I’m sitting here in Starbucks where I thought I’d get faster internet and be able to sit in an air conditioned atmosphere to write this update post, but lo and behold, I’m compelled to face the speed of internet working as slow as molasses being poured in February in Canada. The readers should note this is tolerated as an acceptable speed for internet in Peru. Because it’s taking a month to load the page, and though I’m sitting here getting some reprieve from the heat, I’m writing this as a Word document instead.
The thoughts going through my head are spurred on by the stuff below, but also by an article I just read about a Tim Horton’s in New Brunswick banning a customer for excessive complaining, and from a website I like visiting all the time called The Customer Is Not Always Right. But my almost year of living in Peru has smacked me in the face against that mentality, because here, if there’s a problem, it’s been my experience that you’re the one at fault, no matter how illogical or implausible the excuse given by the service provider.
We use Telefonica for phone and internet where I live. This amenity is included in my rent of course. However, we’re told to turn it off for four hours per day. I used to believe–when I first moved in—that the reason the property owners wanted us to do this, had to do with not using it at night when everybody’s sleeping, and that, though password protected, neighbors could use the WiFi and turning it off would be a step in preventing it’s use. However, turns out the real reason is because sometime in the past, when the internet wasn’t working, she had called the company and they told her it was because she wasn’t turning it off for four hours per day so it could ‘cool down’. Apparently, WiFi routers need four hours of rest time, or else it affects your internet connection adversely.
So they deflected on her their responsibility to provide working internet, and caused the customer to permanently believe–it seems—that if the internet isn’t working, they are at fault for not taking care of the router and letting it ‘get some rest’. Maybe there’s a hamster wheel inside it, and the poor little guy needs a break everyday or he won’t run his course efficiently enough for our internet to work properly. I don’t know, even after a year.
While I went back to Canada, my landlady seems to have stopped trusting all the tenants to turn it off at night, and now her or her mother set their alarm to come upstairs at 1:30am to turn it off themselves. I got talking to another lady who started renting here–when bumping into her in the kitchen–and she pointed out to me you don’t set your alarm to wake yourself up in the middle of the night to do something if you don’t seriously believe it’s necessary. I’ve tried talking to my landlady for over 45 minutes once trying to explain routers are supposed to be left on and left alone, and gave her other examples of products you don’t unplug when not in direct use (“You don’t unplug your refrigerator when you’re done eating, do you?”). I even tried, much to her refusal to accept—that other Peruvians I’ve met don’t do this with theirs and laugh at this idea when I tell them about it.
Like I said, forty-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back trying to change their minds. But suffice it to say, each of the homeowners here are convinced they heroically saving our lives every night and that if it weren’t for them, the router would overheat, explode, burn the house down, and kill us all, because all of us are too irresponsible to bother turning off this ticking timebomb every night. Or we just know better and that we don’t need to bother, whichever of the two it is.
But this business with the internet company being the one who put this idea in her mind and building such a mental stronghold that nobody seems to be able to demolish with sound reasoning or logic, also got me thinking about the ‘customer is always right’ business ethic we take for granted in North America. Instead of just doing something about the problem, it’s easier to make up some retarded reason for why the customer’s behavior has done something to provoke the undesired results.
My friend and fellow missionary to Peru, Denise and her husband Martin were telling me a number of months ago about losing four pairs of jeans in one load of laundry when taking her clothes to be cleaned, and not being able to do anything about it because the worker denied that she ever brought that many pants. Or one of my favorites she told me; getting film developed, and they mismatched the image on the negative with the print they were putting it onto, causing the about 80 % of one photo to show with 20% of the next one on the same print. My friend explained to her the problem and that she wasn’t going to pay for this, and was repeatedly told the problem was not their mistake in processing the photos, but hers. She, according to them, just took the photos wrong and that’s why they turned out that way!
Living in a culture that does this, makes me wonder when I’m being too aggressive or coming on too strong about when I’m receiving lousy service or being ripped off or taken advantage of in some way. Do I act like I’m in North America, or lower my standards? After all, my culture is no better than theirs nor theirs than mine. Are the things that bother missionaries and foreigners to other countries matters of opinion, or are some things universal no matter the culture–like good customer service?
These are thoughts almost every missionary goes through, I’m sure, living abroad.