My partner-in-love and I recently visited Kolkata.
Almost all of us -- the Bengalis -- usually stop at the duty-free shops when we cross the outgoing immigration line of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
I approached one and found two persons standing at the counter of the shop. I asked about the product. One of them pointed his finger to a corner where the product was kept. I went there, looked for it, and then brought it back to them. None of them spoke to me, smiled at me, or even wanted to know whether I needed anything else. I paid for the product and came out of the shop.
I found an entirely opposite scenario at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport in Kolkata. On my way out to the city, I stopped at a duty-free shop and asked for something. There were about five salesmen inside the shop. One of them came forward, and said: “Yes, sir, we have it; please come with me.”
I picked up what I wanted and headed for the counter. But the salesman told me to have a look around the shop; he even got a similar product of a different brand and asked me whether I was interested to buy that too. I said no. He then ushered me to a different corner where they kept perfumes.
I didn’t show any interest either. He didn’t give up on me; he requested me to go to the chocolate corner and asked whether I was interested in buying some of them.
I was very impressed by the salesmanship of the man. At the same time, I also felt very sad when I compared this experience with the one I had in Dhaka. A gulf of difference lay between these two salesmen.
The salesmen in the Dhaka shops were extremely passive while the people in Kolkata were found to be extremely pro-active.
These two experiences of mine actually led me to think of how they reflected on the respective norms of salesmanship in the two Bengals. Airports are the gateways to a particular country.
When we reached our hotel, I discovered a striking difference regarding the way we were welcomed there and back home. We were staying at a three-star hotel, but the warmth I received there could not be found even in a five-star hotel of Bangladesh.
I don’t know whether they meant it or not but the feel-good attitude of the hotel’s doormen, receptionists, and waiters was not one usually found in the hotels in our part of Bengal.
On the following day, while we were having our breakfast, the waiter introduced himself to us and wanted to know about us. When we told him our purpose for visiting Kolkata, he recommended a few places to visit and eat in a few restaurants.
I noticed that he had full knowledge of the tourist destinations of his city. He also suggested us a few markets where we could do our shopping.
When someone of his “position” talks too much with you, we usually conclude that perhaps they are doing so for the tip at the end of his services. However, to my awe, I didn’t notice anything like that in his body language; he never showed that he was interested in being tipped.
Kolkata-dwellers and their attitude have really impressed me. I don’t know where they acquired this skill, but it has led me to think of the lacking of it in my own country
All he wanted was to make us feel happy. It was not only him -- the others were also the same.
How many of the waiters in our hotels can brief the tourists about the coveted spots?
In Kolkata, if you want something that a particular shop doesn’t have, they will always refer you to a shop where you can fetch what you are looking for.
It seemed that they were quite passionate about making you buy your desired product from their city; they didn’t want us to leave the city without spending our money. Sometimes, their insistence would reach a level of irritation, but they surely were successful in selling their products to the visitors.
When we visited the book shops of College Street, we listed some books which weren’t available in Dhaka.
There was a shop where I could get my hands on three of the five books I wanted. The salespeople told me: “If you can wait for a few minutes, I can get you the books.” We did wait and they fetched the books that we wanted.
Kolkata-dwellers and their attitude have really impressed me. I don’t know where they acquired this skill, but it has led me to think of the lacking of it in my own country.
The effort to make the buyers happy is something we need to learn.
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer and a columnist.
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