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Oct 12, 2010 12:55 PM

wine store snubs

Well, my record remains perfect. Over the past 3 visits to Italy (Rome/Umbria, Tuscany, Rome), when I go into a high-end wine store with all the top producers, I get...nothing. Total stonewall, no one approaches, it is as if I'm a ghost. Just happened on my trip to Rome last week. A historic enoteca, took a taxi there to load up for 6 nights in our apartment. Didn't give me the time of day. I lugged 8 bottles upstairs and bought them though inside I was steaming. Figured I'd stomach the rudeness 'cause they had what I wanted, really special stuff. But it left a bad taste again.

Anyone else from the States experience this?


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  1. Nope. Quite the opposite. On a recent visit to Sicily (Castellammare del Golfo) I patronized the same local wine shop three times over the course of a week, each time buying a modest (10 euro or so) bottle or two for dinner. On my third visit, the owner insisted on giving me an extra bottle for free, and the bottle he gave me was priced higher than any of the bottles I bought.

    On the other hand, I have not visited any "high-end" wine shops in Rome (or elsewhere). Did you greet the owner upon entering the store?

    1 Reply
    1. re: cmm2

      I think we're talking about 2 different scenarios. Yours seems to be one that is smallish with a clearly identifiable owner. Mine were large stores with shelf after shelf of premium wine, the kind of bottles you drool over in New York, San Francisco, etc., with multiple employees walking the floor. Not one person ever comes over or even wants to make eye contact. This is repeated, as I said, not isolated.

    2. This is a good post.
      My next chat at a solid wine store in Rome will go something like this.
      Steve: I'd like a case of xyz.
      Them: Of course.
      Steve: Do you deliver?
      Them: Of course.
      Steve: Thank you. Always a pleasure.
      Them: A polite nod.

      Steve pays cash and expects the case to be dropped off at his fourth-floor flat later in the day. Leaving the case in front of the apartment door is ok since Steve generally doesn't get home until late. No tip necessary. No elevator, either.

      2 Replies
        1. re: sanglier

          Their country, their rules.
          Repeat customers get better service.

      1. They do things a little differently in Italy. You don't just walk in and survey the merchandise; even if you are not addressing anyone in particular, you say "Buon giorno" (or "Buona sera", as the case may be). Someone is likely to approach you, but if no one does, you approach and greet them before stating your needs or wants. Customer service is not always impeccable in Italy, but if you play by their rules and show some knowledge of or interest in the merchandise, they are generally helpful and forthcoming. And even in larger establishments, the "employees" are as likely as not to be family members. The second or third time you go back to a place, obviously, the reception will be warmer.

        Which wine store did you go to in Rome?

        10 Replies
        1. re: zerlina

          Racking my brain for the name, a famous one not far off the pedestrian bridge near Via Tommaselli (sp?). Enoteca C___, near a government-ish building. You walk in, spirits, grappa, etc., on ground floor, the vast array of wines downstairs. Having read all the posts, it seems I needed to be a lot more aggressive with the people in there. But that didn't feel right, esp. since I don't speak Italian! It just took away from the give-and-take of good wine stores, where you invariably are turned on to things unfamiliar. When you're on your own you either pick familiar names or pull blindly. Still had a great time in Rome, of course, esp. with porcini everywhere!

          1. re: sanglier

            Enoteca Costantini? On Piazza Cavour behind the hulking Palazzo di Giustizia on the Vatican side of the Tiber, not too far from the pedestrian Ponte Sant'Angelo?
            It's a wine store vinoroma frequently recommends, because she finds the people particularly friendly and helpful. I don't know about their English-language skills (vinoroma speaks Italian), but approaching them (which I would not call being aggressive) might have made all the difference. I agree about the joys of porcini season.

            1. re: sanglier

              It can be a barrier to approach if you expect a language problem. But like others say, the norm in Italy is for the customer to make the first move. And even if they did approach you what would you do?? Being ready to offer a greeting in Italian and some simple phrases about what wines you like and requesting a recommendation could help you to a better experience.

              1. re: sanglier

                I am sincerely not trying to be snarky, but if you don't speak Italian, I'm curious how they could have helped you? We have an apartment in Rio de Janeiro which we furnished from the floor up (actually everything EXCEPT the floor). My Portuguese was pretty much nonexistent at that time (and barely better now) and I had no expectation that anyone would speak English (and they didn't). So I had my Eng/Port. dictionary with me all the time, thought out ahead of time what it was that I wanted to say, used pantomime, etc. It was exhausting but not only did we make it through the process, I gained the respect of occasional shopkeepers who figured out that I was trying VERY hard. We are the visitors in the THEIR country and it's up to us to figure out how to accomplish our goals.

                It sounds like now that you know the MO of being the aggressor in the "relationship," perhaps it won't upset you as much. Good luck.

                1. re: sanglier

                  Well, golly, you're in great shape it seems. You've gotten some terrific advice about how it's done in Italy. And now knowing that all the wine shops you visited, they have staff who speak English, you'll be all prepared for your next trip. I'm sure it will be more enjoyable. Aren't Chowhounds great????

                  1. re: sanglier

                    Ciao sanglier, if it is Enoteca Costantini, it indeed is the place I recommend (the description of the place fits). I am sorry you didn't have a good experience, but the attendants there (at least some of them) do speak some English (enough to talk about wine) so I guess it really was the cultural difference in who makes the first move. I do enjoy going there and being able to walk through that labyrinth downstairs for an hour, studying the wines and not being disturbed by constant "what would you like to buy?" questions. And whenever I have a question, there is someone who dedicates himself to me. Yes, I do speak Italian, but as I said, they do speak English.
                    It is definitely not a case of the ugly american ;) - just a simple little difference in thinking how the interaction should be.

                  2. re: sanglier

                    Don't you mean assertive rather than aggressive? Zerlina et al. have given you good advice about shop behavior around here, and I will grant you, it is not intuitive, but now you know for next time. But to my mind, people are missing a different point, one which I have avoided bringing up for fear of opening a big can of worms, which I don't want to do, but here goes. Even though it is true that anyone entering a store is supposed to say Buongiorno and sooner or later state their business (just looking, need advice for what to drink with my roast, etc.), it is also true that in Florence and Milano, cities that traditionally know how to do business and understand that today's new customer may be tomorrow's regular, you will find a more, let us say, international (outgoing, friendly, proactive) style of customer service, in Rome, you never know what you'll find. There is, amazingly, an undercurrent of xenophobia (expressed in the fear of language others have alluded to) and a general obliviousness to the idea of service, and the whole retail mentality is different. I sell you bread because I like you, not because you give me money, but of course don't try to get bread without money. There are historical reasons for the difference in attitude, and it can be very disconcerting indeed until you get used to it and learn the tricks -- which other posts here have explained. I can visualize your scene perfectly, and you have my sympathy. It took me years to learn the moves.

                    1. re: mbfant

                      I agree there is a difference in Rome in respect to Florence and Milano etc. Not only in shop-behavior - but you are right, let's not open that can of worms here. In any case, sanglier (and others) now have the necessary knowledge to get by!

                      1. re: mbfant

                        Thanks for your post, I appreciate it.

                        1. re: mbfant

                          As we've said, now that CHs have broken the code for OP, hopefully there will be no further problems.

                    2. I would also be interested in knowing which wine store(s) this happened. I do have a few suspects. That said, zerlina is spot on - in the US you go in somewhere and become acknowledged by the staff ("how are you doing today?"), here it is the other way around, you go in, say buon giorno/sera into the room and then proceed. The sales people are not all over you - which I like, by the way. It is not unfriendliness or not being business-minded, just the philosophy. Italians are very verbal, they will always ask their way around. Ask your questions, and you should be fine in most cases. There are 2 exceptions: in the stores not used to tourists the staff may be wary of approaching you because of possible language problems they are anticipating; and, there *are* a few really not friendly wine stores out there.

                      1. I have gone to Italy many times over the years and have never had this - not even in the top places in Milan. As vinorama says, it is most likely a cultural difference. It is up to you to approach the sales people, say hello and ask for help. I find Italians as a whole extremely friendly and helpful even despite the language barrier (my Italian is very basic). I suggest the next time you come to Italy for a visit you go into the wine shop and go directly to someone who works there and ask for help directly - chances are you will have a very different experience.

                        Good luck!