A service culture


There are a good few things the French do really really well, and which occasionally make me wish I could live in France permanently. And I’m not talking about food, wine, coffee or clothes.

I’m talking about a service culture of repair and cleaning. The French are prepared to spend on clothes and shoes in the expectation that if they spill a bit of cassoulet on the silk, someone somewhere will sort out the problem and render the garment as good as new.

I was reminded of this today as I went to collect one of my favourite pairs of shoes, the heels of which the dog had decided made a good pair of chew bones. They ended up looking like a pair of chew bones. The black fabric was torn off to reveal a disturbingly white bone-like heel. My local cordonnerie took them however with barely a raised eyebrow, commenting only that the heels might be a fraction lower after repair. I was frankly grateful if they had any sort of heel after repair. And on collection, a great miracle had been achieved, and the heels were as good as new.

At the same time, my husband was handing over a stained Thai silk runner to the local dry cleaner. This time there was a hint of a disapproving raised eyebrow at anyone allowing a piece of Thai silk to become waterstained, but no suggestion that the piece could not be cleaned.

In contrast, our local dry cleaner in Leeds has a very different outlook on the purpose, function and capabilities of a dry-cleaning business.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get things dry cleaned when they get a bit dirty. I can’t think of a time when I took a clean dress for a dry clean, but maybe that’s just me and my sloblike ways.

But in response to “I’ve got this dress/coat/jacket for cleaning..” the invariable response is a sharp intake of breath followed by a long drawn out sigh and

“… Oh dear. Look; there’s a mark here…”

“Yes, that’s the bit which needs cleaning.”

Pursed lips. “Ooooh, I’m afraid we can’t deal with marks.”

“But you’re a cleaners!”

“Yes, well I’m sorry but we don’t do marks. There’s no guarantee we can do anything here.”

“Well, yes, I realize there are no guarantees but can’t you at least have a go?”

More pursed lips. The personification of no-can-do shakes her head, mutters again and grudgingly writes out a ticket.

How silly of me to ever think anything can be cleaned once worn.


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