Our friend Eleanor is visiting us from Sheffield at the moment, and she brought with her a copy of yesterday's Guardian, a treasured arrival. In it I was reading about how Sainsbury's are claiming to have overtaken Tesco in the supermarket war, and it reminded me about our experience with buying a microwave from the huge Tesco superstore at the Arena Mall in Budapest.
An advantage of shopping in Tesco's is that we can understand what we are buying, and we extended that logic to buying a new microwave, choosing one of the Tesco's own brand models.
When we got it home and out of the box we were slightly dismayed but not surprised to find that the instructions were only provided in a range of Eastern and Central European languages. However, in this wired age I expected that an English version of the manual would be available on the Tesco website. Not so.
So I rang the technical support number to explain the problem, and spoke to a young gentleman who said that they could not possibly help as they did not have English versions of the instruction manual and that I could only sort this out by talking to the store manager. He also said that they were only there to discuss technical problems, but could not provide a definition of 'technical problems' that excluded instruction manuals. I gently tried to explain that the chances of the Tesco store manager in Budapest having an English language version of the instruction manual for a microwave were significantly less than zero, and after getting somewhat angry with the nincompoop I put the phone down.
We discussed whether or not to try and return the microwave, and I said that I would try calling again. The second time I spoke to a different young man who said, "Yes of course I can help you with that. What's your e-mail address?" Minutes later an English-language version of the instruction manual popped into my inbox.
So now I knew how to operate the microwave. However one slight problem remained.
The microwave had been shipped with a UK three pin plug. Now, I know that Britain is an island and that we often have little awareness of differences that might exist in other parts of the world. But I would have expected Tesco's international merchandising experts to have discovered that almost every country in Europe uses a two pin plug.
Had Tesco's at Arena Mall also sold or included in the box the appropriate adapters it would have been a little more sensible, but they do not.
So I just wonder about how many innocent Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks and the rest have bought Tesco own brand microwaves and have wondered at how cretinous the merchandising of the product has been. And how to get the bloody thing to work.
A plea to non-British readers. Please remember that some of us are aware that the rest of the world is different.