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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Tale of Two Cities OR How to get a new pair of glasses!


I am sure for many readers of this blog this will also be your experience - read on.

I've had my glasses for much longer than the 2 years recommended and realise that I don't see as well as I should so it's probably time for a new pair of specs.

A couple of weeks after this realisation I find myself at a loose end on a Saturday. I woke up late, had a brunch of sorts and realised there wasn't too much housework to do. Feeling a bit bored I thought I could meaningfully occupy my time by actually getting some new glasses.

I made my way into the town centre and checked out the larger outlets. I could see the prices clearly displayed in each. After all this work I needed a coffee with somewhere to sit, relax and think. The coffee drunk I made a decision on which outlet to give my valuable custom to and went back there.

As I went in I was greeted in a very friendly and polite way. Once it was established that I needed new glasses and, therefore, an eye test, I was shown to a very comfortable and pleasant waiting room when I sat in a really nice chair and there were magazines to read. After only 10 minutes or possibly less I was called and shown into the examination room.

I underwent a thorough eye examination. Not only was my sight assessed but I was tested for conditions like glaucoma that can be treated if caught early enough but are not always obvious. The exam took around 20 minutes and I already knew the exact cost because the price was clearly displayed as I entered the store.

I left the exam with my prescription and made my way back to the main store area. I was again asked to sit in an equally comfortable waiting area with magazines to read and price lists prominently displayed.

After only about 5 minutes I was collected by a 'consultant'. I sat at his desk while we discussed what type of lenses I wanted, what coatings (anti-scratch, anti-reflective) and what material (plastic or glass) with relevant discussions about costs (already displayed all around the store). Having decided on a pair of varifocal for normal use and a pair of varifocal sunglasses I left the desk to go and find frames I liked.

I already knew the cost of the exam and the lenses. The frames were grouped by price so it was easy to fit the frames to my budget.  Once I had selected the frames I returned to the consultant. He asked me to put the frames on and marked and measured to ensure that when my glasses were finished the focal points in the lenses would match the focal points in my eyes.

Having completed the choices for lenses and frames I left the store and set off in search of some retail therapy in the form of another coffee. I then went for a gentle wander around the local bookstore (very dangerous place for me as I LOVE books and am in danger of spending literally all my money here).

Just over an hour later I returned to the optician's where my glasses were ready and waiting. I was shown to the same consultant I had seen earlier who asked me to put on each pair in turn. He then adjusted the arms to make sure they would naturally sit in the right place and checked that the focal points were correctly aligned for me. That done he gave me some advice on looking after them and made sure I had a cleaning cloth in each little box that they came in. He then accompanied me to the counter where I paid. There were no surprises at all when it came to payment because from the very beginning all the prices had been clearly displayed and discussed.

I left with new glasses feeling very happy at having spent a productive afternoon.


This experience may not be quite so common among you.

It's about 7 years since I got my glasses in City Number 1 and, even when I wear the glasses, I'm beginning to find it difficult to read. Obviously, it must be time for some new glasses but I'm no longer living in the same place. There is nowhere like the shop I went to before here.

My first task was to find somewhere to get an eye test. Turns out there is only 1 optician here who can do this. The 'surgery' is down a back alley with a dirt track for a road in a grotty run-down flat in an unfinished building on the 2nd floor above a bakery. It took a lot of research to find this person and this place, not least because I don't speak the local language well enough.

When I eventually found the 'surgery' I saw a man sitting at a very small desk in the corner of a room. The paint was peeling and the room was lined with really old chairs. Some of the chairs had obviously been there an exceptionally long time (even though the building itself is not yet finished this part was obviously constructed some years ago) that the chair backs have worn a groove in the wall. The man called me over and asked me, in good English, for my name which he wrote in his book. He then looked up and told me there are a lot of names on the list before me so I will have to wait about an hour. This was disappointing because it was early evening and I was very hungry. "Never mind", he said, "go and get your dinner and come back in an hour".

I returned just over an hour later to find that there were still a lot of people in front of me. I waited another hour and a half and eventually got to see the optician at around 11.15pm.

The eye exam was quick - around 10 minutes - and only concerned with sight. At the end I was given a prescription and sent back to the receptionist (the man at the small desk) to pay. I thought I knew how much I would have to pay and had made sure I had that much with me. A friend recently had his eyes tested here and had told me the cost. I was therefore stunned when the receptionist asked for a sum about 9 times more than I expected and around 3 times the cost of the test in the UK. The receptionist calmly explained that the number was the same for everyone but if you were local you paid in local currency, if you're foreign (like me)  you pay in Euros or, in other words, you pay 8 x what the locals pay.  In spite of my arguments he insisted he was right. I gave him ALL the money in my wallet and had to promise to go and pay the rest later when I take the glasses back to be checked that they have been made to the right prescription.

Now I have the prescription I have to find somewhere to actually get the glasses. The Optician had recommended somewhere so, the next day on the way home from work, I stopped off at the recommended shop. It was closed. The neighbours said the man would be back in 5 minutes. I waited and waited. Every time I started to walk away one of the neighbours tried to contact the man and reassure me. After just over an hour I'd had enough and left. I called by again the next day with the same story. So, I gave up.

Two days later I had a day off. I used the time to try and find an alternative shop for my glasses. The first one I found was unbelievably small and the man working there really didn't seem to have any idea at all about prescription glasses even though the sign outside said, in English, that they did prescriptions and sun glasses. It transpired they were really only able to provide plastic copies of designer sunglasses to vulnerable tourists who thought they were getting a good deal by paying over the odds for cheap tat.

I eventually found another shop that was dedicated to prescription glasses and where the owner seemed to know what he was talking about. The first obstacle, however, was getting a price for the lenses. He wanted me to choose the frames first and then he'd give me a price for everything together. It took a long time for me to make him understand I have a budget and, as the lenses are essential, I need to know this cost first so I can select frames that keep me within an overall maximum. Eventually, I managed to squeeze out of him the cost for the lenses - like before one pair of clear glasses and 1 pair of sunglasses, both varifocal with anti-reflective and anti-scratch coatings. I then, finally, chose the frames and we calculated the final price. I was asked for a deposit which, again, was more than I had in my purse. I gave him what I had and 2 days later stopped at the shop with the rest of the deposit. I was told I would have my glasses in 8 days.

After 8 days my glasses were still not available. However, the bright spot in this time was a call from the original optician to apologise for trying to overcharge me. He explained that as I live here I would have the same rate as the locals and when I go back for him to check my glasses have been correctly made he will give me a refund.

Several more days and my glasses are still not there. I am given some excuse about a problem with the sunglasses. It seems the factory had made 2 pairs of identical glasses then tried to coat 1 pair with black to turn them into sunglasses. Of course, it didn't work because they had already applied the anti-scratch!!!!!!! I'm told I have to wait another 8 days.

Eventually I received the clear glasses but still had to wait for the sunglasses. When these latter arrived they came with another pair of clear glasses - the ones they'd made and tried to colour afterwards. Somehow I've ended up having these as a spare and paying 1/2 price for them.

The sunglasses were still not right. There was damage to one of the lenses and the frames were not the frames I had ordered so they had to go back to the factory again. They finally did arrive back to me with the lens OK but with frames I had not ordered. I am told the frames I ordered were rare here and none were available for my glasses. It basically boiled down to the fact that I DO have sunglasses and I can either have them with the frames provided or not at all.

At no time when I collected glasses was I asked to put them on, to read anything to make sure they were OK, or asked if the arms needed adjusting at all. I was simply handed the glasses in a little box (like usual) to take home with me.

So the timeline looks like this:

Day 1          Eye test
Day 2          Fruitless visit to closed shop (recommended by optician)
Day 3          Shop still closed
Day 5          Find new shop and order glasses
Day 28       Get clear glasses as ordered
Day 35       Get damaged sunglasses in wrong frames and unsolicited "spare" pair
Day 55       Get repaired sunglasses in different (ie not the same frames as last time) wrong frames

My feelings? VERY frustrated at the amount of effort and time I had to dedicate to this and still not end up with what I wanted or ordered.

The cost? About 1½ times the cost of the experience in City Number 1.

So, next time I guess it will actually be cheaper and much more pleasant to spend the difference in price on a budget flight back to City Number 1 and get them there.

Looking on the bright side, that option would also allow me to visit and catch up with friends I haven't seen in a really long time so perhaps it's not such a bad idea after all.

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