"I don't mean to complain," I said to Paolo, the desk clerk at Hotel Plaza Lucchesi, (In fact, that's exactly what I meant to do.) "but my room looks nothing like the photos on your website."
I'd come to Italy alone to attend a writer's retreat with Lisa Clifford and Matthew Ferrera, (because, why not?) and had already changed hotels twice due to location and availability. In short, I was struggling to get it right. (Note to self, take a room in the suggested local.)
This wasn't my first morning in front of this crisply-starched young Florentine who was looking at me with a mix of bewilderment and compassion; it was my THIRD(!), and now I had become the proverbial "fly in the ointment."
"My husband is arriving by train early tomorrow morning," I said. "I'm afraid there's no way his things are going to fit into the small room I've been assigned." And then with my sweetest, most conspiratorial voice I added, "Is there anything we can do to make him more comfortable?
"I'll go just have some breakfast while you work it out."
WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME THE SPOUSE.
At which point, Paolo smiled, dutifully checked his reservation log and graciously found me another accommodation down the hall, with room for two and a bigger bathroom at NO additional charge.
Typically, I pride myself on being low maintenance. I don't regularly see a therapist, haven't amassed a closet full of Prada and Gucci (although if that describes you, Italy is calling) consider a manicure a splurge, and rarely like to make waves. (Okay, that last part might not be entirely true.) But after squeezing out of the accordion-style shower and slipping on the flooded marble floor, I wasn't willing to court a broken hip. My choices were to either suffer in silence, or speak up.
Since I've given away the plot, you already know the story . . . .
To his credit, what Paolo didn't do was: blame me, ignore my concerns, refuse to help, suggest I'm too picky (even if that's true), or make excuses. Instead, he politely gave me 15 minutes to pack before sending up a porter to relocate my belongings to a slightly larger room overlooking the River Arno. (Grazie.)
What I didn't do was: scream, accuse, insist, make unfounded assumptions, place blame, judge, demand, condescend or create a scene. (Prego.)
Now contrast that civil exchange with one the evening before . . . . Picture the Piazza d. Republica, a warm summer evening, hundreds of care-free visitors, a lone tourist purchasing tickets at a tour booth, (that's me) and one SERIOUSLY PISSED-OFF SOUTHERN BELLE!
"My son and I have been standing over there for nearly 20 minutes!" the woman yelled, jumping the line and pointing her finger wildly at the corner near a commercial van, the word 'Florencetown' clearly spelled-out across its door.
"Where IS everybody? What do you MEAN they left without us? DIDN'T y'all see us over there? No one told ME it was the wrong meetin' spot."
"I did," said the son, continuing to text without so much as looking up.
"Hush" she said, "Well, is the tour guide comin' back or not?" (Seriously? Would you?)
Since I'd been so rudely interrupted, I returned the favor, "Why don't you calm down and give this young lady a chance to see what she can do for you and your son?"
Thereby creating the small opening the tour operator needed to grab her cell phone and make the necessary arrangements for the mother and now MORTIFIED teen to quickly join the group. (As a side note, you gotta love the Italians; they're utterly unfazed by our less-than-complimentary American antics.)
Which begs the question: When faced with the unexpected, what's the best way to proceed?
When it comes to negotiations, there are several styles that move you from point A to point B; however, not all of them are created equal. Even if screaming is ultimately effective (which it often is), there's an extraction cost to the process. While being a bully might seem acceptable when you'll likely never run into the injured party again (although, I don't know why it should), in the world of Real Estate, closing an escrow on a decidedly negative note is NEVER a good idea.
Because it doesn't serve the deal. Forget about your feelings, your pride or your ego. None of those belong in a business transaction.
Are there good reasons to get upset?
Buying a home is a major transaction and that alone raises the stakes, but how you go about resolving the unexpected matters a great deal more. Remember, you may need to call upon the Buyer or Seller to resolve issues well after the escrow has closed. More importantly, goodwill tends to avoid any nasty lawsuits that are quick to arise when people feel they didn't get their due. In short, it's not about losing the battle, it's about winning the war.
Which is why we have those nifty clauses in the bodies of the purchase and listing contracts that speak to mediation and arbitration. In more than 15 years of practice, I've had very few incidents that required a formal resolution. However, when clients are unhappy - for whatever reason - the best way to begin is calmly and respectfully, no matter what the case may be, no matter the principal, no matter where the fault lies.
As to Hotel Plaza Lucchesi, I respectfully secured a larger room with a more picturesque view, AND subsequently reserved a Tuscan cooking class with Francesca in the aforementioned tour booth, which I would highly recommend. (Okay, can I just acknowledge how fabulous it is to be dropping Italian references in this week's Perspective?)
In the land of pizza and gelato, wine and more wine, opera and art, churches and cathedrals, spires and domes, music and magic, winding rivers and rolling hills, and lovely, LOVELY, accommodating people, what could there possibly be to complain about? (Nothing.)
Until next week - Ciao!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.