Moscow, November 1993. The place: GUM, Red Square, Second Floor, Shoe Department. Tuesday morning.
Me: Good morning. I'm looking for shoelaces.
GUM Employee: That's my colleague. I only sell shoes.
Me: Do you have any shoelaces?
GUM Employee: Yes, they're in that box over there, under the counter.
Me: Could I see them, please?
GUM Employee: No, that's my colleague's department.
Me: But I can see them from here. Will you please sell me a pair of shoelaces?!
GUM Employee: No, I'm not allowed to. Come back on Friday afternoon.
Me: Do you know of anywhere else that sells shoelaces?
GUM Employee: No.
Toulouse, France, 2010. Accounts Department.
Me: Good afternoon. I need a stamp on this form. It's the same one as last year.
Employee: I don't understand it. It's not in French.
Me: I know, it's in German, but it's the same one as last year and the year before, and the year before that.
Employer: How do they expect us to understand it?
Me: They don't; it's standard issue. It's nothing personal. Please could you stamp it with the same stamp as last year so I can get it sent off?
Employee: You'll have to get it OK'd from downstairs
Me: I've already spoken to them. They sent me straight upstairs because they knew you'd done it before.
Employee: I don't understand it, though; it's not in French.
Me: Please just stamp it before I kill you.
OK, I made the last sentence up. Maybe.
(Slightly post-)Soviet Russia 1