Someone down here was telling us not too long ago that he loved traveling to the US. When we inquired as to what he enjoyed so much, he thought for a minute and said, "Everything is so . . . I mean, everything there just . . . just works." Since we were not completely sure what he meant, he went on to give us several examples. And the more I've thought about his comments lately, I am really looking forward to our trip back in December/January. I'm really looking forward to things just "working".
One of the things he mentioned was the way people will line up and do things so orderly. He was amazed in the mall food court when people were forming single-file lines behind each cash register instead of all squeezing in around the counter and trying to get the cashier's attention so they can place their order next. The four-way stop concept was impressive to him too; everyone actually stops and then one at a time they proceed through the intersection.
He also talked about how things generally weren't broken but that if they did break, they were immediately repaired or taken care of. The roads were in such great shape. A broke down car gets towed quickly rather than sitting in the middle of the road blocking traffic for hours. Stores' bar code scanners work, along with their credit card machines. And he also liked how everyone in the service industry wants to do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy.
Eric and I have had especially bad luck with things breaking/not functioning properly/bad customer service, some of my favorite examples lately include:
- Yesterday while in the recording studio, the camera man and I started smelling something burning - something very electrical smelling. Turns out, the fuse box had a small fire in it, but no big deal (to anyone other than me). The A/C unit got wiped out, but they assured me there was no problem with the camera or lights. I had to continue recording without air. With the lighting system in the studio, it quickly got up above 40 degress C (105 F) in our little sound-proof room. I required a lot of make-up touch-ups!
-The pump at a gas station mysteriously stopped working after we had received just about 1/3 of a liter of alcohol in our tank. The attendant just sort of shrugged and said she didn't know what the problem was, but that our total was 55 centavos.
-After waiting for almost an hour to ship a small box at the post office, I had my turn, filled out all the paperwork, and then their credit card machine wouldn't work. It had been like that all day they said, but they were sure if I came back in a half hour it would be working again. So I did, waited again for my turn, but then once again the machine didn't work. They suggested I just try coming back the following day. I ended up going and pulling out cash from an ATM several blocks away, but in the end it had taken nearly 3 hours just to send a piece of mail.
-At the grocery store recently I was excited to finally find a frozen turkey breast (frozen turkeys are hard to come by around here!) I wanted to buy one, but there were only two left - one had a tear in the packaging and the other one had a smeared price tag/bar code. We ended up taking the latter, and alerting the cashier that there was another one still in the cooler with a readable price tag if he needed it for the price. He sent someone else to the meat department with my turkey and they came back with the other one. After pointing out the tear and exposed meat and explaining we chose the other one for a reason, the cashier sent a manager to the back with this opened turkey. She returned empty handed and said the other one had an unreadable price tag. After asking if they could just enter in the price using the good tag, she informed us that they couldn't because it was based on weight. We suggested that they weigh my turkey then and determine the price using the posted price per kilo, but we were informed that would be impossible. Eric then suggested that they just sell us the turkey for the price of the opened one then. They said they couldn't do that because there was a couple reais difference in the price. Eric calmly and politely told them that that seemed to him like the store's problem, not ours and that we just wanted to be able to pay them for our turkey. And at this point we had the cashier and the manager just looking at us as if we were crazy. I commented to them that it seemed to me like this was an easy enough situation to handle. And the manager offered to sell us the turkey that was opened. We once again expressed our concern over the tear and the exposed meat and asked them if they could please find a way to charge us for the turkey breast we wanted. The manager just said it wasn't possible and walked away. The cashier gave us an apologetic look and said, "Difícil, né?" (Difficult, huh?) As the crazy hormones that inhibit me from having patience these days took over, I just shook my head and told him that actually, no, it really should be quite simple, nothing difficult about it.
-We ordered an espeto (kabob) of chicken at a restaurant along with a couple small side dishes. When our food came out, the waiter used a fork to push the chicken off the espeto and onto a serving dish. Of the six pieces of grilled chicken on the stick, two of them went flying off and landed on the floor. The waiter smiled, apologized, and finished putting the other four pieces on the dish in front of us. Two-thirds of the meat we ordered ended up on the floor, so we were certain the waiter would be bringing us some more at any moment. But we finished the meal with the remainder of our chicken at our feet under the table. We asked for the check, thinking that there would just be an adjustment to our bill, but instead we found that we had indeed been charged the full amount for our meal and the server had still added on the optional 10% service tax (tip). The bill wasn't high and we just paid it, but we still have to laugh about it!
Poor service, technical problems, and such can certainly be a universal problem, but here everyone just always seems so complacent and laid back about it! (I have mellowed a lot living here, but I'm still not nearly as care-free as the locals!) While I have certainly experienced things just generally being more complicated to accomplish here than back in the US, I had never thought of it in terms of "things just work" there. But my Brasilian friend may be on to something with his observation!
I can't wait to see what my reactions are after being away for an entire year. I'm quite certain though that there will be a pretty equal mix of things that I find I've missed while I've been away from the US and things that I will be excited to get back to in Brasil!