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Laptop from Megapool

December 2003, Nijmegen

Kim and I went to Megapool and she paid for the laptop that we had picked out. The guy there said that it would probably be in on the next Wednesday; and that he'd call us in any case. I found this out when K_ translated it to me from the Dutch.

Well, Wednesday rolled around and it hadn't come in yet. A woman scanned the barcode on the receipt. She said it was unknown when it was coming. Onbekent. I didn't try to ask any more questions, nor did I speak English, because I didn't feel I had to. I thanked her and left.

I didn't like that, and I felt a sense of righteousness about not liking it. I could feel a cultural prejudice in me — an American tendency for conflict. I didn't like feeling that, but I couldn't stop feeling irritated, and I felt some urgency about fixing this, or at least "getting to the bottom of it."

K_ and I went back on Thursday, intent on learning something. What we "learned" was that there was no way to find out when the laptop would be coming. K_ did most of the talking, in Nederlands. She explained to me that there was one unit in the Arnhem store. The guy said that the only way to get that one to the Nijmegen store would be if he himself went to Arnhem, paid for it and picked it up. He didn't want to do that.

Naturally, I was incredulous that they — Megapool, a national chain of stores with 150-plus locations — didn't have a system in place for moving goods from one location to another. Naturally, too, I was very uncomfortable that they had the money, and that they wouldn't even make a guess about when the laptop was going to be in.

K_ and I had seen another of the same unit at a shop up the same street, and we had talked about this that morning, on our way to Megapool. In the result of K_'s conversation in Dutch was that the only promise Megapool would make to us that day was that we could get the money back. I'd have to return that evening. That's what we decided to do, in the moment.

But I didn't like that. After I'd taken K_ to school (on the back of my bicycle, in typical Dutch style,) I went to the public library. But I couldn't sit still.

I went back toward Megapool. We had shopped for this computer — it was the one we had decided we wanted. I also felt a sense that taking our business elsewhere on these grounds was a bit like "cutting of our nose to spite our face," an act of punitive anger that wasn't in our own interest. Worse, I felt that this would not even be punitive toward Megapool. I felt that we'd been plied with a classic ruse that some call "bait and switch." The store lures in the customer with a low-priced unit, but, well, doesn't have any of that particular item in stock. Then they point the customer to the range of higher-priced items which are, after all, priced in line with the competition.

On 8 april 2004, the Megapool chain declared bankruptcy.

I explained this concept to the guy who helped me at Megapool. Well, I described it to him. I'm sure everyone's familiar with it. I told him that I thought that was unethical. Of course, I wouldn't want to mention legality, even if I did know Dutch law [I've heard that nobody does.] But the point is, I was nice about it. No; I was civil. Polite, might be an even better word. It's important not to be confrontational, especially in Holland. That's what I think.

He explained that it was a difficulty, because there just aren't enough computers.... I pointed out to him that we've already paid for this one. He saw my point. There was really no way out of it. There were laptops of this model. Indeed, he brought out a sheet printed with the numbers of units at stores. It was notable — and more so in hindsight — that every store that had one had exactly one. Hmmm...

After some discussion, the blond guy asked me if I could come back and talk to the black-haired guy, the one who had sold us the computer. I said yeah, and did.

The black-haired guy said he'd bring our laptop, that he'd pick it up himself in some nearby town — and that I'd be able to get it tomorrow after 11.

And I did.

— Sunday, 7 December 2003, Nijmegen The Netherlands