Now please, bear in mind I've just spent the past two years (more or less) living in a former Eastern Bloc country. While cities such as Kraków are very modern and Central European and sophisticated, they still have their fair share of grumpy old Panie Nie Ma, glaring protectively over their hoards of small change in those little post-Communist Sklepy Spożywcze with the green bars on the windows.
I really thought that Belgium, with its Mutualités and its cycle lanes and 'journées sans voitures' and general touchy-feelyness might be a little different.
What a fool I was. Let's not mention the pharmacies that insist on selling you a packet of ten capsules when all you need is one (without social security- still waiting - that's pretty steep). Or the Belgacom shopkeeper whose sales pitch I had to draw out of him, step by painful step (- no, I mean, couldn't you tell me the advantages of Belgacom over Clearwire? Is it more... uh... reliable, for example? Yes?).
No, I'm afraid this last episode has finally convinced me that Belgian customer service is officially The Worst In Europe.
I needed an ironing board.
Perhaps it is not entirely to my credit that it has taken me over a month to come to this conclusion.
Not having an awful lot of time at my disposal, I preferred not to waste it tramping the desolate backstreets of Etterbeek during daytime tv hours, so I looked up the number of the big(ger) Carrefour online.
- Bonjour, c'est bien Carrefour St Michel?
- Est-ce que vous auriez par hazard des planches à repasser?
- Attendez j'en sais rien, faut que je vous passe...
Music. For several minutes. And then a flat dialling tone.
I would clearly have to leave the flat after all.
I braved the drizzle and stepped out into the greyness...
No ironing boards. The price tag was still on the shelf though.
I made my way to the customer services desk, where a stout woman in an overall was slumped on a high chair at one of those supervisor stations.
- Excuse me... there aren't any ironing boards on the shelf - do you have any in stock?
The woman raised her eyes - not without some effort - from her magazine.
- If it's not on the shelf, then we don't have it.
I tried again.
- Couldn't you ask? Please?
Sighing, she picked up the phone.
- He's coming.
She said, and - sitting back dismissively - opened her magazine, leaving me standing there speechless in front of her.
If I had dared to pull that trick as a sixth-former on a summer job in Sainsbury's, they'd have flayed me alive.
I faked a text message and took a picture:
My phone let out a resounding 'click', but if Pani Sprzedawczyni noticed, she gave no sign of caring.
So here it is ladies and gentlemen: pictorial evidence that Belgian Customer Service is officially The Worst In Europe.
For the record, a guy in overalls then appeared from the warehouse, led me back to the rayon planches a repasser and - very kindly - went back into the warehouse to check whether the new delivery had arrived yet. It had, and as a result I had a lot of fun trying to manoeuvre my new purchase to the self-scan checkout without upsetting any pyramids of baked beans (here? as if!) or braining any under-fives.