Commiserating with a fellow expat

Posted by watchmen
August 13, 2018
Posted in OPINION

Waiting at a departure gate at Mactan-Cebu International Airport last week, the airline representative announced boarding would commence shortly and passengers should remain seated until their row is called. Despite the boarding call only requesting first class, business class, mileage club members, along with those needing special assistance or those traveling with infants, a line formed almost immediately. Were there that many premium seat passengers? There weren’t that many small children, did everybody need special assistance (or perhaps they thought of themselves as special)?

Went against better judgment and waited in line with the rest of the plane; it’s better to at least be seated than standing in the aisle while waiting on other passengers who either don’t understand how seating works and can’t figure out where their seat is or those who decide shoving a bag that does not fit into the overhead is more important that trying to let others to pass first. Mentioned to a travel companion, “This was my mistake; I forgot, even if the airline says they’re boarding by row, everybody just lines up anyway.”

The gentleman directly ahead in line turned around and laughed out loud. “Welcome to the Philippines,” he remarked.

The other passenger, an American, had been living in the Philippines for the past several years and was heading back to the United States. His observances of daily life in the country mirrored a lot of the thoughts expressed in this column.

After general discussion of how chaotic things can be sometimes – such as making a mad dash for an airplane despite the airline’s attempt at an orderly boarding process – he brought up the issue of driving. Told him right away, driving was not something considered upon witnessing how motorists operate in the Philippines. He recounted a story, a very familiar tale anybody behind the wheel could relate to, regarding vehicles coming in at all directions, turning at any moment, and pedestrians crossing at will.

Have said it before, in other countries, if a motorist drives their cars against the flow of traffic, swerves in and out of lanes, or rides between lanes, they’re most likely drunk. Given the assumption most of the drivers executing such maneuvers in the Philippines are sober, it illustrates a much worse situation than merely bad judgment.

Another item he mentioned was the unique retail experience. Those moments when a cashier says they are sold out of a number of items on their menu or when they extend their appreciation for providing the exact amount because they do not have change.

While restaurants and fast-food chains occasionally have menu items not available, it is routine in the Philippines for items to be unavailable – or as the cashier calls it, “sold out.” The term is questionable considering a time stopping into a local hamburger establishment and, literally, everything selected was unavailable. The cashier kept saying, “Sold out, sir.” However, the store had just opened – how can it be “sold out?”

Have always wondered if the concept of “inventory” is taught at business schools in the Philippines; if business owners knew the basics of inventory, there would not be so many instances of having missing items on their menu. If items are “sold out” the moment the store opens, clearly, inventory is not in the owner or manager’s vocabulary.

In addition, why is there such a lack of change in the cash register?

RA 10909, or No Shortchanging Act of 2016, mandates businesses to always provide customers with exact change. The matter was discussed at length in a previous column, yet, as with most (if not all) laws and ordinances in the Philippines, it’s all for show; the legislator who authored the bill gets credit, but the full extent of the law is never implemented – window-dressing for their reelection campaign.

In a previous column, recounted an experience in South Korea regarding exact change.

Just outside the hotel, there was a sandwich shop selling amazing bulgogi sandwiches; the food was generally cheap, around 2,500 Korean Won (KRW) – around P117. Went down to pick up a sandwich for breakfast and found the only denomination I had at the moment was a 50,000 KRW (or around P2,350). Given the experience in the Philippines, was hesitant when approaching the counter. Put in the order and handed the lady the large bill and, without a second glance, she shuffled through her register and provided exact change.

This was a roadside sandwich shop providing exact change at 8:30 a.m. Why can’t multi-billion peso companies in the Philippines do the same in the middle of the day? One can only assume it’s a tactic the latter undertakes by shortchanging customers, who, for the most part, will not argue over a couple pesos, which then adds to their already massive profits.

It was enlightening to hear somebody else share a similar viewpoint on the Filipino experience; a sort of reminder that there are much better ways to do things but they have yet to be realized in the Philippines. Given how often elected officials travel, it’s surprising they never feel the need to implement the simple conveniences and procedures used in other countries to improve the standard of living in the place they call “home.”

Despite all the talk of “progress” and “development,” it only appears things will likely remain the same for decades to come.

As the US-bound expat said, “Welcome to the Philippines!”/WDJ


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *