Christianity in Commerce

Christianity in Commerce October 3, 2014

I don’t know if it is the maturity that comes with being a few years into my thirties, or sheer necessity, but I am finally ready to become a businesslike woman. Several transactions of which I have been apart recently have made me reconsider my dealings with service providers. In short, if you are billing me, I do not need to be your friend. I will be polite, respectful and honest with you, but the overly friendly thing has failed me one too many times.

You, are safe.. be my friend?

As an extremely extroverted military kid, I moved a great deal and became very good at making friends quickly. Part of that success comes from wearing my heart on my sleeve and holding nothing back. Whereas this seems to work in finding dear friends and even a soulmate to marry, it comes back to bite me in business dealings. For instance, we were trying to have an antique typewriter repaired for my quirky ten-year-old to use. I met the older typewriter repairmen in a parking lot because he could not gain access to the Army post on which we live. He was endearing… a Vietnam vet who has been repairing typewriters for 39 years. We chatted friendlily, but he DID get a great deal of information out of me. He learned my husband’s rank. He learned that we thought this typewriter had been the one my grandmother had used to help my Admiral grandfather write his Naval fitness reports, etc. We parted ways, he took the typewriter… said he couldn’t give me an estimate, but that “he believed he could get this thing working.” I reported happily to my husband and mom what a charming older gentleman Mr. S. was and how much he seemed to enjoy his job. Well, imagine my surprise when my phone rang just three hours later and Mr. S. was on the other end to inform me that he had repaired the machine and we owed him $205.74!! I was dumbfounded and told him so. He then showed his true colors and became indignant and angry that I was unwilling to pay such an unreasonable amount. I could do nothing but allow him to keep the typewriter. The repairs have been made and there is no way I am putting a $200 machine in a bedroom with a child.

What I learned from my interaction with this repairmen, as well as several men that I saw take advantage of my well-heeled and well-intentioned parents over the summer, is that it is dangerous to befriend people whom are billing you. Flat out. I reflected a great deal on how chatty and nice I had been in the parking lot to Mr. S. and I was hurt because he used that time to get human intelligence out of me and then overcharged us as a result. Gardeners and plumbers regularly stand my parents up because the service providers are never held accountable and the men know my parents like to hire the underdog. I understand that- as a Christian- I must treat my neighbor with love and respect, but surely we don’t have to get walked all over. I have resolved that if you are billing me, you are not my friend. I will bite my tongue, stick to a discussion of the matter at hand, and also, compare options if possible (but man is life busy.) I keep wracking my brain for some Biblical story in which Our Lord gives an example of how to deal with business people and I can’t think of one. You guys have anything?

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  • Katrina

    This is a tough one, AWOL, and my approach has been to follow my gut and to pretty much only use service providers that have been personally recommended to me. I have also seen my parents taken advantage of, and have stepped in to say “no way!” I also tend to be pretty skeptical when someone diagnoses something in my house, and unless it’s a true emergency, I let them know that I will be getting a second opinion and will get back to them. At the same time, the culture in our area is to be very friendly and chit-chatty, so it’s a balance because I certainly don’t want to be rude or disrespectful.
    You’re in a new area and are still getting to know the lay of the land. As soon as you find a strong community, they’ll be able to help you in finding reliable, trustworthy service providers so that you don’t have to worry so much. Good luck!
    Oh, and I’m sorry about the typewriter, that totally stinks!

  • CatherineS

    How about, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves? 🙂

  • Queen B

    I think Catherine nails it. As wives managing the household finances, we need to be really super-saavy business women. I have gotten burned like this several times–and by burned I mean that I had one set of expectations and the service person had another set of expectations–usually regarding payment. I have discovered that it is really important for me to know up front what something will cost. I get free estimates all the time now, so that if we need to get something done I have a reasonable expectation of what it is going to cost. I try to never “hire” or give someone a job to do for me without first knowing what it will cost and getting a second opinion. This is because sometimes I am willing to pay just about anything to get a job done, and other times, like the circumstance with your typewriter, my expectation is to pay fairly little. Being wise as serpents in this way allows us to be prudent with our family resources, but also allows us to be innocent as doves, completely charming and kind to service people without worry that we will be offending them after they have put in time for us.

  • Mary Alice

    I don’t know if it is too late for this, but along with the live and learn, I would go ahead and pay for the typewriter and get it back, even if you don’t give it to your daughter to play with, or you teach her to play with it in a respectful way, it sounds like it is a family heirloom and a neat antique, and not worth parting for it because of $200 and spite to the man. Think of that as one trip to Target for junky Halloween decorations that you are not going to buy, or two months of “meatless Mondays.” And always get an estimate before work is done!

  • AWOL_Mommy

    MA, I am sort of feeling that way too. At the conclusion of the indignant speech he gave me, he said, “Ok, I’ll tell you what, I am just going to keep this on my shelf in case you change your mind.” So, this is probably not a case closed. Estimate estimate estimate…

  • I always use my husband as an out with business people. I say, oh, I need an estimate because my husband won’t allow me to get any work done until we have a price and have discussed it together. Even if it sounds great, I let them know we have a family policy that we always talk about it first. This allows me to be really friendly and also not commit to anything that is unwise before talking to husband. We instituted this policy after I sold our last house and called Joe to tell him about it after the fact, lol! Nobody wants to answer the phone and hear, “Honey, I just sold our house.” There is really no good way to deliver that.

  • Katrina

    Kellie, you are so funny, I love it!