Much has been made of Estonian customer service skills or lack thereof. My encounter with the receptionist at the polyclinic the other day could be seen as a typical one of my daily adventures.
To set the stage, I am a bit of an odd bird. I am a foreigner who is mostly functional in the Estonian language. That doesn't mean I understand every word tossed in my direction; it means that I understand about 80 percent of what people are talking about, depending on the speaker.
So I made it up the five flights of stairs to the office of my doctor to be informed that my chart, which is typically ordered to the office from a lower reception and archival area when an appointment is made, was not there. I would have to go get it myself.
I bounced down the five flights of stairs again, took my number, and waited patiently for #527 to be called. I was a bit mentally tired when they finally called my number but, fortunately, you can be aloof in Estonia and nobody cares.
"My chart, please," I said, pushing my identity card through the window.
"Why do you need you chart?" the woman behind the desk responded.
"Because I have an appointment with my doctor," I answered.
She typed furiously at her PC with her manicured fingernails. I noticed that parts of her hair were dyed purple. She was a very fashionable receptionist, in my opinion.
"But you have no appointment with Dr. Kõrvits today," she said.
"Yes, I do," I responded. "I just came back from the office." I stuttered when I said the word for office. The receptionists eyes lit up, understanding that I was not a native Estonian speaker.
"But the computer says that you don't." She clicked a few more times with her long fingernails.
"But I just came from the doctor's office and his assistant said that I should get my chart from here."
She looked at me as if I was crazy.
"If you have an appointment, then how come it is not in the system?"
"I don't know," I answered.
"So, you don't know," the receptionist sighed. She did not like this answer. I guess I was supposed to know why I wasn't in the system.
"Look, I made the appointment yesterday," I said. "Maybe the system hasn't been updated."
After this she decided to discuss the matter with her colleague in the next booth. The two of them went back and forth as our purple-haired, well-manicured receptionist explained the conundrum: some weird guy wants his chart, but his appointment isn't in the system. Following this lengthy discussion, a solution was found. She would call Kõrvits' assistant and ask her if I had an appointment!
"Yes, yes, certainly, certainly," she said on the phone. She asked them why I wasn't in the system and received a satisfactory answer. Finally, the receptionist stood up, walked ten feet away, pulled my chart from the wall, and pushed it under the window to me. She said nothing.
"Thank you," I said, holding my chart. The receptionist quickly sucked air in and said a breezy "jah" at the same time. I then turned to bound up the five flights of stairs to see my doctor.