“Welcome to the Third World”

Perhaps it's time to relocate the home office. Photo by Nathan Greenhalgh/Baltic Reports

We recently posted something Justin Petrone wrote about customer service problems in Estonia, and I can assure you that the problem is not confined to the northernmost Baltic state.

Despite anything Invest Lithuania or Enterprise Lithuania, the two off-shoots of the now-defunct Lithuanian Development Agency tell you, the southernmost Baltic states is also rife with indifference to the paying customer by local businesses. And no, I’m not nit-picking about restaurant waitstaff, which from my experience are just as bad in Western Europe as here vis-a-vis the U.S.

Let me give two personal examples of what the Baltic Reports home office has had to put up with.

Three weeks ago, during the height of the July heat wave, the water was cut off to my apartment for eight days. It was grueling. Had to buy bottled water to drink, couldn’t wash dishes, take a shower and let’s not even discuss the toilet situation.

The reason was a pipe in the Soviet-era concrete building had burst in another apartment, flooding the one below it. So the company the municipality has hired to manage the undulating, gray blocks, Šnipiškių Ūkis shut off the water to our section of the building. And that was it.

That’s because the pipes burst in an apartment resided in by an elderly couple who happened to not be at home. Since the couple also owned the flat, there is no landlord with a spare key and apparently building management does not keep spare keys either, which is the norm in the U.S. When I asked them why not, I was told “This is Lithuania. If someone else had a spare key, the apartment would surely be robbed.”

Wow. I can’t imagine what they would want to rob in their apartment. A small, used TV set? A bathroom sink? Some old clothes? Surely there wasn’t much of value — even if they kept their cash pension payments in jars under the bed, as many Lithuanian elderly typically don’t have bank accounts, that would only be a few hundred litai as the monthly stipend is pitifully low.

So, the pipe didn’t get fixed and the days stretched on. We called Šnipiškių Ūkis again and again to see if any progress was being made, but all they could say was “we’re working on it” and that they had no contact information for the elderly couple and they had not returned home. Finally seven days later, the company decided to solve the problem by knocking out the apartment door lock, fixing the pipe and then replacing the lock with a new one. Needless to say, this solution could have been reached earlier in the week.

Then the company left, though, without turning on the water to the my top floor apartment. So I had to call again, and they sent over someone to do that. However, when I turned on the faucet, the water was brown and smelly. Had they accidentally set the wastewater pumping into my place? Apparently.

So, I had to call Šnipiškių Ūkis again and the next day, a repairman arrived and switch the lever so my apartment would again get clean water. There was certainly no apology on their part, and of course we had to pay them 20 litai for the privilege of sending over a repairman to get the correct water pumping in after they made the mistake the previous day. Thanks Šnipiškių Ūkis.

When I told my uncle, a London-based architect that’s lived in Brazil, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and China, among other places, he told me “welcome to the Third World.” Normally I would’ve corrected him with some response about how the standard of living in Lithuania is much better than that, but this time I didn’t bother. I just couldn’t.

Which brings us to the second example.

A mere week after getting running water again, my apartment’s Internet connection, administered by VDNET, was cut off last Thursday. The reason wasn’t because of any of our equipment, but because VDNET has a security system that cuts off its DHCP connection if more than one IP address is detected.

Again, this is something I’ve never encountered in the U.S. or Western Europe. The reason for this is to ensure that apartment building owners are not buying one Internet connection for the whole building, I presume. We’ve been using the same router here for over a year, but now their security system has been tripping up, and knocking out our connection inadvertently. I presume this may be happening to other users, as when we called them about fixing it Thursday they said they were “working on it” and would send a repair person to check it out.

Well, the rest of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday went by and finally at 4 p.m. on Monday someone came over. This was after I called repeatedly each of those days to no avail, and finally on Monday after I had been calling all morning they told be just before noon that somebody would be coming “soon.”

I asked for a specific time of arrival, and was told they didn’t know, then after the person on phone put me on hold to talk to a manager, I was informed it would be within one hour.

Ačiū,” I said.

Four days and four hours later, the VDNET repairman arrived.

I showed him the router and the same Apple computer I’ve been using for two years here, and he called up headquarters and had the security block was overrode. We were told we’d have to pay for the repairman, even though the blockage was due to their error.

Then on Tuesday evening, the connection went out again, for the same reason. Since it was after work hours, there was nothing we could do, which means the Baltic Reports articles that hadn’t been published yet and the tons of additional business I had to do given my 24-hour work schedule could not be done.

So Wednesday morning I called, again explained that I didn’t know why it was doing it as the same router and computer were being used, no new IP address, and so they overrode the security block. Again no apology, explanation or statement that they’d do their best to fix their obviously malfunctioning security system.

Now this is the same company that if your monthly bill is paid one day late, your connection is cut off until payment is received. However, when they’re in error, not only does it take half a week to fix but you have to pay extra for that. Thanks VDNET.

If I can summarize how the two experiences made me feel, let me say that yes, some of the problems this country faces can be blamed on the Soviet Union, but not things like these. This is just Lithuanian businesses treating their customers like garbage, simple as that. And not having reliable water or Internet hardly entices most foreign investors.

Nathan Greenhalgh is the editor of Baltic Reports.


Views expressed in the opinion section are never those of the Baltic Reports company or the website’s editorial team as a whole, but merely those of the individual writer.

8 Responses for ““Welcome to the Third World””

  1. Vytis says:

    How much do you pay in rent? If you’re living in an expensive place than your gripes are fair but if you’re living in a ghetto like project than the same issues exist everywhere.

    Also, 4 hours for a cable repairman is much better than anything Time Warner has done for me here in the US.

  2. Nathan Greenhalgh says:

    Dear Vytis,

    Good point, I suppose I should clear that up.

    It’s your standard Soviet-era apartment block near the city center in Žirmūnai, just across the river from the St. Peter & St. Paul Cathedral. So no, it’s obviously not the nicest housing in Vilnius but it’s hardly the worst and you couldn’t compare it to a crime-ridden public housing “ghetto” in a US city like NYC or Chicago. It’s full of middle-class and working-class Lithuanians.

    As for Time Warner, I never had to deal with them but as I recall one time there I had an issue with one of the channels with Comcast in Chicago, and they dealt with it courteously and efficiently. I’ve never experienced or heard of anything like my experience with the water happening anywhere in a US or Western European city.


    Nathan Greenhalgh
    Baltic Reports

  3. Mantas says:

    I believe that this kind of backward mentality has been caused by the Soviet occupation. The culture where no respect is shown for the customer was forced on us by Russians. The state was the only producer and service provider and there was no competition, thus there was no need for any kind of customer service and you were very happy only to be able to buy something or to receive a service. Things have been changing in Lithuania, but slowly. If you take mobile telecommunications industry, which is completely new, you are likely to be very satisfied with the service (also because the competition is very high and therefore I would advise you to switch your ISP to TEO or any other).

    But take any of the state-owned industries and it might leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Just yesterday I called Lithuanian Railways to inquire about the possibility to take bikes onboard and it felt as if I called to ask for some personal favor from a very very very busy woman. She was answering my questions as if I was the most stupid person in Lithuania not aware of their bikes-on-board policy. And then, when I thanked her and was about to say “Good-bye”, she hanged up on me without saying anything. And much worse things happen in state-owned hospitals or police offices.

    My only hope is that the new generation of Lithuanians, most of whom have been studying or working in Western Europe, will take over the jobs from the “Soviet generation” and attitudes will change.

  4. Daiva says:

    Every country has its own way to drive people nuts. In Hungary, the post office clerk copied half of my passport, mumbling something that nobody around, unfortunately, was capable of translating into English or German, before I finally received my parcel after being sent from one clerk to another 3 times. Later, when I knew some Hungarian already and was in a similar situation again, I understood that what she was looking for was a residence permit in my passport – which, as an EU citizen, I obviously don’t need. In addition, the mono-lingual staff at a phone company, where I bought my pre-paid card, also gave me a hard time while I was trying to obtain something that you buy in a kiosk without even showing your passport in Lithuania.

    In Israel, which is a much richer and tech-savvy country than Lithuania, I could not manage my bank account from another branch of the bank other than the one where I opened my account. And I will not start telling stories of medical bureaucracy…

    Yes, sometimes it’s just the way people do things. And unfortunately investors don’t live in Soviet blocks and are not dependent on most of the public or semi-public institutions.

    One thing you can’t blame the USSR for is the fact that private property is untouchable unless there is an absolute emergency. If the owner does not choose to leave the keys with anyone else, there is no way to force them to.

  5. Mark says:

    Wow, I thought I was new around here… Yeah, registering (and being able to re-initialize the ip number) and re-registering the router or computer is different here than in the US. Of course, if I have a problem with the cable/internet, I just call the actual repairman who came four years ago, if it’s not some temporary problem.

    I know an electrician who works on a per-pizza (homemade) basis for small calls

    I’ve adapted pretty well to living in Lithuania, and even go by the old system that seems to work for everybody and their pažistimai…. A smile and a handshake gets you anything in a socialist country!

    Isn’t it the time of year now when the hot water gets shut off for a week?

  6. Jonas says:

    Man are you fresh off the boat? Mark is right. Until very recently in Lithuania it was normal for hot water to be off for an entire week EVERY summer for routine maintenance. Get used to it. Are you renting? If so I would recommend renting in a new building. Heating is much less in winter and you obviously won’t have these kind of pipe problems.

  7. Nathan Greenhalgh says:

    @Jonas and Mark

    To clarify it was ALL water, not hot water.


  8. Nathan Greenhalgh says:

    By the way Daiva I am very impressed with your blog. While Baltic Reports is down readers might enjoy http://wonderland.cafebabel.com/

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