“Please take a seat, sir.”
Whilst I am sure this is intended to be a polite expression of helpfulness, it is a phrase that fills me with dread. It indicates a wait, probably a relatively long one. Waiting requires patience, and patience, whilst being an emotion that is held in varying degrees by Westerners, is something that the Philippine ways of doing things demands people to have in vast abundance.
It is easy to hear tales of rude and aggressive Westerners who push their way around and make demands that are unreasonable, and I am sure that there are lots like that. But there is some middle ground. In the Philippines, time is not at a premium, at least that is the way it usually appears—unless that is, that payment of your bills is being chased by people in some high-tech BPO organization somewhere, in which case the push can be much harder and more annoying than anything that happens in most of the Western world.
Because of the traffic, the “requirements”, the bureaucracy in general, the non-existent postal service, the holidays and the personal matters that disrupt all facets of life—even the lives of those without any direct involvement in other people’s personal lives—things take a long time in the Philippines. It’s just the culture; it’s just how things are, so no good getting upset about it, just fit in and chill!
The problems arise when those people who have been brought up in parts of the world where time is always impressed upon everybody as being at a premium suddenly parachute into the Philippines and expect to be able to get things done in the same way to the same sort of time schedules that they are used to elsewhere. It doesn’t work, it’s like trying to run fast underwater—there is too much pressure against you. It is a major item amongst the ubiquitous “infrastructural issues.” To do things with the efficiency that pervades the developed West or even in Singapore or Hong Kong is impossible in the Philippines.
There is an expectation that people who have things needing to be done will accept that those whose cooperation is needed in order to achieve the task have priorities of their own and that these must be respected despite their often appearing (to those from advanced economies) rather superficial. It’s all a question of what are seen as priorities, and there are obviously some very different opinions on this!
The lesson is that doing things in the Philippines requires the average person from an advanced economy to adjust, or soon end up as a twitching wreck with a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. A lot of stress builds up in these people around the achievement of time targets, much more than the average Filipino probably appreciates. To pay a bit extra is a magical facilitator, and if you do that, then things can progress at an acceptable rate, which indicates that the speed problem is more caused by a lack of motivation than anything else. People will work late, they will forgo holidays, will hold special board meetings to make decisions, and will even excuse some of the requirements, if they are suitably financially motivated. But ordinary mortals cannot pay their way through the traffic, nor can they just pay endlessly to get things done quicker.
Over all these little and not-so-little things that cause delay is a widely held lack of pragmatism, or is there? You have to wonder. At some levels a very pragmatic approach is obvious; getting the jeepney or the tricycle repaired in order to keep it in business demonstrates a very high degree of practicality, or getting good fakes of unimportant seeming missing papers to satisfy “the requirements.” There are lots of “work-arounds,” but to do things properly, as the rules say they should be done, frequently takes aeons.
The point of all this is to contend that the appalling inefficiency of the infrastructure has had the effect of spawning a high level of creativity. I have a 10-year-old Audi car. Getting new parts locally is outrageously expensive and they frequently have to be imported, which takes weeks, leaving the car off the road, and as it is an Audi there is not a big market for reconditioned parts. But this being the Philippines, there are people around who can fabricate almost anything you may need, and make a good job of it.
It is all brought about in my opinion by the monopoly culture of the Philippines. It is not necessary for the big businesses to satisfy their customers, so why bother, nor is it necessary for them to keep their staff happy—they are lucky to have a job after all, so why bother, all with the consequence that the personal priorities of the staff take precedence. Entrepreneurship cannot grow easily beyond a mini business level because the monopolists who own the banks will not provide them business loans lest they become a threat to their own captive market.
So sad to see so much latent creativity and entrepreneurship, not to mention “customer service” allowed to be stifled because of regulatory capture . . .
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.