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[This was written in September 1982 after the trip as I was in Tokyo, Japan. It describes my typical interaction with one of these tourist bureaus that are fundamentally hostile to tourists. An interesting way to do business. Transcribed 2002-09-30, Santa Cruz, CA]
A Typical encounter with INTOURIST
About 6 AM in Chabarovsk I left the train station to start my day's tour of town. The sunrise was very good that morning. And it was interesting to see the Russian people at their morning activities. I needed to find the INTOURIST hotel to get my seat reservation for the train that evening to Nachodka, and to change some money to get something marked on my money papers as I hadn't had any time before. I found the Hotel by 8 AM, it was very quiet as most of the people didn't get checked in until about 4 AM, and things start slowly in general in this town in the morning. Most places didn't open until 10 AM anyway.
At the reception desk I ask about the seat reservations and money changing, they tell me that at 9:30 the INTOURIST service desk will be open and they can do everything for me then. So I find the self service restaurant and they have BLINTZES ! for Breakfast, great, I wolf down a bunch of those. Its so strange not to have everything moving to the rhythm of the RAILS. And after cleaning up in the bathroom it is 9:30 so I get to the Intourist Service desk.
I see the lady with the train tickets and a seating plan so I approach her with a big smile and a pleasant good morning. It is always important to keep smiling and remain pleasant when dealing with these people.
"Perhaps you could be so kind and tell me my seat reservation on the train for this evening."
She answers very gruff and uncheerful:
"What is your ROOM number ?"
"I have no room, I didn't stay here."
With an unbelieving look:
"What do you mean ? Everyone stays at this hotel, it is the only one in town." (for Foreigners)
"Well I'm sorry, but I had a slight problem with the travel bureau in Budapest and I was unable to reserve a room here."
Her mood takes a definite turn for the worst:
"Yes I know, ALL of us SOCIALIST travel bureaus give such terrible service." she says very sarcastically.
As I try to give her a chance to recover: "Oh no, that's not true, this was only one small problem, otherwise I have very fine service during my travels in East Europe. Here is the refund receipt I got for $50 when they canceled my room request." As I show her the receipt, all written in Hungarian, it could have been a restaurant bill for all she knows.
She looks at it very skeptically, "Well this is MOST unusual, where did you spend the night ?"
"What night ? It was only 3 hours, I had a most interesting time in the train station, believe me its no problem, all I need now is my seat place on the train this evening."
She gives up her line of questioning, "OK, it will be ready at 4 PM this afternoon, thank you."
This hotel is at least a 40 minute walk from the station, and I don't want to come a way out her again at 4 PM, I am very tired from having had no sleep in 27 hours and I almost let myself get mad at her, but remembering the golden rule, I hold the anger in check.
"Oh, but I can't be here at 4 PM, I have only today to visit your lovely town and you could save me a lot of time if you would be so kind and just check off a place there on your list and write my seat number on my ticket, its only 5 seconds work."
She has lost the game and she and the other people there in the office, who are now watching the show at this point, know it. She exchanges smiles with the others and says reluctantly:
"OK, since you're SO insistent and in such a hurry, I do have a lot of tickets here, but here you are, have a nice day."
So I now have my seat reservation. The lady sitting next to her is the one who cashes money, so now its her turn to play the game.
"GOOD MORNING ! How are you ? I would like to cash 20 dollars please."
With the same blank expression as the first lady started with, "We do not cash money until 1:30 PM"
"Oh, but the reception desk told me I could get some money here at 9:30, and it is now 9:40 and I have no money at all and I need to get downtown now, it would be too late at 1:30 to do any shopping, and I want to visit the Museums and etc..."
She stops me short, as she just saw the game played with the other lady next to her, the whole office is having great fun with this "Crazy American" scene. So she decides not to press the issue as I probably do appear a bit crazy.
"OK Sir, one moment please." as she finds the papers she needs. She gives me a good rate, and takes no commission charge with a nice receipt and everything. I try to get her to mark it down on my currency declaration form but she insists that it is all OK with just the receipt she gives me.
Of course I find out in Nachodka that her receipt wasn't enough and I can not buy back dollars with it for the couple of Roubles I have. But I did cause about 20 minutes of Delay in the bank in Nachodka as I tried to get them to sell me $2. But it didn't work.
And the first lady was right about her comments regarding socialist travel bureaus, they will give consistently slow and unsatisfactory service, if you allow them to. But if you manipulate them correctly, patiently and firmly insistent about what you want, they work, remember to smile.
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