For want of a better solution . . .

Brits of a certain age – well, perhaps Brits of all ages now that You Tube screens so many golden oldies – always remember Fawlty Towers as one of their favourite programmes.

For me there one’s episode that stands out more than any other. That was Waldorf Salad. Everything came together perfectly: Basil and his forceful American guest, Mr Hamilton, being divided by a common language, talking at cross purposes. The Hamiltons demand a couple of screwdrivers as aperitifs. Basil replies “so two screwdrivers and … forget about the drinks?” It’s great acting by everyone, of course, especially Bruce Boa as the snarling late diner who won’t tolerate any deviations.

In the end, after a tirade about his botched order, Hamilton tells Fawlty to “bust the chef’s arse”. But there is no chef, of course, hence the chaos. And this where it gets gut-wrenchingly funny. Fawlty, rather than take responsibility for the fiasco, ends up agreeing with Hamilton that the chef is useless. Accomplices in dissatisfaction.

I’m reminded of this when I stumble upon poor service in Bulgaria. Doubtless many people have stories of shortcomings. But what interests me here is the almost casual disloyalty of the staff. More precisely, ‘blame it on the boss’ syndrome. Recently at a working space/cum bar in Sofia, where drinks and food used to be served throughout the day, the food was suddenly terminated.

One of the staff there – who always slaps the change down hard on the counter as if he’s about to explode in anger – explained why. He just said: “blame it on the boss, his decision.” I also noticed later that the ice creams had disappeared. “Same reason,” said our man, adding “another mad ruling from the boss”. Later, I ordered a coffee. Usually they threw in a few biscuits alongside it. You guessed it. We just looked at each other for a few seconds. “Another crazy decision,” he said.

In Velingrad last summer, at a prominent restaurant by the Kleptuza Pond, we were surprised to be charged for the privilege of our children using a playground area – formerly free – by the staff. In the end, sure enough, the waiter blamed his boss. “He doesn’t spend much time here. He lives in Italy and he sets the rules. It’s nothing to do with me.” After we murmured our displeasure once more, he said: “I suppose that means I won’t get my tip at the end, does it? All because of the boss,” he said, looking dejected.

During my time in “the West” I rarely encountered this disclaimer. I suppose loyalty to the boss, whether feigned or otherwise, would dictate otherwise. Or fear that someone may be eavesdropping on the conversation and relate it to the boss. Or just the sense that the staff are joined in a common enterprise? Or even staff taking it on themselves to provide the best possible service.

A legacy of communism …? Or just the old story of Bulgaria lacking customer service skills?