This problem began when we moved into our new home in the Canary Islands. It was a new build property, and like most new builds it came as a shell, meaning that there was no fitted kitchen, shower, bathroom or any of the modern fixtures that I initially expected to see. Unlike new properties in the UK, ours and similar properties were sold with this feature as a “consumer advantage”, on the basis that fittings are a matter of consumer choice and the size of one’s pocket. However, I suspect this “consumer advantage” is more of a culture of laziness on the part of builders than anything that is consumer orientated. Even after being lulled into a false sense of security by a smooth talking estate agent, I did feel that leaving bare wires hanging from walls and ceilings in order to “give us a choice of light fittings” was taking “consumer choice” a little too far.
Finally, after much discussion with several kitchen fitters, we decided upon a color scheme and units for our new kitchen. Sadly, it was now August; in other words, the ‘Silly Season’ had begun, which meant an almost total close down of offices, shops and services for, in theory, two weeks in August. However, in reality, this means that few things, including the temperature, get back to normal until late September or even October. The very nice sales lady then raised the issue of appliances for our new fitted kitchen.
We would have preferred to take our time in selecting these all important appliances, but as we were shortly due to move into our new home, we took the very nice sales lady’s advice that “if you don’t order now, you won’t get much before Christmas”. She noticed that my eyebrows had shot heavenwards at that point, and she quickly added, “You see, everything has to come by boat to the island from Barcelona. Barcelona is the problem, not us.”
I was not convinced; we had already come across the ‘Barcelona problem’ many times before. It was, and still is, a comment freely trotted out by any salesperson that doesn’t have what we want in stock. Be it kitchen appliances, wall tiles, parts for the car, packets of tofu or even jars of Marmite. I become weary each time the words the ‘Barcelona problem’ are uttered.
My partner and I glanced at each other and nodded. Yes, although it would be more expensive, it would clearly be to our advantage to order the kitchen appliances right away, and to have them fitted at the same time as the kitchen units. We had already decided upon the type and brand of appliances that we would like, but each time we asked for a specific brand, the very nice sales lady smiled and shook her head. “No, I am sorry. If we order this, it will take at least six weeks. It is the ‘Barcelona problem’, you see.”
“What about Fagor, Hoover, Hotpoint, Bosch, Whirlpool?” I went through most of the brands that we knew of, or at least had some experience of. The very nice sales lady shook her head sadly, making the same point, “I’m so sorry, we don’t have these in stock. If you order these, they won’t be here until Christmas. We have the Christmas break, New Year holidays and King’s Day; it could be well into next year before they are fitted. It’s the ‘Barcelona problem’, you see.”
Being sensitive to our disappointment, the very nice sales lady opened the drawer of her desk and with a flourish pulled out a fat catalog from a French brand that we knew very little of, but I won’t mention the name here. Looking back, I don’t think we had even heard of the brand before. The appliances looked good, and they were in the stainless steel finish that we wanted, and the very nice sales lady assured us that all of the items that we required were in stock. Anyway, surely a washing machine is a washing machine, irrespective of brand?
We ordered a fridge freezer, cooker hob and oven, dishwasher, washing machine and microwave, and all would be installed the following week. “You won’t be disappointed,” the very nice sales lady assured us as I handed over my credit card. “They are all reliable machines and will last for years.”
When the very nice sales lady had mentioned “for years”, I hadn’t realized that she had really meant “for four years”. In reality, each appliance has lasted just over four years. Each appliance has died in the last few months and, today, the last appliance, an electric oven, blew up after four years and two days from purchase. I am now convinced that all the appliances that we had purchased came installed with a pre-determined obsolescence time clock.
What have I learned from this experience? Firstly, I now twitch at very mention of ‘Barcelona’, and will avoid visiting the city for a while and, secondly, I will buy German-made appliances in future.