Thursday, February 25, 2010

Internet Ordering and Customer Service

Oxymoron: A figure by which a locution (phrase or expression) produces an effect by a seeming self-contradiction.

Yes, the words Internet and Customer Service are indeed oxymorons!

I do all my “essential” ordering on-line. Unfortunately, the country of Honduras is not a place where one can find 1) the extra comforts of life, 2) products that are long-lasting and reliable and 3) everyday items one grows accustomed to when living in a more developed country. Therefore, obtaining things I need to make my life comfortable, productive, easier to deal with and/or more pleasant requires the access to the Internet.

I have mentioned before and continue to reconfirm, I would give up a lot of my conveniences but never my Internet. It is my lifeline to supplies, family, information, news, weather and whatever else strikes me as essential to my well being living in a remote location.

But, with the development of the Internet, business people have discovered a way to avoid public scrutiny with the onset of what they deem “Customer Service.” Once Customer Service at a store meant you dealt with a real, live, moderately educated person who was hired to handle any complaints associated with the product that the store sold. The representative was usually briefed on the products sold by the store and had the ability to listen and process information that was given them to assist the customer in arriving at an amicable solution. With the onset of ordering on-line on the Internet, that particular definition now no longer applies to “Customer Service.”

It has been my experience, and through extensive deduction, that:

1) Customer Service is sometimes manned by machines which pick out key words and respond to that word as a solution for the problem.

2) Personnel are no longer required to know a thing about the product they are trying to help the customer with.

3) A different representative receives your complaint each time it is addressed and does not read anything that has gone before regarding that problem. Therefore, when you call or write in to complain and/or get assistance, you have to repeat all the information you gave in the first interview/correspondence.

4) Many of the Customer Service people have little aptitude on a computer and sometimes are not skilled in the language they presume to be able to communicate in!

So, when I buy a product on the Internet I check around, read information regarding the product as to how it has performed, if people are pleased with it and/or the service offered by the company, the various price levels one can find for a similar product and the ease in ordering and/or returning the product if it is found ineffective, deficient or not what was expected.

Most of the foreigners here read a lot. We exchange books and, thankfully, people coming to the island are a source of new reading material when the same books keep being passed around. Honduras has no bookstores to speak of. I know that sounds ridiculous but it is true nonetheless. On the Cay one sees Christian books and newspapers, but no other books. The same holds true on the Mainland. I have seen one bookstore in San Pedro Sula, but is was a Christian bookstore. Even in the new Malls, one can only find a "Christian bookstore". One can't even buy a magazine! So, when the possibility of buying a product that one could download books on directly from the Internet via WiFi service in less than a minute, I decided to look into it.

If you read my last blog, you will see that my interest took me to “The Nook.”

Catchy name huh? What does it mean? I have no idea and what it has to do with reading is beyond me. But the “powers that be” decided it was a catchy name (guess like the Kindle) and would get people’s interest. Anyway, I’m off point here. As I pointed out in my last Blog, I began my “Customer Service” nightmare on February 15, 2010. I sent an e-mail to "Customer Service" and spelled out in detail all the pertinent and necessary information about my purchase, including the fact that I had researched this product as carefully as I could but that it was not functioning as the B&N representative promised. My e-mails were answered, one after another, by no less than 5 different people, none of whom offered me any concrete advice on what was wrong or any solutions to solve the dilemma. I, therefore, requested information to return the Nook for a full refund. This is normally referred to as RMA information (Return Merchandise A_____ - I have no idea what the A stands for).

In the past when I have had to return a defective product, and it does not happen often, I have received the RMA information via e-mail. When I explain to the representative (though more e-mails) that I cannot call their 800 number, they usually send me the information which I can print out on a label to attach to the package. Not so in this instance.

For some reason, Kareem, Daniel, Amber, Reginald and a couple other warm bodies I have had e-mails from, have decided that they would ignore my request to return said defective product. They side-step this request by constantly telling me to call an 800 number, or, worse yet, by telling me that there is no reason it [the Nook] should not work! Duhh, gee, I never thought of that and better yet, why, if it should work does it not? Then I was told that the nook (they have now decided to downgrade this fine product with a small “n”) is only sold in the United States (gee, I purchased it on-line in the States, does that count?) and that they only do returns on nook inside the states. To further substantiate their bold statement they then tell me in order for them to provide me with an RMA number, they must send it to a US address. No explanation for this added remark!

Of course they always end the conversation with something like “We apologize for the inconvenience” and sometimes add injury to insult by adding “we look forward to your next visit.” Look forward to my next visit huh? They are so happy that they have made my life miserable by not helping me with my dilemma that they look forward to the next time when they can mess with my head and continue to make life totally frustrating.

I took matters into my own hands. Today, 10 days after my initial inquiry for a solution, I checked the Internet, found the address and phone number for the corporate headquarters in New York and called asking to speak to Mary Ellen Keating, V.P. Corporate Communications and Public Affairs. Naturally, I could not talk to a busy woman with that title but I was happy to be connected with her Assistant, Sherri. I told her who I was, where I was calling from and my problem. I asked her please have someone contact me via e-mail and give me the RMA information so that I could return my Nook. She took down the information and said someone would be back in touch with me today. I am going to believe that she is trustworthy and will find someone to help me.

In the meantime, it is a lucky thing that I am retired and can spend this inordinate amount of time trying to obtain a solution to my problem. The sad part is that I really wanted this e-book and was hoping that all would run smoothly so that I could purchase books on-line, get them downloaded immediately and spend my evening curled up with my Nook! Hmmm, maybe that is the problem here! Outside of losing or misplacing my books, books are always there and need no special instructions to use them. Books offer me diversion from the everyday world, a place to escape and/or find out questions to problems or solutions to situations that I’ve been looking for. I have been a dedicated, enthusiastic reader all my life and feel bad for the people of third-world countries that don’t have access to books. Books to me are the most essential items in mans existence, outside of food and shelter. I hope never to see the day when they are completely removed and seen as unnecessary, replaced by computers and electronic devices. Computers and electronic devices break down but books stand the test of time.

Gee, maybe I’ve talked myself out of any future electronic book device!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ups and Downs of On-Line Ordering

Being in a third-world country presents a problem when one sews, crochets, knits or cooks! Even buying good cotton clothing is difficult at best here. There is little available in quality products to purchase. Therefore, I constantly turn to on-line ordering through, Chefs, JoAnn Fabrics, Nancy's Notions, Bealls, etc. The pluses sometimes outweigh the minuses, but not all the time.

Take for instance the Nook I just ordered from Barnes and Noble. I was at a Barnes and Noble store in the U.S. last November and quizzed the representative about his product. I informed him that I have a U.S. Satellite service and can download and order anything that one can living in the States. I explained the situation to him stressing that I live on an island and that an Electronic Book would be a real plus for me. No longer would I have to wait weeks/months for a book. However, I stressed to him that I wanted to make sure this item would work with my WiFi set up on my Internet Service. He assured me that it would and saw no reason for it to not function properly. Over and over I quizzed him as I did not want to spend a lot of money on something that would, ultimately, fail to work.

So, I ordered it! It was not shipped until the first part of January and I only just received it last week when a friend from Florida showed up with it in hand, err in his suitcase. Now the big test. To register it on-line. I turned on my computer, went into the Barnes and Noble Website where I have an account with all the relative pertinent information and attempted to register. Lo and behold, it would not connect! It kept saying "unable to connect" when clearly I was on-line looking at the site. I went into their ordering book mode to see what would happen and it said it could not detect a connection!

I did the next logical thing - which is always difficult from a computer in a third world country when you e-mail for help and the people are in Bangladesh! They do not read your e-mail and take into account exactly what you are spelling out for them. Invariably I tell people my situation ..... I'm on an island, no roads, cannot call an 800 number, there is no service tech available, etc., etc. Well, they never get past the first words that their product is not working and immediately stop reading and tell me 1) call an 800 number 2) go visit their tech at the nearest store or 3) repeat information that I have already tried! It gets very frustrating having to go back and tell them they are not reading my e-mail and sending a pat answer.

Of course, I got just such a response from a B&N representative through an e-mail when I spelled out my problem. They immediately told me that currently they do not have service outside the U.S. Now, what happened when their representative in Florida told me it would work because I had a U.S. Satellite service? I wrote back and told them I would have to return the Nook for a full refund and please do not hit me with re-shelving fees as they misrepresented their product to me. Now I will sit back and await their answer.

Next, I ordered a waffle pan that can be used on a gas stove and a Panini Pan with Press (10" pan with cover). The shipping Invoice said I was to get a waffle pan, a Panini pan and press and a 10" Panini component and a 8" component. I received a waffle pan, a 10" Panini pan and a 8" press top - no 10" top! So, I'm currently writing to them to see what it up.

At least the waffle pan was what I wanted and I hope to try that out tomorrow.

I ordered yarn on-line to crochet with and should have known better. I can purchase some yarn here in Honduras but it is an inferior product and they don't have the variety of different weights that are necessary for specific projects. The problem of ordering on-line is that you cannot get a feel for the actual true color of the yarn. So, I ordered what I thought I would like and when it arrived I could have kicked myself for choosing it!

I would have never picked out the pink/purple color I received - it is not my color and if I had seen it in person, I would have turned away. The same for the blue I received. But, this is my fault and I will have to deal with it and use up the 12 skeins of each color I have for some project to give away!

Then one has to get the items here to the island. I rely upon 1) friends to bring it to the island when they come to visit 2) friends to send it to me via DIP or Cargo Rapido or 3) I bring it with me when I return from a visit to the States. No matter how it is shipped, it takes time! We can wait anywhere from the shortest length of time: 2 weeks, to more than 3 months or more depending upon how it is coming!

So, while on-line ordering is wonderful for the most part - parts for machines, computers, shoes, clothing, vitamins, cameras and various gifts I want to give - it can be a big headache when something arrives that does not work or is totally not what you expected.

Did someone say gamble?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Boy is it Dark!

Living where we do in an isolated spot on the island has advantages that I believe I have covered before. The one big thing is that when it gets dark, it is dark! You can see more stars than imaginable and when the full moon shines it is like a wonderland.

During November, when the fireflies seem to be at their busiest, we sit on the porch in the evening and watch them dancing to and fro. Fruit bats swoop in and out of our porch and whenever we have an evening rain shower, the frogs are in full chorus.

Since we have solar power we are, of course, conservative about the use of our electricity and at night usually have no more than one light on in the house. We don't need any more since our bathroom is right off the bedroom and there is sufficient light to see our way to it if nature calls.

The downside of solar (and believe me I love solar power) is that on rainy days (especially if there are overcast days 2-3 days in a row), we must run our generator for 3 hours a day to get the batteries up to full capacity. Normally this is not a problem. However, and there's that word, yesterday proved to be a rain-filled day so my husband went out to crank up the generator early in the day.

Lo and behold, it would not crank. Not a murmer. Since it had not been a very long since the last time we had it running, my husband was surprised when he was met with silence. Not a click, not a buzz, not a sound to indicate any power was getting from the battery to the switch to the generator.

Well, he immediately set to the task of finding out what the problem was as our batteries were low and we needed to charge them up. After about an hour or more he announced that it could be one of two things; the starter switch was out or the starter motor, both of which could present a problem in obtaining a replacement.

As the day wore on and he was no where near finding a solution, we assessed our circumstances and I started getting out the candles!

Now, I normally keep candles on each step to the second floor for romantic evenings when we want to enjoy the beauty of a candlelit evening. This is how our stairway looks (on the left) in full light with the candles on the stairs and on the right when evening is settling in.

I keep candles in an open space above each window, also for effect, and when they are all lit it gives a lovely warm glow to the room.

Because it was close to dinner time I had to put candles at strategic places in the kitchen so I could see to cook and on the table so we could see to eat. As it got darker, I added more candles so we could see better.

Soon, I had candles lit in the living area, the bedroom and the bathroom, as you can see from the photos.

When we retired to the bedroom, there being nothing we could do, not even read, we simply laid back and enjoyed the beauty of the room bathed in soft, golden colors. It gave us a chance to reminisce about days gone by, our experiences during High School and College and things in general. It was a delightful and peaceful evening over all.

The next day, my husband was up bright and early and back to solving the problem. One night in the dark is about all we were conditioned for as we needed power to run the freezer and refrigerator and water pump!

After what seemed like hours and with some help from our friend, Ronnie, who dropped by to see what he could do to solve the problem, it was finally solved. It was indeed the starter switch and by hot-wiring the unit, my husband and Ronnie got the generator going again.

So, I can now cook meals with sufficient light so that I will not burn myself and when I drop something I can see what kind of mess I've made! The refrigerator and freezer were turned back on, the batteries charged up and we had Internet access so that I could write in my Blog about our latest emergency.

All in all, a night in the dark was pleasant and gave us the opportunity to step back, relax and appreciate nature and the beauty of the night!

P.S. I am sure there will be comments about the "romance" of the evening, but that was a foregone conclusion!

Monday, February 15, 2010


One thing we do on the island is entertain! With no real activities available here outside snorkeling, diving, fishing or hiking, we often turn to one another for diversion.

And boy do we entertain. For years it seemed that at a drop of the hat someone would have a get- together, albeit a group of 30-40 or small dinners with maybe 4-10 people. It was an opportunity to see folks outside of the hustle and bustle of shopping on the Cay or at a local restaurant where, at times, there would be so many people one could not get "quality" visiting in!

We celebrate birthdays, Conch Festival, Holidays, Weddings, 4th of July, house topping-out party, a "welcome back to the island party, anything that can get a group together.
April is big here for birthdays and at one time in April we had, I believe 8 birthdays to celebrate. So, we would combine them all into one Saturday and have one big party. We celebrate in homes, restaurants, on the beach and one time at a local "hall" that, unfortunately, never was used to its potential over the years.

Since I love to cook and entertain I host several get togethers during the year. We do not have the big gatherings we once had, like for instance for my husband's or my 60th birthday, nor do we have a large group over for Thanksgiving anymore. Thanksgiving and Christmas are now spent, appropriately so, at Manati (the German restaurant) because it affords more room. Everyone brings a dish of some sort and we have a wonderful time. The restaurant gets decorated by Geri, Cathy and any volunteers that are available, and the owners, Claus and Annette, provide us with tables, utensils, music and drinks.

We have had Christmas parties at other homes and with much success. So much so that we came to expect these gatherings and really missed them when the host and hostess found out they were getting to be a bit too much work. But, when they gave the party, they had a real spread. The food was always wonderful, lots of socializing and a good time was always had. Many friends came from the coast just to attend this once-a-year party.

Several years ago, I hosted a Valentines Day party at the Crazy Parrot. At that time, Claus and Annette ran the restaurant there and I coordinated efforts with them. They provided the food and drinks (at a nominal cost) and I provided the decorations and prizes either donated by local merchants or made by me. The day started out picture perfect and my husband and I went to set up the the decorations, prizes and games.

About noon the sky clouded over, the wind picked up and blew down all the decorations. By the time people started showing up, the weather had turned really cold with rain and wind and it was impossible to stand in the open area to eat or drink. Instead, we (being the hard-core, brave-at-heart people) gathered in the small kitchen and sat at improvised tables and ate and played games! We still had a wonderful time and the upside was that everyone got a prize! So a party turned disaster turned out to be fun and something all those attending will never forget.

Why, just a few days before Hurricane Mitch, we all attended a party at Half Moon Cay celebrating with music, dancing, drinks - the special drink of the day being a "Hurricane" that one generally associates with New Orleans! It was a wonderful party and it will be remembered by all because a few days later we were hit by a Category 5 Hurricane that sat over the island for 3 unprecedented days! Boy, what a party!!

So, just this last week, in honor of Valentines Day and the fact that the women usually don't get treated as royally as they might in their home countries, I had a small Valentines Day luncheon in our home with a small group of friends. It was mainly to let two new people to the island, Bonnie and Bob, meet some of the folks and acquaint themselves with them. I decided to make Cuban pressed sandwiches, a Cranberry crunch salad and black beans with Bruschetta as an appetizer. One of the women brought more bread and a lovely shrimp salad to serve. I made little baskets for the women filled with chocolates and a red candle and placed a heart on a stick wwhich was stuck through a roll of LifeSavers at each ladies plate! The weather was wonderful, the company pleasant and a good time was had by all.

So, while parties are sometimes the high point in our lives and can be few and far between, when they happen we make sure that we make the most of them. Food is always great, conversation interesting as well as informative and the camaraderie presents us with a time of sharing what we know, who we know, where we have been, why we came to be here and just good old joking thrown in!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Make it Yourself!

After living here for many years I have found that I have made, by hand, more pies, bread, tortillas, chips, cookies, cakes, etc. than probably in all my adult years in the U.S. of A.! Why you ask - well if I don't we would not have them.

Not that the people of Honduras don't bake; but they don't do pies or usually bread. Their cookies are different (I find them much harder) and they don't have a variety of deserts other than cake or flan!

My husband loves apple pie and when finally they started getting apples on this Island all year round, I started making them quite often. He loves chocolate chip cookies (are there any other kind?), so I make them along with brownies, another one of his favorites.

I finally discovered a good recipe for biscuits and bread and I even make French bread now to the extent that I bought myself some special baking pans just for that purpose.

I love making bread now that I have the long wanted Kitchen Aid mixer I hinted at a few Christmases back! Love that machine. It might not mean much to anyone else, but I have coveted that machine for years, just never got one because of the expense. I suddenly decided one day that I deserved it with all the cooking and baking I do. I am so glad I bought it! It saves me so much time as the machine does all the kneading! So, now I can make and bake more things more often. Is this good you say? Makes for more work but I love cooking.

Once in a while, however, I get tired of trying to figure out what to make for lunch or supper and after 46 years of making those decisions, I sometimes run out of ideas! Of course, it is a good thing I have lots of cookbooks. I love going to a book store and browsing among the cookbooks - one of the first places I head. Unfortunately, Honduras has no book stores to speak of so I must save this special search for when I return to the States.

I enjoy going to other peoples' homes and eating their meals as it gives me fresh ideas making future meals. Believe me, I've gotten many recipes from the "gringos" on this Island and am thankful for their inspirational ideas and willingness to share recipes.

Just recently we bought a large sack of oranges from the coast. It weighed about 75-80 lbs. and cost about $13.00 with shipping. We have had these oranges in the past and they are wonderful juice/eating oranges. So, I whipped out my handy-dandy juicer (bought in Honduras many years ago) and started in. I store the oranges in a laundry basket on the porch and when I need juice, I juice up 30-36 and keep it in the refrigerator. Occasionally I freeze some juice but we drink it so fast that I really don't have the need for this step. While this is time consuming, as I prefer to strain my juice removing the pulp and any seeds that get past the cup one places the orange in the squeezer and then pulls the lever down releasing the juice into holes in the cup and on to a container, I like the end product more than the juice they sell on the Cay. They have one brand: Leyde that tastes like colored sugar water with maybe a drop of orange oil in it to pretend that it is orange-flavored. Sula makes a better juice but not as good as my fresh squeezed or the fresh squeezed you can find on the coast sold at street stands.

The thing I like to make most is deserts! Have always love creating them AND eating them. One of my favorite items is cheesecake. I have to obtain the cream cheese from the coast so when I'm there (and I'm going next week for a food shopping trip), I will stock up on 6-8 packages along with all the wonderful imported cheese I can find! Yumm. Next week I'm thinking of making a special dinner for Valentine's day and hope to include a cheesecake!

When I do go to the States for the holidays, my children demand that I made pumpkin bread for Thanksgiving and Christmas and, now, I have to make Eggplant Parmesan too! They love the stuff.

I guess it is lucky that I've always been thin and don't have a particular problem with weight gain! Otherwise I would be 350 lbs. by now!