL Merrow says:

    Hi! I found your blog via the wonders of Google search – I'm writing a novella with a gay protagonist and was trying to discover whether the Maiget novels are indeed homophobic, as my well-read beta reader suggests. (It's been about 20 years since I read any myself, and as I was struggling to read them in French, which isn't even my 3rd language, it's not surprising this sort of thing passed me by!)It struck me, as well as Google, that you might be ideally placed to help, if you can spare a moment for a fellow writer! 😀

  3. I haven't read much Maigret recently, but I wouldn't have thought the books were more than ordinarily homophobic, in line with the assumptions of their era, rather like the 'racism' of Tintin. Still, I'll have to go and take another look. It's interesting though how some writers from the mid-20th century – like Nigel Balchin, for example, manage to write about gay characters without getting into a moralistic flap about it. Simenon's such a fine writer I hope he wasn't too silly about the issue…

  4. JL Merrow says:

    Mmm, I've tried looking around the internet, but not found any conclusive evidence for or against.I've decided to play safe and let my character have only one Maigret novel on his shelf… ;DThanks for your answer!

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