Sunday, February 15, 2009

Like Living Nostalgia.

Do you ever think to yourself, life moves too fast in the United States. It would be nice to return to a simpler time, a time when someone always helped me to the car with my groceries... a time when the cashier wasn't always trying to up-sell me a larger soda or a silly trinket... a time when it felt like employees were "people" and not "human capital" or "human resources."

Well, in some ways, the developing world (they're not called that, actually, anymore - now they're emerging economies) has that slow pace you're seeking. It has a personal touch, and less (or no) bureaucracy.

But to quote John McCain... my friends, this is not always better.

Yes, there are young men at every grocery store who pack your bags or boxes and bring them to your car. For between 50 cents and a $1 tip, it's a nice piece of times past.

But, what about buying, say, a set of dishes - the kind that come in a box, a simple set for an office? Well, each dish will be removed from the packaging, inspected for chips or breakage, then stamped OK, then you fill out a paper agreement, and all this is because you can't dream of returning it. The CUSTOMER SERVICE counters we know and love in the States don't exist here... you can't buy a cookware set, get home and realize you forgot it wasn't oven safe, and then return it simply. Oh, no.

So, the checkout line is slow. OK. But the employees aren't really interested in giving you a good impression of the store either - because they're people, not Guest Associates. It took three employees nearly ten minutes at the register to help us purchase kitchen items for the new office yesterday - opening, inspecting, paperwork, packing into plastic bags, getting receipts, finding a cart, walking to the car.

(Of course, Americans are famous around the world for being nice - whether we mean it or not, we smile, say please, we are cheery folks who love commerce. This, ahem, may be getting us in some trouble.)

But it's an adjustment. Nothing happens quickly. A refrigerator was delivered on Friday evening. The men did not have a dolly. Yes. That's correct. They lifted a fridge out of a truck (with no ramp) and carried it inside - no dolly, no supportive belts for their backs, and good thing we have cement floors, otherwise pushing a fridge through the house would have slayed a carpet or wood floor.

It reminds me that it might be annoying when a restaurant won't let you block the aisle with an extra chair, to squeeze one more friend around the table, but those laws are there for a reason - they come from a time when fire escapes or legal windows or occupancy laws led to some terrifying, preventable, scary disasters. It might seem nutty to require four men to carry a fridge out on delivery... but boy, it's better than watching a new fridge teeter back and forth in the hands of two guys who are probably very tired at 6 PM.

So, I try to not to have the impatience of the Ugly American. I calmly fill out paperwork, agreeing that my silverware set does, indeed, have 4 forks, 4 spoons, 4 knives. I look down when walking so I can spot the uncovered drainage ditches, places the sidewalk stops (which is about half the time), and sundry messes I may not want on my shoes. I work on not thinking of either way of life as better, and I remember that if I miss some customer service, if I miss the motivation and above-and-beyond attitude that so many, many Americans have, I know I'll also miss getting to sit in a cafe for an hour, chatting, and not being nudged to leave and yeah, OK... I'll miss the guarantee of help out with the groceries.

1 comment:

  1. This might be slightly off but your post reminded me of this. In Ecuador, where there are no laws, I remember having a conversation with my host Mom where she explained she felt really fearful when she visited family in the states. She was fearful to make too much noise because there were laws about noise. She was worried to drive a car because there were so many regulations about what you needed to have to do this simple act. She felt like there were just so many rules and that if you didn't know them it was just a matter of time before you broke one and had a police officer at your door. And yes, in a country where a truck can collide with a school bus and kill 11 children and people come and collect the ones still alive and bring them home without any resulting lawyers or law suites...yeah. I had never heard anyone speak of the U.S. in this light. Fascinating.