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Recently I ordered a book from The Book Depository, a great online bookshop with free worldwide delivery. Usually the book comes very fast, but this one did not arrive. After two weeks I wrote them to inquire. I got an email message beginning with “We are sorry…”, that the book may have got lost, and they promised to send me another one right away, which I got within a week.

Before I could convey my emotion when reading the message I have to tell something about myself. I was a complainer, a trait that I do not complement myself with. I used to complain about everything, rude services, unsatisfactory treatments, delayed orders, and I was terribly spoiled, until I came to Spain. With all the vigour I set out as usual, letters, messages, face to face confrontations, I got no answer, no apology, instead I was taken to be the responsible party. Continuous trials make the expert doubt herself. So, at the end, I put down my sword and surrendered. Finally I am humbled.

When I opened that email message and read “We are sorry…”, tears filled my eyes! I was so moved that I felt like a legitimate customer again. Of course I went ahead and bought another book from them. I know when one gets older one becomes more and more sentimental. I still have on my bedside table an alarm clock over 20 years old, a courtesy from the Times Magazine when I commented something about their delivery service.

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Several years ago I witnessed an appalling incident, which, to my sensitive mind, has left an impression. So, I better write about it so as to get it out of my system.

It happened in a bookshop quite well-known in Barcelona, or, one would say, one that houses academic books for the perusal of university students and professors just across the street; an important street, I may add, that has only one way traffic where motorcyclists love to speed through from the top to the bottom. But unfortunately, recent successive constructions have deprived them of this pleasure. I beg my reader’s understanding for not naming it. I try my best not to get into any type of unpleasantness when I can help it.

Back to my story.

I was there leisurely browsing books. A woman came in, or I should say, an Asian woman, because that is of significance. She asked about a book that she had ordered: Los viajes de Sir John Mandeville. As a foreigner, I could understand her perfectly, well, maybe it was because she spoke perfect English for the author’s name. Now, she repeated more than twice to the staff, but the woman did not seem to have a clue. Then, unfortunately, the young staff member who I bet had not seen too much of the world, said: “I don’t understand Japanese!” That threw the customer into a rage. She demanded the staff member’s name and said she was going to complain. This was later used as an excuse to say that that poor customer abused her. Amelia, for that was the staff member’s name, said she was maltreated and was appealing to the people present as witnesses.

The customer disappeared and later came out with another person, who told her that her book was at the cashier waiting for her, which was beside where Amelia sat. I would have personally left the place long ago, but the customer was obviously very interested in the book and was going to buy it. While she was waiting, Amelia spoke in French with the other staff member asking about the book, and was told that it was ordered in the morning by phone, which should be Amelia’s business, because she sat under the sign “reservation”. She said in French that she was not told. Well, I witnessed that she did not use the computer that was in front of her. It was very unsettling that if Amelia could speak French, why would “Mandeville”, correctly pronounced, be a problem for her?

Poor customer, can you imagine if she can understand French also? I hope she did not. If not, she would have been thinking what I was thinking, which is very disheartening, especially when it happens in a bookshop, an intellectually stimulating place.

I bet it is only one of the incidents that occurred there, since some time before that I saw one early morning a malicious sign on their glass door calling them a name that means a person who holds, according to Webster, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”, and warning the unscrupulous customers to be more scrupulous. I am afraid I was persuaded after being a direct witness, and have not set foot there again.

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