Friday, July 22, 2011

Customer Service and Other Things

Clearly the whole "I've got to be better about posting" lesson didn't take. Hello again. I'm pleased to report driving is going well. I actually kind of like it. You can go pretty fast and as long as you don't get freaked out by someone coming up right behind you and sitting on your rear bumper, hoping you'll move over (I try to make them change lanes), you're golden. Except at roundabouts. Roundabouts are the main challenge of driving in Doha.  I still feel as if I need to gird my loins every time I approach one.

That being said, I was very sad to read that three employees of the hair salon at which I have an appointment in two weeks (Glow) were in a horrific accident on the 18th that left one of them dead and two of them still in the hospital.  So while I'm celebrating my new found automotive freedom (in a Nissan Tiida--it's the same car as a Versa), I'm well aware of the dangers.

It's really interesting living in a multicultural environment like Doha.  Up until now, the most diverse place I'd ever lived was Washington, DC, and while DC could be considered a melting pot by U.S. standards, it doesn't compare to here. 

By and large, people are very welcoming.  All the talk about women being a small minority here is true.  I think the stat I saw is something like 25-30% of the overall population is made up of women.  It doesn't seem quite that extreme in actual practice, though, because a lot of the men in question are laborers working on various construction sites and their visibility within Qatari society is really limited.  They're transported to their work site, put in a long day's labor, and then are transported back to the camp where they're staying.  It's my understanding that they're taken to a mall once a week for shopping needs, but that time there is very limited.  So a western, white collar worker like me doesn't really interact with them. 

 The treatment of laborers here is a huge hot-button issue.  They have few rights and conditions are harsh.  Yet I've spoken to several female workers from places like the Philippines and India, and they've always stressed how much opportunity they find here.  The woman who now works as our office assistant/tea service person left three children behind in her home country.  It's hard to believe the work she's doing could be that attractive.  But apparently, compared to her prospects back home, it is.

One of the things you learn quickly if you're an English speaking Westerner is just because someone assures you they understand what you want or need, the odds are 50-50 they don't.  They're often very eager to help, but at times just don't have the communication skills.

Yet at other times the communication is delightful.  I had to get fingerprinted (again--I had them done in the U.S. when I left).  After going through the Ladies Entrance at the facility and being shepherded into an all-female waiting room, I had to wait for my number to be called before going up to a row of kiosks, staffed by women in abayas, some fully veiled.  I assume these ladies were Qatari, but I don't know for certain.  They were chattering amongst themselves in Arabic but speaking to all who came to their workstation in English. 

When my number was called, I went up to one kiosk and waited while the girl tried to do what she needed to do.  I was standing virtually on top of the tech at the next kiosk (they were set up side by side, and the techs were seated on high stools/chairs while they worked).  This is the exchange that took place:

Other tech (with a smile):  I like your style.
Me:  Thank you!  That's really nice.
Other tech:  Do you have a mom or dad who is Russian?
Me:  Russian?  No.  English maybe.
Other tech:  Oh.  English.  I thought maybe Russian.  You have a different accident.
My tech:  Accent.
Other tech:  Accident?
My tech:  Accent.
Other tech:  Oh.  Accent.

Unfortunately, my tech couldn't get a full set of prints.  Apparently my hands are too smooth.  Who knew?!  (Mind you--I was fingerprinted in the States before I left, using a similar system, and that tech didn't have any problems.)  So I was told to sit down and wait for the tech who thought I was Russian to try.  I'm assuming she was more experienced.  After awhile, she calls me up.  But she has similar problems.  That led to this:

Tech:  This would be good for you though if you committed murder.
Me:  I wasn't actually planning on that.

Without exaggeration, combined, the techs must have tried 100 times to get clean impressions of my prints, all to no avail.  In the end, the second tech took all my information in the back.  I waited for about 10 minutes.  Then she came out and said, "You go to Immigration today."  I asked, "Am I done?"  She replied, "Yes.  You're done." 

I got my resident’s permit two days later.

I don't know what she did exactly, but I guess she put in a good word for me.

Maybe she has a soft spot in her heart for would-be Russians.

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