Emergency versus Inconvenience

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumbing#/media/File:Pipewrench.jpg

If there is word of advice to give to expatriates living on European soil, let alone any city slickers in the US or even college students living in apartments, when it comes to household problems, it is this:

There IS a difference between an emergency and an inconvenience.

A broken water main or a fire is definitely an emergency. A broken down refrigerator (despite its annoyance) is an inconvenience. A clogged sink in the kitchen however is technically an emergency, but not in the eyes of the plumber.

We learned this lesson the hardest way possible a couple days ago, when our kitchen sink suddenly had standing water and could not drain. Despite several attempts of forcing the water down, which included even taking apart the water pipe, cleaning it out and putting it back together, it was virtually impossible for the drain to work. Henceforth, we contacted the emergency housing services to summon a plumber to our house to fix the problem.

Now we have to keep in mind that the incident happened on a weekend where none of the plumbers are working EXCEPT in emergencies, and when there is an emergency, chances are that a household is charged extra for the work. This was the risk we had to take as the next possible place to wash the potatoes and clean the dishes would be the bathroom tub! Plus with a functioning dishwasher located next to the kitchen sink, having that run with a clogged kitchen drain would be a complete havarie!

Yet when the plumbers came, they had a unique way of nickel and diming the customers. First they asked if the other drains in the house had issues- namely the bathroom. Answer was no. Then came the reason for the question: 350 Euros for 15 minutes of work, and including the weekend pay and travel! Instead of the services being located nearby, they were located in Bavaria! So, this made sense!

Despite finding the cause of the clogged drain, which was in the wall and the rest I’ll leave out to avoid anyone reading this to throw up, we did learn a very valuable lesson which is asking ourselves, whether a problem like this needs to be solved right away or if it makes sense to find more “rather inconvenient” alternatives until help arrives. Normally “Handwerker” (people repairing household items) are supposed to inform their customers of the price before doing the work- and even more so on the telephone and not at the person’s house. But in today’s society, where such services rob customers of their money, it definitely pays to ask first before allowing the people to do their work to avoid any surprises.

This experience definitely reinforced a concept my cousin invented when his son, who’s a freshman in college, called him to say that he had a problem with a broken down refrigerator. His response was pure gold: “Son, that is not a problem. That is an inconvenience.”  This incident with the kitchen drain stressed this concept, and therefore, next time you have something similar to what we had, you should ask yourselves how bad the disaster is, whether it is worth contacting emergency services or waiting for a couple days until the repairman comes to fix it (and charge you a reasonable amount), and lastly, ask for the price before they come so you are not emptied of your wallet when they come. Seven times out of ten, your problems are most likely inconveniences and you can save up to 50% on repairs just by taking the inconvenient alternatives. You cannot avoid all disasters and other issues at home, but you can find a way to stem the problem.

Frage für das Forum: What household disaster did you have that required the assistance of a repairman? How was the service and did you feel ripped off regarding the price for repairs? What would have done differently?  Post your stories here or on the Files’ facebook page.

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