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In America, and by extension “The West”, a strange duality exists. By turns, you are either a cowering, timid serf or else a rampaging, narcissistic royal shit. Often, these flips in social roles happen multiple times a day.
During the day, while you’re either A) a student or B) an employee, you ease into your morning as a faceless serf. The company (or school) even has a department called “Human Resources”, because you’re a replaceable “resource” like paper for the copier or desk chairs. You’re ostensibly getting paid to do a job but on top of your official responsibilities you have to cringe and simper and bow to a host of unofficial but most definitely enforced rules. If every person in America who unofficially (i.e. not in their job description) were de facto required to make their boss(es) coffee gave me a dollar, I’d be riding around in my gold-plated limousine right now.
However, once the school/office slave gets off The Man’s “clock”, there is a magical transformation. Now the former resource is the Customer, always with a big C, because the Customer is always right. Now it’s your job to lord it over the hapless peons who serve up your burgers and fries. Don’t forget to snap at the mindless flesh robots who clean up after you. And if someone doesn’t instantaneously coddle your every whim, the only solution is to apply the lash. Peasants are just too dumb to understand anything less.
In Romania, which is rapidly becoming “Western”, the duality is only now beginning to really accelerate. But even during the “Communist” days, there were traces of it. Ceausescu hung around so long that the modus vivendi of most people during his reign was to A) pretend to respect the government while B) screwing the government whenever possible. It’s the Eastern European version of stealing a candy bar from Wal-mart – they’re so big, they’ll never miss the loss. Today in Romania it’s evolved to a kind of quasi-acceptance of the concept of “customer service” combined with a pervasive streak of civil disobedience.
But here in Moldova, everyone was a “comrade” for far too many decades. The government wasn’t a local hillbilly dressed up in a Communist suit and tie but a genuine arm of the same faceless machine that included the KGB and Государственный плановый. Everyone got the role of serf and nobody got the luxury of throwing a temper tantrum because their sandwich came without pickles. If you pissed ’em off, you were shipped off, usually to Siberia. And so, over time, even the biggest “king” in Moldova was just a squire tiptoeing around the corridors of power in Moscow.
That attitude worked fine during the Era of the Giant Bureaucracy, but a lot less so these days. For months I’ve been wondering exactly what motivated the unusual Moldovan duality that I’ve seen – total assholes while at work and yet unbelievably generous and sentimental with friends and family. A lot of people complain about the lack of customer service in Romania. I say try visiting Moldova some time. The concept doesn’t even exist here, so nobody even tries.
There is no such thing as The Customer is Always Right around here. That’s because The Customer is an annoying and obnoxious moron who is coming into your space (seemingly) for the sole purpose of wasting your time with pointless bullshit. Just to preserve your own sanity, you decided to pretend to open a business, if only so you make a little money for all the pain and suffering of having to deal with customers. What do these people want, anyway? And why can’t they just bring the correct change, instead of making us have to organize our money a little better? Sheesh. The Customer Always Sucks.
Of course the reason that The Customer Always Sucks in Moldova is because everyone is equal around here. Giving The Customer a good experience means making a sacrifice, getting less than so that The Customer gets more than. An example:
- I was in a check-out line the other day at a large supermarket. The line wasn’t moving and I craned my head to see why. One customer was paying with a credit card, and it’s normal for it to take a long time to approve. Oh well, what can you do? But then after the machine finally spits out the receipt, I see that the “customer” is actually an on-duty manager! His entire purchase was two placinte so it looked like he was buying his lunch. And all that held up the line.
Any American reading this would be shocked. What? A manager holding up a line of Customers just so he can buy his lunch? Inconceivable! Whereas here in Moldova the Customer(s) and the manager are equals, so first come, first serve. And the guy is hungry. So just sit there and wait in line and do nothing.
Likewise, don’t think that you can be The Customer and get The Customer treatment as though you’re a member of the royal family. Moldovan women of a certain age and temperament are happy to let fly with the invective if they’re unhappy with the “service” or layout of the store or anything else on their mind. I’ve seen it several times, and invariably the store employee just yells right back. People shout and grumble and let fly with a few barbed quips but nothing ever comes of it except an outbreak of frowning and grumpy looks amongst customers and employees alike.
It’s this excess of equality that explains a curious fact about the Moldovan economy. Everywhere you look, companies and businesses are trying to hire people. It doesn’t matter whether you walk around my neighborhood or peruse the streets in the city’s center, jobs are being advertised everywhere. Some of the city buses here have TV screens (an onerous development, IMHO) and they advertise jobs there as well. And yet… wages remain extremely low. Classic economic theory would say that business would raise salaries in order to entice employees. But they don’t.
One thing Karl Marx never expected was that Comrades make for extremely bad employees. In America, usually it’s your teen years where you get introduced to the other side of the counter, and learn to deliver the fawning servile service that Customers there demand. But here in Moldova, everyone grew up surly and Equal, and so there’s no point in interrupting your way of doing everything simply because you’re now getting paid to talk on your mobile phone instead of doing it for free at home, after hours.
Turnover, or the rotation of employees because the business had to fire them or the employee quit, is extremely high around here. The wages stay low, the job conditions stay low, the business is crap, the customer experience is miserable or perfunctory at best, and everyone walks around with a frown wondering why life sucks and Moldova is so poor.
Rinse, lather and repeat, in a land where everyone is Equal, as in equally a bother and a hassle, unless of course they’re friends or family, and then you lavish them with love and copious amounts of sugar and/or beer.