September 23, 2011

You Ignorant Bastards!

The wise and fragrant blogster Susan al Shahri has been talking about customer service in Oman.  A subject about which, I'm sure, most of you have a story or ten.  Anyway, I started writing a response on her page, but got so carried away I thought I'd better regurgitate the whole thing unedited through my own febrile voice box.  Seeing as I wrote a warm, positive life-affirming piece last week like some lily-livered bleeding-heart hippy, it's time to have a bit of a rant and let the spleen back out.  But not about politics for a while, because most of you don't give a shit anyway.  I'm not quite ready for lame restaurant reviews ("Grated carrots! Yay!"), or complaining about how the maid doesn't know how to programme the washing machine, but a bit of day-today whinging is always a hit.  So, here we are.  Dedicated to Susan, I'd like to talk a little about the "f*** you" culture that is becoming the hallmark of Omani society - as ever, catching up with the neighbours at its own pace...

Everyone knows that shops, banks, airlines or whatever are in some cultural dark age when it comes to customer relations in Oman.  The "can't do" culture is living loud, manifested through people of every background and nationality, united in a common quest for obstruction, obfuscation and sub-mediocrity.  What each company wants to do about it is their own problem, and they know it.  That most are still failing is something so obvious I can't be bothered to go on about it - plenty of others have.  I do have one very surprising (in a positive way) customer experience from Nawras though.  Without going into incriminating detail, they made an excellent effort to make me happy.  And although the product still basically sucks rear end, they kind of did - mainly just by wanting to.  But for every one of those (OK, it is just the one), there are a hundred of vein-throbbing, eyeball-popping, fist-shaking meltdowns I could offer to the case for the prosecution.

Anyway, the point of this isn't just about customer service, it's about manners.  The sad thing is that most Omanis (at least most of my friends anyway) have a self-image that tells them Omanis are polite.  And in a way it's true - with people they know.  No smoking in front of the older generation.  Ladies first.  Gentle language and gentle manners even in all-male company.  No quibbling over the bill (unless it's a fight to be the one who treats the others), no cursing or stealing the last chicken wing, profuse apologies for the slightest perceived shortfall in kindness and camaraderie.  My friends are nice, really.

But what is it with people in general?  I'm not imagining it: the younger generation are getting less and less polite, and even older ones (especially on the road - a whole other subject featured in a previous rant) seem almost as bad now.  Queue-jumping, no more "ladies first that was standard when I first came here ten years ago, and general arrogant disdain for other human beings - no response to your polite greeting, talking on the phone while you're waiting to be served, standing in the way of their elders without care or apology, spitting, swearing, and insulting passers by (attitudes to women are also a major issue) .  It makes me furious.

The only way to counter it, though, is to keep doing what the aforementioned Sheikha Susan is doing: keep talking, keep insisting on a response, keep picking people up on their rudeness.  Most people, even the most ignorant, still have some sense of shame to which you can eventually appeal.  There is a magic screen around rude people, young or old.  The car is usually an effective one - it allows them to see another human being as an object, an environmental irritation, rather than a person to be reckoned with.  And some, the most talented boneheads, are able to switch off their human interaction radar even in close proximity to their fellow beings.  For them, you have to try hard, and it's worth it.  Deliberate eye contact and a strong "as-salaamu 3alaikum" to a bunch of young brain donors has an almost magical effect sometimes.  The same in the supermarket at the checkout - being 230lbs and male helps, I imagine, but forcing the spotty human ballast to look at you and speak, changes the whole atmosphere.  If we all do it, I'm sure they'll develop into better social creatures.  

And we'll all get better customer service as a result.  Also, I do have some sympathy for the sheer mind-numbing spirit-crushing craptaceousness of the jobs (or lack of jobs) faced by the average Omani school-leaver.  First of all, if you haven't got a job, you can read through all the papers and find nothing worthwhile at all.  Sure, there are lots of young guys and girls who are just fundamentally lazy, spoiled and/or stupid.  They find it hard to get jobs anywhere (except maybe in teaching).  But let's not write them all off:  if you're an eighteen year old Omani, your family has a borderline poverty income and your parents weren't educated, you've been to a government school that is supposed to have been teaching you English for eleven years and you can't string a sentence together, let alone write one, it that really your fault?  Is it really your fault nobody bent the rules or was able to pay to get you into university?  Then you look at the situations vacant and everyone wants an Omani national with five years' experience and bilingual.  Real meaning: they don't want you at all, they just had to advertise unsuccessfully before employing an Indian.  So a lack of motivation in young people might not be entirely without reason. 

Also, even if you do get a job as a young Omani, especially as a non-graduate, it can suck pretty badly.  Chances are you're being hired as part of a quota rather than a management preference (i.e. they didn't really want you, you're kind of a human tax).  You're not going to feel exactly valued and welcome.  And a lot of the time, your colleagues are going to resent you, and it's got to have a psychological effect. Imagine your Indian boss won't tell you anything in case you steal his job, your European boss doesn't really understand anything about who you are, and worst of all, your Omani boss has the extraordinary mental agility to believe simultaneously both that you're about to steal his job and that you're mentally retarded - treating you both as a threat and an inferior as a result.  And due to the collective incompetence of all of the above, you're asked to implement a customer service policy that seems designed by the Marquis de Sade and Franz Kafka during a long absinthe session, usually as a desperate defence of a product or service over which you have no control, which has been delivered to the paying customer with the grace and inherent value of a face full of monkey vomit.  

Sheikha Susan was writing about a particular supermarket - not naming names and I'd normally agree, but I think in this case it was specific to Lulu.  I kept wondering from her piece about how you can "wheel a basket", then I remembered that Lulu have this great idea of something that's half way between a cart and a basket: that plastic one with wheels on, which I think is what she was talking about.  I'm sure other supermarkets have their problems (security at Carrefour as an example anyone?) so I'm not picking on Lulu and I don't think Susan was aiming to.  But as an example of desperately moronic policy affecting standards of customer service in the customer's eye, this isn't a bad one.  If you don't know, Lulu's policy is that the plastic wheelie baskets can't leave the store and enter the car park.  Therefore, Susan's story of being chased by the Basket Police is one that leaves me with sympathy for both parties, rather than dismayed at the actions of a grim-faced teenaged employee.

Now, to my occasionally-logical mind, it seems that if you have a receptacle designed to be wheeled on the floor because it's too heavy to carry, then making people carry its contents from the checkout is kind of stupid.  Sure, the contents of a basket you can carry - you carried them all around the shop for twenty minutes (and maybe stood in the queue for something similar!).  And a cart/trolley is for stuff you can't carry, which is why you get to wheel it to your car, unload it, and (if you're not one of the aforementioned arrogant shitmunchers, old as well as young), you put it back rather than leaving it blocking the only empty parking space for a hundred meters because someone less important than you can move it if they want to park.

So why provide an object that's designed to carry your heavy shopping around on wheels, but is lighter and more manageable than the steel cart, and then not allow you to...carry your heavy shopping in it on wheels?  Are they so afraid that, unlike those heavy carts, the thieving customers will just load these into their cars and steal them?  That would seem to be the only explanation.  Considering how far away I've seen the carts end up, I can only assume their fears are justified, which is a pity.  Maybe they need to hire some people to be i the car parks and make sure the wheelie baskets don't get stolen.  A sad indictment of popular morality indeed.  But not letting Sheikha Susan take her bags to the car on wheels is just retarded.  And because of it, some poor young Omani dude whose responsibility it was to stop her, not only has to face the wrath of an angry lady, but also help her carry her shopping.

There is no excuse for being rude (like the fat acne-monster in a Shell station who sat there fiddling around with his tray of lighters two minutes before iftar instead of letting me pay for my water, and ignored my greeting three times), and people should have manners even when they're not having a good day.  There is a culture of selfishness and aggression that I barely recognise from this country a decade ago.  A pervasive attitude that says "f*** you" to anyone and everyone: I'll park in two spaces because the next guy doesn't matter.  I'll throw my garbage here, only three feet from the trash can, because someone else will pick it up.  I'll jump into this queue because I'm in a hurry and "f*** you" all because I just don't care.  It's disgusting, it's eating at the morals of this society, and year by year it's alienating more and more people who want to visit, live, work or invest in this country.  Make no mistake, that's a really bad thing.   Bad for everyone.

But I think we also need to look at why this is happening, and at the gulf between the young generation's reality and the expectations we all have and had of our lives.  That's not peculiar to Oman - a whole disaffected generation exists in a hundred countries, manifested in benefit fraud, petty crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour everywhere from London to Lahore.  What strikes me about Oman, not just because I live here but because it's different, is how suddenly this has happened.  Maybe it's just economics and demographics - a simple factor of unemployment doubling since the last census while two hundred thousand more, largely unskilled workers, were hired from outside the country.  Maybe.  

What's wrong with the economy and how it should be fixed are maybe subjects for another article, or several.  They're certainly subjects that the new Majlis al Shura needs to get its teeth into next month.  But in the mean time, although I'm complaining as much as anyone else about the lack of manners and respect in Omani society as a whole, I think we also need to ask ourselves why the most polite country in the Gulf is developing the same depressing, selfish, nihilist and amoral social environment as the worst inner cities of Europe or America.  Maybe, as businessmen, HR managers, colleagues or just members of society, we need to ask what we're doing to make the future better, realistically better, for those who are trying to follow us. Otherwise is might not just be the sullen teenager at the checkout who's an ignorant bastard.  Maybe it's us?


36 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that these days many Omanis stand out as especially rude and unbelievably selfish - overall the problem is far worse than one encounters in most countries outside the Gulf. I don't know where it's come from but it is rapidly destroying what there is of an Omani 'culture'. Perhaps this nastiness was always there just below the surface and, as the place has become more crowded and more stressful, the true character of Oman's people is starting to come out. Very sad.

Adnan

Kitten said...

I enjoyed reading this, other than it being true, I like your writing and maybe I enjoyed this even more because I was trying to procrastinate writing a poem analysis.. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

I have given up on hoping for any kind of good service in Oman long time ago. I don't bother saying hi or thank you in the shops anymore. I dont get upset when the cashier pulls out her mobile phone half way through checking out my shopping and starts a phone call or texting, I dont get upset when I ask a question and get a blank face as a response... Whenever I go to a shop (and I do everything to do it as little often as possible) and I have got a choice between an asian or omani I am desperate to get to be served by the asian as usually they have at least a tiny bit of clue of what going on...
I actually never thought Omanis were nice people at all. I never seen a nice Omani. I always just seen the rudeness, impoliteness, the stares and arrogance I never seen anywhere else in the world. I am afraid that's part of the arab culture. We are all supposed to respect their "culture" for not getting respect back. (recent example is France and its burqua ban... I mean here you can get fined to drink water during ramadan, how come it causes such an uproar that european country dares to ban something as ridiculous as burquas - honestly why does anyone have to SHOW their religion???I mena you can trust in anything you like,noone gives a shit so keep it at home and don't bother others with it!)
I've spoken to people who have been on holiday in Oman (an expensive holiday needless to say) and most of them hated it and said never ever again (lack of activities, lack of good service, nothing to see). I think that speaks for itself too.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

No surprise you're "anonymous" there buddy!

Thank Kitten - seems procrastination is a shared hobby :)

Commented before said...

I've found the most rude people in this country most often to be middle aged Omanis. Those who hide behind a veneer of humility, but are in fact. (often) the most arrogant people I in the Middle East. Young people here can be rude, but that appears to be a common trend running through every society in the world... and let's face it, they're overcoming centuries of stifling family oppression where the elder (actually, the elder male in the family) ruled with an iron fist. That created fear, not humility in society.

The generation (30-60) who grew up under these conditions (often) have the same bullying attitude as their forefathers, although displayed in a different way (I am Omani so I am superior to you Indian/Filipino/woman etc.) Don't be fooled by the wolf is sheep's clothes, the older generation may be all smiles with you, as a foreign male, but to their maids, foreign (non-white) females and car washers, they are (often) little more than predetors and bullies. Watch them the next time their meal is late, or there is a speck of dirt on the car after it's been washed - the toys come right out of the pram. Younger Omanis may have their faults, like every stratum of society, but they act more mature than their elders when things don't go their way.

Slim said...

Excellent post. The UK has a similar problem in some with attitude from staff in some outlets. I just hold my money just out of reach so they have to look at me. Usually wakes them out of their daze.

I exploded in the Nawras store at City Center recently. I was in the queue (random standing around type queue but obviously waiting for assistance), behind a young Omani couple. The Nawras staff were busy with customers.Mr middle-aged big important type Omani guy walks in, interrupts one of the Nawras employees and makes his demands. I exploded. Unsurprisingly he shrunk and was extra apologetic for his rudeness when I pointed out his lack of manners, and that there was a lady waiting before him. I'm sure he will do it again though.

Mutassem-ization said...

Nice one... well I think, behavior of individuals in the society is where the problem reigns... it could be economic...etc. (but there are other countries which are far worse economically, yet people are still polite and respectful!)... I think it's the way people were managed in the country and the life style they live (As you mentioned the "F*** YOU" attitude)... People lack responsibility from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep... I believe it's the way the new generation are being brought up... And that is reflected at work, at home, driving on the street, in restaurants, in parking lots...etc. you name it!
So the person is used to not have any responsibility even of their own waste is left to be cleaned by the housemaid or the cleaner on the street!

Anonymous said...

Slim, if you're an expat I'm surprised he didn't say something along the lines of "how dare you talk to me like that, I'm Omani", which is more and more the norm these days. There's this implicit threat that you will be on the next plane home if you so much as dare think you have equal rights. This bullying of expats is very much a Gulf thing; you don't tend to see it in Arab countries with, shall we say, a 'deeper' culture. It's very unlpeasant.

Adnan

lil-bee said...

Anonymous .. whats the need to show our religion? You follow your religion for God and yourself, not for others .. at least thats the way I feel like it should be done .. and I don't think people in hijab was showing off their religion, though it is supposed to be a part of their identity as Muslims, they do it for the religion and faith, rather than the people.

Either way, I think your point is completely off tangent with what TLS was trying to say.

lil-bee said...

Of course not EVERYONE in a hijab is doing it for their religion / God / people .. but either way.

Trygve said...

Well, I’m sure I’ll be proved wrong immediately, but I don’t think it’s so bad, at least not yet. Sure, Salalah has some breathtakingly rude clerks, no question. But I’m in New York for half the year. My dear, you have no idea. You think you got it bad now?

See, New Yorkers have always had the reputation for being rude, but actually it was more brusque and loud, butting in to conversations, that sort of thing. But it was always friendly. Then we got the electronic devices and now no one is present, and they don’t care.

Think you’re gonna get an acknowledgement here just because you greet someone? Ha ha! Don’t be ridiculous. No one is even going to hear you, because they are not paying attention. It gets worse though, Now self checkout is becoming common, and it makes the shopping experience even more alienating and annoying as you don’t even get a basic interaction. It sounds preferable maybe, until you do it. But it’s hyper anti-social, and you don’t even get a grunt of acknowledgment that you’re alive.

At least in Oman if you greet someone and smile and wait for a response you will probably get one. Eventually. Even at Lulus. I don’t think the culture is anywhere close to being as alienating as it can be. I do get very pushy about it though, with happy results, unless I’m actually already in a bad mood and then I don’t bother.

We have another new low in customer service here in New York! When you go into a bank, to make a deposit, say, a guy in a suit at the “help desk” will greet you politely and ask if he can help you. Of course it’s too good to be true. They will get you into a cubicle and swipe your card and then your account is laid out in from of them and they harass you about taking more credit cards (still!!) Or upgrade your account, etc. And they will call you repeatedly at home to follow up. Basically, they will harass you to buy more crap and give more information. It’s horrible.

And our airlines have to be experienced to be believed—I could vent for hours. Most Americans have no idea since they don’t leave the county, and assume the abysmyl service is normal everywhere even though they know it’s terrible. I think Oman Air is starting to go down this road actually, with cutbacks to staff and services but you guys have no idea how bad it can get, I don’t think. Just fly anywhere in the US. It’s an eye-opener.

So even though Oman has definitely changed in the last few years, and yes, there’s a big arrogance problem, and entitlement issues, and bullying, and way too many people gibbering into their phones when they shouldn’t be, but at least people still acknowledge your humanity. Reaching for crumbs perhaps, but there’s a long way down to go yet.

Kapil said...

I hear you TLS, I hear you.

And it's depressing as f***. You're right.

Most people simply put up with it though, as I dont think there's a solution for this, except if the individual realizes him / herself.

Anonymous said...

Well, the exceptional customer service is not limeted to only omani staff. Even expat staff have the same "Devil may care" attitude except when accosted by omani customers.

Omani Jewel said...

:-), hope u have a nice Day :-)

Jet Driver said...

LS

You are the reason why I stopped blogging.
There is no need for me to do so anymore.

You are, quite simply, phenomenal!

JD

AmasE°♥ said...

:)
http://amase9.blogspot.com/2011/09/one-lovely-blog-award.html

Anonymous said...

You get rude and / or bad service in every country of the world. Oman is worse that some and better than others. Treat the people who serve you in shops, offices and restaurants the way you expect to be treated and life does get better.....honest. This week I have been well received in Omantel, Zubairs, Mustafa Sultans and Carrefour. I think that covers it all, so far.

MuscatMum said...

Hey

I've never considered Omanis to be 'rude' on purpose. I feel that the lack of customer service is borne out of of a lack of proper customer service training - and generally a really bright smile and greeting will garner some sort of positive reaction. Politeness breeds politeness positive breeds positive etc etc.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Great comments, thank you!

JD...you what?! That doesn't make sense, men...express yourself!

Great response anyway; I should include the word "bastards" in more titles. Worked for Tarantino....

Nadia said...

Hah. I love your posts.

Sathyanarayan Ambady said...

Wow. Typical expat rant. You're the one who came to this country. If you don't like it, just pack your bags and leave. May be Omanis have their problems or may be not. But who are YOU to judge them.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

A top tip for you, sir: read to the end before deciding what's what. ;)

I don't think "typical expat" is a description that is even in the same post code. But anyway, I guess the response of the Omani readers above might tell you something...

Have a nice day,

TLS :)

happilymarriedtoabikerhappilymarriedtoabiker said...

First of all great post, needless to say. Second of all...someone here in Omani Blogland absolutely needs to dedicate an entire blog to reviewing customer service in Oman. Be it a pizza place, a store, a pharmacy, dentistry or even your local laundry place. I am hoping it would help- bad PR is bad PR after all, isn't it?

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

A very relevent post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

TLS,
Wonderful piece, and very apt for this society at large..
The way I try and counter this F*** You attitude, is make them look at me, smile and greet them, say thank you when we are done and sometimes, just sometimes, it does have the desired effect. Not always, but that is my small way of trying to inject some customer service politness into the service industry.
@ Sathyanarayan Ambady:
You didn't read the whole article, did you? If you did, and you still make those sort of comments, then you must be one of those thick idiots who has an over inflated ego, and being a self opininated bank official who walks around with that typical F*** You attitude that is so prevalent, not only in your financial institution, but also amongst members of your nationality. You think you are the backbone of the Omani soceity and without your p*ss poor service this counmtry would collapse. Think again!

Capital Letter said...

Do you think that the way you guys use the F*** and terms like bastard does not contribute to the downward spiral you want to identify as taking place in Oman ?
Shame on you all

Susan said...

Great post TLS! Thanks for dedicating it to Sheikha Moi.

I wasn't talking about the medium sized basket thingies, but about the huge carts. The guy was a lunatic and after investigating, I heard he likes to pull pranks on customers. I don't mind pranks at all, but he sure as hell didn't act like he was joking. I haven't seen him since.

As for the cute wheelie-baskets believe it or not, they had a neat pile of them in the parking lot next to the huge carts.... begging to be taken!

I love the comments people leave on your blog.

Sheikha Susan

Anonymous said...

Once at Carrefour , I remember this Omani Chap at the counter who refused to return change like how civilized men do ... Looks like he was having a bad day and that qualified him to throw money in my direction while I was busy packing up.... Oh BTW, I was in one of those less than 10 items counter. The Ladies at Lulu are far better.

I agree with someone's post here.... Who Cares anyways ! I am here for the Money and with Omanisation in full steam all i see in the future is doom. There are drivers in my Company who get paid more than the Office Admin staff... being an Omani is good-life.. unless you screw up your finances by taking up a loan to buy American metal on wheels..

Silver Collar Indian

Anonymous said...

Once at Carrefour , I remember this Omani Chap at the counter who refused to return change like how civilized men do ... Looks like he was having a bad day and that qualified him to throw money in my direction while I was busy packing up.... Oh BTW, I was in one of those less than 10 items counter. The Ladies at Lulu are far better.

I agree with someone's post here.... Who Cares anyways ! I am here for the Money and with Omanisation in full steam all i see in the future is doom. There are drivers in my Company who get paid more than the Office Admin staff... being an Omani is good-life.. unless you screw up your finances by taking up a loan to buy American metal on wheels..

Silver Collar Indian

Glass House dweller said...

CAPITAL LETTER has an excellent point.
We use vulgar and indecent words in public forum which gives them all some seal of legitimancy......
.....then we moan on short-commings of Omani manners.
Good post Dude

Lubna said...

what a racist post and racist comments - you get crappy service all over the world, instead of blaming it on Omanis, how about blaming the ones really responsible, the companies that are too cheap to train staff, have proper procedures in place and proper reward systems ... do you think Walmart and lulu have similar training programs?? The cash supervisor at carrefour told me they cant keep staff for more than a few weeks ... surely that cant be cause they are ALL lazy! maybe they should review their HR policies and procedures! and start treating their staff with some respect.
this is a management issue not a race issue.
And frankly, i find it shocking that so many of these service companies have an indian manager and omani staff, not only is there a language barrier but a cultural barrier, increasing the divide - any manager needs to be able to relate to their staff, and if they cant even speak the same language how exactly are they going to manage them!!
Look at Sultan Center as a great example, they have very good training programs for their staff, their management are predominantly Arabs, therefore at least they can communicate with the staff on the shop floor and cash, and they have good incentive schemes for staff. Investment in your business pays off, and frankly i am sick of people blaming Omanis! your passport doesnt make you competent or incompetent, rude or polite, this is the epitomy of ignorance!

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Hey Lubna,

All good points - some of which are already there if you read to the end of the piece I think.

TLS :)

Andrew said...

"...there are lots of young guys and girls who are just fundamentally lazy, spoiled and/or stupid. They find it hard to get jobs anywhere (except maybe in teaching."
Excuse me?? This is your description of teachers?
I look forward to an apology in a future posting.

Talal Maskari said...

I agree there are lots of Omani service providers have a bad attitude, but don't forget the fact that most of them got trained and influenced by whom use to do this kind of works before, with no doubts Indians, and honestly most of this bad morals came from outside and damage the Omani manners,If Omanis are dealing with a manner-less expatriates ( most of them Indians) who are almost 50% of the residents in Muscat for example, what do expect? one more thing, as a matter of fact most of the Omanis working in this fields are either Bolochi or Zinzibari, If you guys whant to know what are real Omanis like please welcome to the interior of Oman and you will definitely change your thoughts, And please before criticizing others look into you own kind, I meant no offense but the truth should rise.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Talal, as I said to Lubna above, I'm not sure you read through the whole piece.

I disagree with you about the ethnic differences among Omanis. Baluchis or "Zanjibaris" as you call them, are no more or less rude than a "qu7i" from the interior in my experience.

There is definitely a shortfall in manners and public respect, but my overall conclusion was that everyone needs to do more to provide jobs and training for young Omanis, and make their careers feel more worthwhile and interesting.

Bob the Builder said...

Although posted some time ago many of your points are still salient. I have some responsibility for customer service in a major economic sector and I really like the point that demanding customers can change things. If you don't like the service tell the staff and the manager, or it won't change. If you get good service do so even more. The silent majority of customers not communicating with the silent minority of staff is a recipe for disaster. By the way, October 6-10 this year is International Customer Service Week. I believe some organisations are planning to celebrate, train staff, open customer conversations etc. Small scale but it's a start.