Today’s post is coming from the relative comfort (my back is still limiting my every move) of a sun bed at my beach club. The weather has just turned and we are enjoying beautiful sunshine days chilling on the beach or by the pool. Now before you stop reading due to my brazen promotion of my chilled day in the sun, this post is actually going to explore the service industry of the Middle East, as I was reminded this was something I wanted to post within seconds of me setting up my towels this morning. A member of the Food & Beverage Team had eagerly made himself available to be at my beck and call during my tanning session, when I realised this was no longer a novelty gesture which blew me away, but an expected occurrence.
In the U.K. customer service seems to be a dying art and one of my pet peeves. Numerous times I’ve stood at a cash point, where the cashier has barely looked up from her conversation about her latest social escapades, to even acknowledge me, the customer. As I hand over my money for the piece of clothing that is then thrown into a bag, she still hasn’t met my rather angry gaze. It makes my blood boil and more times than not you get little or no reaction from your protests. What happened to the customer is always right and simple manners? Ugh I can feel a rant coming on, so I’ll withdraw from this scenario.
Our move to Prague quickly showed me that my previous perceptions of bad service were going to be eclipsed. This is not to say we didn’t have some great experiences in Czech but the majority were something to be desired. Money has been literally thrown at me across the counter, full-blown rows have erupted because I didn’t have the exact money for my goods, huffing puffing and shoving you out the way when you ask for an alternative size; quite frankly it’s enough to put you off for life and an afternoon of retail therapy can result in you needing therapy!
Two days into my Kuwait landing we ventured to the supermarket, after depleting the care package we were left on our arrival. After the near death experience of crossing the road, we walked into the bustling air-conditioned grocery emporium. I picked up a basket and started to roam the aisles looking for the familiar brands or trying to decipher the Arabic labels. I finally found the bottled water and proceeded to select the crate from the shelf. Immediately someone came running, shouting and shaking his head at me, which in the art of international hand gestures I understood to place the crate back where I found it. In shock and bewilderment the little shouty man picked up the exact crate I had replaced and ushered me out of the area. I look over my shoulder and he was following me with the water balanced on one shoulder, like it weighed nothing more than a bag of sugar. As I started to fill my empty basket, he returned into my peripheral vision to take my basket. I then did my whole shop with my basket buddy, who still has the crate of water on his shoulder, trailing after me round the maze of products.
Then the checkout belt was loaded for me and what to me was a ridiculously small tip, was handed over and received with such gratefulness. Then to my shock, I turned round and another man packed my bags. Rather uncomfortable I left with my shopping and was appalled that I had allowed this to happen, I’m not the Queen of Sheba and have never observed this level of subservient behavior before. I quickly learnt that this was not an exception, everyone here does something in the chain, it’s their job and if you pack your own bag you’re depriving someone of that job, so you accept it and quicker than you expected it becomes the norm. It certainly was a shock to the system when I’m checking out at Mum’s Co-Op Locale and I have to bring my own bag and pack it – blimey!
I very soon became accustomed to expect above and beyond here. I now know that every restaurant has a menu, but I can ask for my version of whatever they have and it is never questioned. Any food item you want, whether it be 2am will come to your door, there is even a drive through Starbucks and car waiter service McDonalds. Every shop you enter you are greeted with a smile, a welcome patter and offered assistance almost as you cross the threshold. This isn’t left to the designer outlets either, whatever the brand, whatever the spend level you are given the 5* treatment. This does get slightly annoying at times, I have literally been stalked round the shop by an eager sales assistant, snapping at my heels and almost climbing into my back pocket. Us Brits like our personal space and quite frankly this has had me running out the shop to the nearest Starbucks to get over the violation on more than one occasion.
I believe the service levels are indicative of the region, everywhere we have traveled in the Gulf is the same and you wonder how they can improve on perfection, but they manage it. There is such immense wealth and privilege that the standards expected are bred by the fact that here, money really can buy you anything. Luxury services are everywhere, valet parking at practically every location, porter services at the malls and airport, VIP butler service cinemas and bespoke anything; from monogrammed pillow cases, 24 carat gold iPhone covers and made to order perfumes. People expect whatever they want, whenever they want and I have to say I am yet to find anything that can’t be done out here.
Now I’m not naive to think this is the experienced by everyone, unfortunately there is a pecking order in the Middle East and they are obsessed with hierarchy. The class tier system is like the old colonial empires and there is a silent understanding of where you are on the ladder and everyone knows their place. I have witnessed some appalling behavior towards service staff and it’s unacceptable. There is no need to belittle these people, they do their jobs and they do them well, respect costs nothing. I recall standing behind an extremely obnoxious western expat, who took a Face Time call whilst checking out at the supermarket (don’t get me started on the fact she took the call in the first place) she then declared to her caller and I quote with utter dismay:
Oh my god, I’m living in the third world. Look at this place and look at these people
She then turned the phone onto the till staff and the Bag Boy with the face of disgust and proceeded to grunt orders at them, whilst conversing with her equally obnoxious male caller. I was appalled. I can see how becoming accustomed to this type of life can get you lazy and arrogant but come on people, compassion, decency and manners shouldn’t be for sale.
I will certainly look back on our time here and think we are unlikely to experience such unwavering levels of assistance again, unless we win millions and can live in the lap of luxury for the remainder of our days. It also concerns me to a degree, that now having experienced it it will be hard to leave it behind. We have already had discussions about previous holidays and now think they wouldn’t cut the mustard. We are now used to luxury the Arab way and I secretly love it. It truly is like Aladdin flying over Arabia, valet parking his magic carpet and knowing that someone within minutes will say your wish is my command.