Saturday, November 14, 2009

Help! Help! I`m being repressed!

posted Sun, 05 Dec 2004 12:12:50 -0800

I’ve been thinking some more about the lack of respect for waiting one’s turn in Latin America and I think there is more to it than just the class/caste issue. Another part of it, I think, is that Latin America is, en el fondo, a feudal society, where a few families control all the resources.

He still hasn’t been right.

Latin America might look like it has modern market economies where consumer demand rules, but really, a few rich people own everything there in most cases. That is not capitalism – that is feudalism. Kinda hard to have class mobility and strong democratic republics if there is no way for anyone except for those who already have wealth to accumulate wealth.

What someone else controlling all the resources means to the consumer is that there is never enough – or that is the perception – so if you want some of whatever there is, you have to fight your way to the front of the line.

I saw this attitude when I lived in Chile, which has, on its face, a highly developed market economy. There were many stores that practiced modern retailing, but there were even more where the shopkeeper clearly felt that he controlled a scarce resource. To buy paper or pencils, you went to the stationary shop, where all the items were behind the counter. You told the clerk what you wanted and she got it for you. None of this browsing around on your own, checking prices, brands. You took what they had at the price they were selling it or else you went without.

Interesting side note: Americans in Chile would complain about the lousy service because we had to wait for someone to get us what we wanted. My Chilean friends would complain about the service in the US – that there was no one to get their stuff for them in the stores.

The attitude became even more pronounced the few times I returned items in Chile. The clerks looked at me as if I were nuts. No one had ever returned anything to their store before. Ever.

I have seen examples of this panic – that there will not be enough! – in situations where it is completely unwarranted. If you get on a plane in Miami, it doesn’t matter that the gate agent has announced only those in the back rows should board. (A very logical, efficient way to load a plane.) Everyone is going to rush the gate anyhow. I always want to yell, “You have a reserved seat! It’s not like you’re not going to get a place to sit!”

My favorite example, though, is of everyone rushing the altar at mass in Miami. I am accustomed to everyone going to Communion row by row, with the rows at the front of the church going first. But in Miami, everyone would rush up at once – as if there wouldn’t be enough God for everyone.

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