Monday, March 27, 2006

are you being served?

I am reasonably certain that most readers of this site like to imagine that I have a team of minions that service my every need. For one thing, that would give me more time to parade around in a cape, prodding at things with my elegant cane, squinting inquisitively through my monocle, and raising my chin all aloof-like at passers-by. Believe it or not, though, you’d be wrong! However, I do confess that – thanks to G, who cleans my apartment – I haven’t washed clothes or cleaned the bathroom for nigh on 2 years now. But I still dress myself, occasionally cook (when I don’t go down the street), brush my own teeth, and even shop.

“Shopping??” I hear you ask. “Please sir – tell us more!” Why, certainly – I am humbled by your interest.

One of the first things I noticed about shopping in the Philippines was that shops – especially large-scale shops like supermarkets and department stores – have WAY more staff than you’d expect in Australia (and, I’d guess, the rest of the developed world). I have to admit that I’ve not researched this, but one key reason is that labor here is much, much cheaper than back home. Minimum hourly wage (and the wage most supermarket shelf-stackers would receive) is around 25 pesos (A$0.69).

An aside -- I'm not sure what the current minimum wage is for Australian retail staff, but, at a guess, it's more than 10 times the Philippine equivalent. The cost of living here is considerably cheaper than it is in Oz, but there's NO WAY that it's one tenth -- especially if you want to have even a very basic level of material comfort that most Australians take for granted. (SEE -- there's a lesson in every Seccret Wombat post! And it comes at NO EXTRA COST to YOU.)

You’d think that more staff would mean better service, but they’re often assigned strangely. It’s common to experience long queues at the checkouts, but only half the checkouts open, while 16 guys mop 2 square meters of floor. (And, by the way, I’ve never seen a guy on checkout duty – it’s always guys on the shelves, girls on the checkouts). There’s always s guy (and it is always a guy) to pack your shopping into bags for you, too. Sometimes the security guard does this. Security guards also always know that loo paper is in aisle 5, left side, and that tinned sardines are in aisle 2, right side. All that, and they carry a gun.

Another aside – don’t try to sneak through the “10 items or less” (which, as we all know, should be “10 items or fewer”) lane with more than those 10 items. Ex-housemate J once tried to get through with 12 items. There was nobody else in the line and every other open checkout was crowded with people pushing large trolleys full of Avogadro’s number of 15ml shampoo sachets.* Sure enough, she was refused service at the express lane and asked to take her place among the masses. It’s funny, too, how some rules are kept so vigilantly while others are abjectly ignored. Spend 5 minutes on the street and you’ll see every traffic rule known to humanity broken in one way or another.

*Sachet marketing – selling stuff in small, single-use packages – is huge here. People often can’t afford to buy in moderate levels of bulk (e.g. a shampoo bottle). It’s also done with products like prepaid mobile phone credit. You can buy packets of as little as 15 pesos (A$0.42) of credit. Another interesting article on the phenomenon here.

So, to continue the Secret Wombat tradition of EVIDENCE-BASED blogging, I'll end with a photo of the staff that served D and I when I went shopping for all the household items that followed J to her new apartment. Everybody at the counter except the woman at the far left is serving us and us alone. Eight staff in total. And that doesn't include the 3 others who I sent to fetch my cape, monocle and cane.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

and geez, its not like you need the exercise or anything....

when at Beachy, you can fetch your OWN frisbee

tsk tsk


6:13 am  

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