It takes a little while to get used to the service experience here. It starts with the different use of English. I’m not talking about the distinctive accent or pronunciation, although that certainly adds to things. Its the mixture of missionary English, American English and unique Filipino phrases, that sometimes ask the ear to do a double take. Always polite, always sincere, the phrase comes at you, and the brain says “What?!”
“How is the Taste Regarding Your Food?” was a recent inquiry put to me from a waitress in Shakeys Restaurant. She was checking whether we were happy with our food. Its a much more formal way of asking “Everything ok?” And a much quirkier way of asking “Is everything to your satisfaction?” It sort of nailed it for me with the language barrier.
And there are other new experiences to handle when you first arrive and are purchasing something: anything, like a cup of coffee or household supplies. I can’t remember exactly where we first did it, but our initial experience at the department store in Metro Market is the one that I remember best: You’re standing at the cashier island, with one person in front of you. There are two employees and two cash registers. The first employee is involved in ringing up the first sale. So you stand near the empty register and hand your item to the second employee — the one not doing anything — and hand her your item expectantly. She very politely signals that the other employee will handle your transaction and steps back. (It took me two tries at this on two separate occasions to figure out that the second person’s job was as bagger. Baggers don’t use the register. Cashiers don’t bag. Get used to it.) Its your turn and both ladies do their jobs and you hand over the money, then she says it: I receive one thousand pesos, mam. Or I receive the exact exchange, mam. She’s signalling the denomination for the cash received and it has to — always — be stated out loud. I don’t bat an eye anymore when it happens but it takes at least a dozen transactions to get used to. Orders are the same way in the restaurant:
Customer: Can I have a cup of black coffee please?
Waitress: Yes mam. I repeat your order. One cup of black coffee. Thank you.
If you’re not expecting it, it throws you, especially if your ear is not tuned to the accent yet. Your order will *always* be repeated back to you at every restaurant, every time. No matter how long or short your list.
Transactions here are very formalized and regimented. You see the rows of employees outside the store first thing or at shift change, the supervisor drilling them on something, probably the same thing they were drilled on yesterday. Cashiers are taught to ask customers if you have the company loyalty card at the beginning of a sale. But if the answer in no, that conversation is over. They don’t try and get you sign up for one (thank god!) but they can’t answer you on how to obtain one either. (No one trained them on that).
The whole transaction experience is a reflection of the values of where you are, where ever you are. It is frustrating when there are five people serving you, but none are able to help you, or no one can think outside of the box to solve your problem. But compared to other places where no one can be bothered to serve you, there is no one to serve you, or where you have to beg for a menu – here its a positive pleasure. Returning to the Philippines after Greece to smiling, courteous faces is a bit of a relief. Of course I’d like competency with courtesy and friendliness, but two out of three ain’t bad! Its also a striking contrast to have a minimum of two assistants in a world that’s heading increasingly towards self-check out. How’s the service where you are?