It happened again: out in public, another angry foreigner speaks to a room at large of his disbelief at the lack of efficiency that surrounds him. I’m using ‘he’ because it was a he; a large man, over six feet tall, lumbering into the Qatar Airways office, escaping the rising afternoon heat. I was idly playing with my mobile, draped in a chair; waiting for the agent working with me to come back and help me untangle the Gordian knot my noncommittal students had made of the group travel plans to a conference (see Lack of commitment continues, March 4th entry).
The belligerent European came in, looked around, took off his sunglasses and said, to no one in particular:
“Is anyone working today or what?”
Now, the thing is, I’ve had this same feeling, dozens of times, and in more countries than just the one I’m currently living in. China, Peru, India, even your local U.S. Social Security office, can evoke feelings of despair at Byzantine bureaucratic inefficiency.
The thing that piqued my interest was that this man had just arrived. He wasn’t even sitting down. He hadn’t even taken a number from the electronic dispenser as the one other waiting customer had.
Essentially, he didn’t have the right to be angry. At least not from where I sat, having waited at least one hour before on a similar visit for similar services.
A sales agent came from the back and the man persisted.
“There are only two people working right now?”
“I just came on duty sir,” the petite Pilipino woman said, “I’m turning o my machine.”
Now, there are lots of things about class, power, and gender politics I could say here. I could tell you that this same scenario gets played out all over this city but instead of European, there are Americans, Qataris, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and the receipient is almost always either Pilipino or South Asian. Even in the instances when it’s two men, the service provider is always subservient in the presence of more power, wealth, or a higher ethnicity than his own. It’s a stunning example of how race and class conmingle in a heavy handed way.
But instead, I’ll say I thanked my agent several times for her wonderful assistance, thanked the cashier when he gave me my change, and walked out of the office leaving the steaming over weight Euro behind.
I am really learning the hang of this non-anger thing.