01 June 2010 ~ 15 Comments

House rules

This conversation took place, in Japanese, a little while ago between myself and a staff person at a Internet cafe in Yokohama:

I arrive at the front desk. The staff person is helping a departing customer. I arrive a second before another departing customer queued behind the one being helped.

Staff (to me): One moment, please.

She finishes with the customer she was helping. He departs. The guy waiting gives me the nod to go first. I, having lived here much too long, nodded back ‘no you go.’ No you go.’ ‘No you go.’ We went back and forth a couple of rounds and then he went.

While he was being helped another departing customer queued behind him. When the staff finished with him, I slid over.

Staff: One moment please. Let me help the paying customer first.

I figured it was the house rules, so I stepped back allowing him to step up. Just then another departing customer arrives and queues behind the man who the staff was helping. I began to question this rule in my head.

When she finished with him, he bowed apologetically to me and departed. I stepped over to the desk.

Staff: One moment please…let me help this paying customer, first, and I’ll be right with you.

I looked at the customer. He looked at me, sensing I was not digging this house rule at all, hesitant to step up.

Staff (to other customer): Please…

He shrugged a little and stepped up.

Just then…yep, you guessed it…another customer turns the corner and heads for the front desk. Patience worn thin, I start plotting.

She finishes with the customer, and as he steps around me he gives me a nervous smile, then leaves. I turn, step in front of the staff person, place my member card on the desk.

Staff (hardly looking at me, focusing on the customer behind me): Next departing customer please.

Me: How long am I supposed to stand here? (I said in English before I could catch myself)

Staff: (In English) Very sorry, you wait, please, wait, there.

Me: (recovered, and in Japanese) But, I’ve stood here through 3 or 4 customers now. Aren’t you concerned I might leave?

Staff: (Still in English…and with a little attitude) Sorry, wait, there.

Me: Speak Japanese, please. Your English isn’t very polite!

Staff: (In Japanese) I’m so sorry but that is the rule. Departing customers are taken care of before arriving customers.

Me: You realize it’s a stupid policy, don’t you?

The man behind me decides to chime in.

Man: It’s no problem…he was waiting. Please help him.

Staff: I’m sorry, but…

I step aside.

The man who was waiting turns around and walks back into the cafe, towards the bathrooms. Wow, that was cool of him, I thought. The staff and I watched him walk away. Then, I turned to her. She looks at me like the automaton she is.

Staff: Welcome to Yokohama Internet cafe. Would you like to use a computer or…

I walked out the door and went to the Internet cafe up the street.


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15 Responses to “House rules”

  1. WC 1 June 2010 at 7:52 pm Permalink

    I’m quite surprised. I’ve never met anywhere that an upset customer didn’t come before happy ones, no matter the rules. Especially if they have been waiting the longest.

    I can kind of see where this rule came from… Customers who are leaving are probably in a hurry to get where they are going, and keeping them waiting would be bad for repeat business. Who knows, there might even be some law against keeping customers ‘hostage’ while they wait to pay. (I’ve seen stupider laws.)

    Also, it makes sure they never get crowded, since they can’t fill the seats that are emptying if too many people are leaving.

    I love stupid logic. Anything that ends like ‘Let’s make sure out customers don’t want to be our customers’ is hilarious to me.

    • Locohama 2 June 2010 at 9:58 pm Permalink

      Hey WC, my sentiments exactly. Stupid Logic seems to be the house rule.
      I agree the rule probably came from a good place but without flexibility stupidity rules.
      Thanks for the shout!

  2. Alexander 2 June 2010 at 6:53 am Permalink

    That is a rather odd rule. I always got the impression (both from reading this blog and my own brief stay) Japan was all about customer service. I agree with WC though about were it probably came from but even if they were crazy busy the smart option would be one out, one in. I like your style though Loco I would have taken it like a bitch and sat at the computer quietly cursing myself till I left.

    On a unrelated note three posts in one day! Your becoming a very prolific writer these days I'm impressed. I dont know where you find the time.

  3. zen 2 June 2010 at 8:54 am Permalink


    • Locohama 2 June 2010 at 9:54 pm Permalink

      Thanks Zen-san, as always.

  4. jacksmack 2 June 2010 at 1:40 pm Permalink

    Japan is not all about customer service. It is all about rules.

  5. Locohama 2 June 2010 at 7:01 pm Permalink

    `@Alexander, thanks for the shout. Prolific eh? Well i try to be…this was a slow day at the job and the Horse race was mostly pics (which is not to say it wasn’t time consuming). The other post was the most work, but i had taken notes. and this post almost wrote itself as soon as I arrived at the OTHER internet cafe, still fuming a bit over the house rules at my favorite cafe (where I’ve been a member going on 5 years now) She was new though so I guess i could have cut her some extra slack. I’d never seen her before. Thanks for the vote of approval…please keep reading and commenting and tell all your friends to give Loco a shot ne
    @Jacksmack You are so right!

  6. k 3 June 2010 at 8:51 pm Permalink

    Never had that problem in my "local" internet cafe while studying in Japan. One of the rudest people I've ever met at was a salesperson at Daimaru. His impolite manner in English compelled me to be equally rude in Japanese. If I hadn't been so appalled, I would have asked to speak to the manager. Then again, maybe this guy was strategically placed in order to discourage gaijin from shopping at Daimaru. I'll stick to Takashimaya, thanks

  7. Blue Shoe 4 June 2010 at 12:36 am Permalink

    Whoa…I'd probably chalk that up to bad management. Sounds like the staff there haven't been empowered to make simple decisions, like in what order to help customers. Conbinis suffer from the same disease, often – employees have to follow rigid rule sets, and if the boss catches them deviating from the script they are disciplined.

  8. Locohama 4 June 2010 at 12:56 am Permalink

    Hey Blue Shoe, yep it was bad something, that's for sure. I knew it wasn't her fault…not entirely…but she was the face of the company for that moment. Thanks for the shout! (-;


  9. Rio 9 June 2010 at 8:46 am Permalink

    That just sounds like Japan. I lived there 20 odd yeas ago and it was like that. Total stickler to the rules. After reading your post twice I still can't understand the reason for this house rule.

    Hats off for your patience, though. I would've walked out after the first "paying okyaku sama".

    • Locohama 9 June 2010 at 5:43 pm Permalink

      Hey Rio, thanks for the shout! Yep, it's the same place you left, maybe even more so (-;

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