Discovered: The Worlds First Angry Customer

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Few things are more irksome in the world of shopping than hearing someone just ahead of you in the queue utter the word “complaint”. When someone wants to speak to the manager, you can expect the whole store to be held-up while someone with a drastic sense of self-importance makes a fool of themselves.

However, the concept of customer complaints is not a modern thing or, as some people erroneously say, a ‘21st-century problem’ – proof shows we’ve been moaning at shopkeepers forever!

Indeed, the worlds’ first discovered customer complaint was recently found, and it stands at thousands of years old. Found in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur (modern day Tell el-Muqayyar, Iraq), this complaint stands at around 3,800 years old!

The tablet, from a man named Nanni sent to someone called Ea-nasir, moaning that the wrong copper grading was delivered. The complaint also talks about shipment delays and misdirection – it’s quite the complaint, in truth.

Written in ancient Akkadian, it’s among the earliest forms of known writing and was engraved onto a massive clay tablet. While we just need to hit ‘Send’ on an e-mail client today, poor Nanni had to build this himself, carve it out and then deliver the complaint by hand!

Indeed, someone posted a link from an old translation on Reddit. This link was a translation by A. Leo Oppenheim, an Assyriology expert who penned the 1967 book Letters from Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia.

The translation comes out as:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.”

I have to say, next time I go to the store and hear someone say “I want to speak to the manager!”, I might have to wonder if their complaint is really so long. That’s a pretty hefty complaint to put in about an order!

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