Customer service in Ghana can best be described as rigid. It's not that it doesn't exist; it's just that it is very limited.
Recently I was in Accra, Ghana's capital. I had originally planned to stay just a few days and packed accordingly.
At the behest of my colleagues, I was convinced to stay a few extra days. Because the original itinerary was so short, I didn't bother packing a number of things -- notably a razor.
After six months in Ghana, my face has become tough enough to handle shaving without wussy shave cream for sensitive skin. Give me a sharp blade and a few drops of water and I'm whisker free sans irritation.
This makes me wonder if wussy shave creams actually irritate your skin and soothe it at the same time, addicting you to a lifetime of wussy shave cream purchases. Very smart, Colgate-Palmolive, very smart.
Unfortunately, I was unable to locate anything handy at my hotel with which to scrape my face. I was tempted to use a machete, but found balancing it on my neck a bit of a challenge. If I slipped, I'd end up on the front page of the Daily Graphic. Or worse.
Instead, I dropped into a North American-style grocery store called Koala, in the heart of Accra's tourist district. How North American? They sell K.D. Well, not Canadian K.D. but the American version: Macaroni & Cheese. Purely semantics.
Inside the store there were dozens of razors to choose from. Grandpa types, two-, three-, and four-blade models. Re-usable. Disposable. Razors for men and women. The whole razor universe was on offer.
I figured I needed just one disposable razor to get me through my stay. I searched high and low, finding only packages of 5 or 10 razors. Being cheap, I kept looking until I found it: a single razor! Dual blade! Protection strip! And cheap -- something like $1.
But there was a problem: There was no Koala UPC price code on the razor -- just a hand written price tag. I figured that since there was a price, there would be no issue, and I made for the checkout line.
When I placed the razor in front of the cashier, she looked at it, then at me, then the razor again. Everything came to a stop. I swear everyone stopped talking.
Clearly, I was doing something wrong. But what? What possible cultural norm was I smashing to bits this time?
"You cannot buy this," the cashier said sternly. I felt like a 14-year-old trying to buy Playboy.
"Huh?" I responded. I'm a witty bastard.
"You cannot buy this," she repeated as she pulled the razor away.
"Why not?" I asked, not realizing that I was creating even more trouble. I sensed a hush go through the gathering crowd.
"You won't win," whispered a friend who had stumbled upon the scene after visiting the Macaroni & Cheese display.
"There is no price. You cannot buy this." The cashier was beginning to sound like a broken record (or skipping CD for anyone born after 1980).
I pointed to the razor in her hand and said that the price was right there.
"It is not for sale."
"Why is it not for sale? It has a price and was with the other razors," I said, trying to keep calm.
"Give up," my friend suggested.
At this point I decided to dig in my heels. When I asked to see the store manager, the cashier rolled her eyes, dismissing me instantly.
"Please, I want to buy this. Can you just call your manager?"
She screamed at the top of her lungs. Not at me, but for the manager to come over. That's another thing about Ghana. People tend to yell for each other rather than going to find them. It's effective, but noisy.
The semi-hostile crowd was getting restless. I could sense that they were ready to tie me up and forcibly cut my whiskers. Despite the impending danger, I stood firm.
After the cashier yelled the manager's name a few more times, a young gentleman came over and asked what the problem was. I told him I wanted to buy the razor that the cashier was attempting to put away in a drawer.
He asked to see the razor, looked at the price tag, and then had a brief conversation with the cashier in their native tongue. He gave me an apologetic look.
"You cannot buy this. It is a sample"
"But why is it on the floor? Why does it have a price tag?" I asked, knowing I had lost in my oh-so-simple quest.
"It is not for sale."
"But why is on display?"
"It is not for sale, but come back. Maybe next week."
"See?" said my colleague, as he paid for his Macaroni & Cheese.
I was ready to debate the manager about why I should be able to buy an item with a price tag sitting on a display in a store that sells things. But looking around at the glum faces, I caved. It was too much bother. And I was beginning to like the my new hobo look.
Before leaving the store, I paused and thanked the cashier for her time. Why? Because I'm Canadian. It's what we do.
However this wasn't the case when I had a spectacular run-in with Ghana Post. But that's another story for another day.