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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Filotimo (Φιλότιμο)

Three months ago, I placed an order for a children's book with a UK Marketplace seller at Amazon. There's always a niggly feeling in the back of your mind that something may not turn up on time, or at all, or someone may be trying to rip you off. But Amazon is a big name and you tend to trust big names. After checking the mailbox impatiently for two weeks to see if the order arrived, I wrote to the company explaining that I had still not received my order.

The company replied promptly to my request:
"We have recently discovered an issue with our order systems which has meant we have not shipped your order as planned. Please accept our sincere apologies for this error, we realise this may have inconvenienced you and we are sincerely sorry for this. We have searched extensively with our suppliers and are now shipping the item you ordered – it should reach you shortly.
Once again, we would like to apologise for not having shipped your order as planned. Shipping orders quickly is something we generally take great pride in. We regret we were unable to do that on this occasion and would like to thank you for your patience whilst we rectify the situation."
At least they are honest, I thought. A little stupid - how can you be selling over the web in the modern day and age and 'forget' to send an order? - but quite honest. So my son and I checked the mailbox every day for another ten days, and almost a month after we put in the order, we got the book and we were both very happy (my son enjoyed the book very much, and I enjoyed watching my 10-year-old Greek son read a 192-page book in the English language from cover to cover).

Amazon sometimes(?) sends you an email to rate third-party sellers as a guide for potential customers. I gave the company 3/5 - the service wasn't very good, but the job did get done in the end; it was a middle-of-the-road kind of rating. I thought nothing of it until Christmas Eve, when I got another message from the company:
"Periodically we check our feedback to make sure our customers are satisfied and address any issues customers they may have had. We noticed on your feedback that you were unhappy with your purchase due to the delayed delivery time. We would like to apologise for this - we can assure you we send all items within 24hours of the order being placed but sometimes items are delayed at mail sorting centres.
 
Nevertheless, we always take final responsibility for our orders and as such would like to arrange compensation for your inconvenience. We would like to offer you a £3.98 refund on the total price of the item (about 33%).

Do you think this is fair?

We look forward to hearing from you."
£3.98 refund?! The book cost less than twice that price, not including P&P! Was it fair, they were asking me? I thought the whole scenario sounded highly unprofitable: I did get what I wanted and I was happy with it, so why was I being rewarded? for my patience? Anything could have gone wrong, including a glitch at the post offices of the respective countries that were dealing with the delivery. When I sent my Christmas presents to my friends abroad, the thought did cross my mind that they might not receive them on time, but I could hardly blame myself or even the post offices, which would have been overworked (or striking) at that time. So I simply sent them early and they all got there.  

I wrote back, thanking the company for their nice gesture. Sure enough, right after the statutory Christmas holidays, the refund was arranged, and the money was deposited into my account. Again, I thought nothing of it, explaining the incident to my bewildered husband as part of the PC culture of Western civilisation; I began to wonder if the phrase 'all's well that ends well' actually originated in the English language (and it seems that it did).

That wasn't the end of the tale - as anyone who knows how the compensation culture works would have told me. Here is the last email I received from the company:
"Thanks for accepting our offer. The refund has been confirmed, you should receive a confirmation from Amazon shortly. Following our actions, we hope we have shown you how seriously we take customer service and how important your opinion is to us. With this in mind, we would be grateful if you would consider altering the feedback you left about us. This is of course your decision but should you be kind enough to do so, we have left instructions below.
 
If you could follow the steps outlined below to remove your feedback (changing it is not possible) we would be much obliged."
It seems that you don't need to earn your image these days: if you can afford it, you simply buy it. There is no φιλότιμο in that world. Some people believe that φιλότιμο is a difficult word to translate into English, although I disagree - it has to do with integrity. Whoever coined the phrase 'the Greek economic crisis' probably had no φιλότιμο, ensuring that the damage was irreversible, even after the Greek crisis was shown to be a global one. In Greece's case, there is no compensation.

My only regret now with the refund offer is that I didn't ask for all my money back. But that would not be showing φιλότιμο, which I did show my deleting my comment. As a Greek, I had to show φιλότιμο. The company hasn't yet returned their φιλότιμο by thanking me for my kind gesture. I have shown patience before, so perhaps I should wait a little longer. Or maybe it's just a Greek trait after all.

UPDATE: The company did actually send me a thank-you note the day I published this post, right after the statutory holidays. Patience...

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