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Picture the scene. You’re a checkout operator and you’ve just finished with one customer, a lady who left a small bag of vegetables at the cash register, something she decided she didn’t want. There’s only one other person to be served in a largely empty fruit and veg shop.

Do you first attend to that other person and return the unwanted product to the shelves later, when there’s no one else left in line? Or do you nonchalantly return the product to the shelves telling the waiting customer you’ll be back in a moment?

The latest scene of crimes against the service industry in Bogotá, Colombia.

Scene of the latest crimes against the service industry in Bogotá, Colombia.

I think it’s fair to say that most people with an ounce of customer-service wit about them would choose the former option. An inanimate product, in most cases — unless it’s causing an amount of inconvenience or the like — should play second fiddle to a living customer staring you in the face. If not, you run the risk of eventually having no customers at all to serve. The product won’t be much good to you then.

Director of Disservice
The thing is, taking the second course of action mentioned above, or something along those lines, is what happens in Colombia far too often to make it an insignificant anomaly. Many working in the “service industry” here just don’t seem to get what that actually should be.

A regular sight is seeing employees focus on what is a non-urgent task, leaving customers waiting. For example, in a restaurant or bar, they’ll clean the floor while there are people looking to be served. “We’ve no clientele but at least the floor is spotless.” Excellent.

There is no understanding of priorities — if anything is prioritised that is.

“The service industry in Colombia would be a nice idea.”

Linked to this is that very annoying practice of not respecting a queue. While the general public must be berated for this, it is a culture thing, employees have to take some of the flak here as well. If somebody is known to have jumped the queue, simply don’t serve them. Make them wait. And wait. That’ll teach them. (Well, it probably won’t, but …)

Now while we can make excuses for a shoddy service from very poorly-paid employees working in establishments that they don’t really care about, we can’t do the same for self-employed business owners. You would think that they’d be more attentive to the needs of their customers. Alas, even these types are often found wanting in this respect.

“Not bovvered”
We’re not even asking for a customer-is-always-right” approach. Needless to say a lot of the time they’re not and it’s not always best practice to kowtow to all their demands.

The problem here is that at times it’s more like “we don’t give two flying figs about the customer”.

It reminds me of some miserable bar lady types back in Ireland. You go in for a pint and they make you feel as if you are disturbing them from their soap opera viewing. “What do you want?” “Sorry, I thought this was a *public* house, I was merely looking for a drink. I didn’t mean to be an inconvenience.”

The miserableness doesn’t tend to be a feature in Colombia, it’s more a general “couldn’t care less” demeanour.

To borrow from Mahatma Gandhi when he was once asked for his thoughts on Western civilisation, the Colombian service industry “would be a nice idea.” We live in hope, slim as it is.
Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan – The Blog & IQuiz “The Bogotá Pub Quiz”.
Listen to The Colombia Cast podcast here.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor Irlandés, quien ha estado viviendo en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y cultura, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-colombia-cast.

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    @wwaycorrigan [Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.] In the 1972 classic, Godfather, there's an early scene where Don Corleone berates his godson, Johnny Fontaine, for crying because he didn't get a part in a movie. 'Godfather, I don't know what to do', a sobbing Fontaine mutters. Cue a slap in the face and a violent retort, 'You can act like a man', followed by a gentle mocking of his behaviour from the Don. [caption id="attachment_4643" align="aligncenter" width="347"]People who cry regularly get on Wrong Way's nerves. 'Let it all out ...' (Image from emojipedia.org.)[/caption] Crying times That scene is set in the late 1940s, a quite different world from that which we inhabit today, to state the obvious. These days, it's all about being in touch with one's emotions. It's OK to cry, whether you're a man, woman, child or however else you define yourself. Don't suppress your feelings, let it all out. I don't completely disagree with that approach. For one, for the most part, it's good to be honest about how you feel — at least if you're asked that is. What I don't like, what irritates me, is when the waterworks start, especially — although not exclusively — when it's men who are shedding the tears. This is where I side with Don Corleone. It's not that it makes me uncomfortable, it's more a case that I find it hard to take seriously men who cry with regularity. As for women, whether the tears are genuine or not, they often, um, precipitate a granting, justified or not, of whatever they may be looking for. I generally make an exception for death, but even in that there seem to be people who let flow more than really appears "necessary". (Perhaps we could introduce a tear scale. 'Careful now, you're close to your limit.') Bidding adieu to loved ones for an indefinite period of time is another "acceptable" tear-jerker. Alcohol-induced crying is also excepted, meaningless as it often is.

    'When the tears in others come they invoke a negative, cold reaction in me. Rather than wanting to help, I have a desire to walk away.'
    This aversion towards, bordering on utter contempt for crying has something to do with, it's safe to assume, my childhood. I was, after all, a serial crier into my mid-teens. Then, from about 15 onwards, I started to develop a strong dislike when seeing others well up for reasons that I would have considered rather inconsequential. During that time, no doubt having to deal with me, her last born, I recall my mother crying for what seemed like the merest of reasons. It used to get my blood up. Even if I'd been told it was all largely down to the menopause, it's unlikely I would have been sympathetic to her plight. Selfish teens, eh. Dry your eyes, mate This clearly left its mark. For in my current abode, the landlady, a nice woman I hasten to add, cries on an almost-daily basis. It's not only, as has happened a fair few times, a headache when she does it speaking directly to me about some grievance or another (these grievances have nothing to do with me, by the way!). It also irks me simply when I can just hear her sobbing away in her room. I know I should probably be a little more empathetic considering she suffers from depression, it's just when the tears in others come they invoke a negative, somewhat cold reaction in me. Rather than wanting to help I have a desire to walk away. It's not that I lack understanding. In fact, I'd wager I take the time to listen to and empathise with other people's gripes as much if not more so than the next person. I just wish they'd leave the crying out of it. The British-Irish band The Pogues sang in Streams of Whiskey, 'there's nothing ever gained by a wet thing called a tear'. That's not fully true, but I wish it was.   _______________________________________________________________ Listen to Wrong Way's Colombia Cast podcast here. Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan — The Blog & IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz".

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