Some time ago, I decided to print out a couple of photos at a print shop in uptown Kingston. What occurred there was a prime example of the anti-service culture that is sadly so common in Jamaica.

When I entered the print shop, it was unclear who were customers and who were staff. I asked a gangly youth who was slumped so far back in his chair that he was almost horizontal, one finger clicking PhotoShop long-cuts. He didn’t look up.

Lang yute: What size print you want?
Me: Erm … 4 by 6?
Lang yute: We don’t do dat.
Me: 8 by 6?
Lang yute: We don’t do that.
Me: Well, why don’t you tell what sizes you do or shall I keep guessing till I get the right answer?
Lang yute: *eyeroll* . . . We do 10 by 15.
Me: Centimetres?
Lang yute: Yes.

He was wrong, as I found out twenty minutes later when I was handed a super-sized 10×15 inch print. The irony is that the guy in the back room who actually did the printing had cut the photo paper to order from a large roll — any size was possible.

“Ctrl+A, Del, Ctrl+S, Alt+F4”, I snarled on my way out past the yute.

It’s not that the service is bad in the sense that it is performing poorly on a perceived scale of quality; I lived in France and Italy for ten years and am familiar with the important distinction that many civil servants and sales assistants make when they explain, “Non, Madame. I work at this store, not for it.”

That we can term “a-service”, as in an absence of service.

The difference in Jamaica is that sales people often seem to be actively working against closing the deal; in this sense, we can call it an “anti-service” culture.

To give some more examples: It is pointless calling only one company when you need a job done — you should call at least five because the odds are that only one will have the killer combo of interest-competence-drive to actually complete the job. The anti-service providers will initiate auto-destruct by not answering the phone, transferring your call to an unstaffed office, or simply cutting you off just after you’ve explained in great detail what you’re after. If you’re persistent enough to call back, then be prepared to dictate a minutely detailed message with your personal details and instructions as to what she should do with the information. Anticipate repeating message and instructions in full when receptionist mutters not having pen at hand. Do not accept invitation to call back later because the person you need to speak to will not be available at any time you call.

If you actually manage to set up a meeting with the service provider, try to schedule at least three providers to visit. One will not turn up and you will never be able to make contact with him again. The second will come, measure up the job and leave with a promise to drop off an estimate later in the day; he will never return and his office will have no trace of his visit or of any employee with his name. The third, well, you might strike lucky if you are persistent enough with calling, rescheduling, describing the job, explaining how long it will take and how much money they will earn.

Needless to say, once you find someone willing and able to do the job, cherish them, for they are a rare and precious thing in Jamaica.

5 thoughts on “Anti-service”

  1. In my not long yet experience of living in Jamaica, I already had the “chance” to see how this is true…
    But, hey, this is Jamaica! I think nothing can be done to change it… and it is not so different of what we knew in Europe…

  2. Oh yeah – I feel your anti-service pain. My wife and I just came back from 20 months abroad, and believe me, we are grateful to be back in a country where consumers are able to demand even a cursory level of service.

    It’s not that we wanted to be catetered to, mind you, but we just wanted BASIC services (like electricity, phone, and internet connection) to work.

Over to you!