Friday, September 05, 2003

One thing that is tiresome here (even in comparison to other developing countries I have been in) is the generally terrible standard of customer service in any shop or place of entertainment. The customer is simply a hassle to be sullenly got rid of as soon as possible.

Restaurants are awful - with a few notable exceptions, such as Cristal on 24 de Julho or Kitos Chinese Restaurant on Vladimir Lenine.
The best yet was a newly-opened Thai restaurant (run by a Thai family) with delicious food. However every time you eat there, at least one of you will miss out when the main course is served.
The unlucky person will instead be told that the dish they ordered is not available - remember this is about 45 mins after you have ordered.

Shops are even worse - I haven't found one yet where anyone except the boss is actually genuinely interested in making a sale. Someone like Wal-Mart could clean up here, if the GDP of the country was big enough to appear on their radar.

Today I worked at home in the morning to keep an eye on the plumbers who were fixing our sink (and also because trying to fix code in the shouting oven that our office has become is next to impossible). Just before lunchtime I finally set off to the office on foot, and decided to stop off at the Video Store at the unaptly named "Tiger Shopping Centre" on the way.

We have been having a bit of a Pierce Brosnan mini-season here: first the abysmal "World is not Enough", then the much better but very different "Tailor of Panama". This time, by popular request, I was hoping to get "Die Another Day", or "Dienutherdei" as it is pronounced here.

The last two times I had tried to get this (in two different shops), the shop assistant happily took me to the 'crap action movies' section and handed me the DVD case.

"Here it is, sir"
"Oh good, I'd like to take this one out then"
"Oh no sir, its not /available/ - someone else already has it out"
"So why didn't you just tell me that in the first place?"
"?" [no response but a look that says "are you f*cking stupid or something?"

This time I had even worse luck - despite the fact that there were 15 staff still hanging around, they all rushed to tell me, with a disdainful look on their faces, that they were already closed for lunch (it was 11.58).

I went to ask the manager-type if he couldn't just rent me one video...

"I'm working during the day so its really hard to come here when you're open"
"But we have to close"
"Would you ever consider opening on lunchtime?"
"We have to close, there's nothing I can do." [Look that says "get out of here you crazy man who wants to give me money" ]

All this said, it is often easy to see why staff are so lackadaisical. Pay is poor, training is nonexistent, and the most common management style is to shout across a room at your subordinate across a busy shopfloor and humiliate them in front of everyone. I suspect race often comes into it too, as the vast majority of owner-managers are of Asian descent, while the vast majority of shop and restaurant staff are black or mixed-race.

Furthermore, many of the staff have educational qualifications which in the UK would get them an office job - but here they are condemned to sell videos, cheap electrical goods and nylon clothing.

Its a tough one. Perhaps the oddest thing is that even foreign-owned chains, such as the South African "Mimmos Restaurants" don't seem to manage to look after their staff any better - with predictable results.

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