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Interacting with Americans and Canadians
Handling complaints

Above: Class rage as usually ineffective in complaint resolution.

When travelling or studying in Canada or the United States, you need not tolerate major problems.

However, when you must complain, you should not demand—at least during the initial stages of a complaint. Neither should you show anger.

Here's an effective way to initiate a complaint:

[normal voice] "I am very sorry, but room 208 was not cleaned after the last guest. May I have another room? I am very tired and want to go to sleep."

Here's an ineffective way to initiate a complaint:

[yelling] "You gave me a filthy, disgusting room! There are hairs on the bed sheets! I want another room immediately, or I will report you to the manager!"

Most travellers do not need to be told this, but some come from societies or families (including from Canada and the U.S.) where the feelings of servants are not of much importance. This latter group of travellers does need to be warned against behaviour that is both boorish and ineffective in Canada and the States.

Escalating a complaint

If your initial request brings no result, say, "May I speak to the manager, please?" and start over in the same friendly way, keeping your temper under control. You should be friendly, but not cheerful.

Only if you get no result to a fair request after going to a supervisor, should you escalate the confrontation (without bringing anger to your voice).

"I am very sorry, but without a clean room I will have to ask my credit card company to stop payment. For the record, your name is Ms. Maria Zimmer, the manager? Is that correct? I am sorry, but without a clean room I will need to report what has happened to American Express and to your head office. I do not want to do that."

Notice that the "I do not want to do that" leaves an opening for the other side to move toward resolution.

Do not give up

If a solution does not readily come, you need not give up.

If, for example, a hotel says it cannot honour your reservation because it has overbooked, stay in front of the check in queue with you and your luggage blocking the way until the management offers a fair solution.

If you have brought along a written confirmation of your booking you are in a far better bargaining position.

Check in desk clerk: "I told you, Madame. The hotel does not have any rooms available!"

You speaking calmly and leaning on the check in counter as if you and your luggage will be there forever: "I am sorry. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go. I am so very, very tired. I just don't know what to do."

At the minimum, the overbooked hotel should find you an alternative room at a similar hotel, immediately refund your deposit in full, pay for a taxi to the new hotel, and pay for a call to your friend or relative letting he or she know your new location. Better hotels will often pay for your first night at the other hotel in this situation.

Being treated fairly

Getting along with Americans and Canadians does not mean that you must permit yourself to be treated unfairly.

However, save your energy for the rare big problems, if any, and in my opinion ignore day-to-day minor irritations.

As mentioned, always remember that showing anger may backfire.

Prevent problems

Try to avoid problems from your side by, for example, scheduling check in during the afternoon or early in the evening when a hotel is less likely to have run out of vacant rooms and by showing up a bit early for restaurant reservations.

For more discussion about interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Making friends

Go to >> Interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Avoiding sexism

Go to >> Dealing with prejudice

Go to >> Settling into North American life

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