When you live in the Philippines, one thing that takes a bit of getting used to, at least for me, is the amount of queueing that you do here. Whether it is at the bank, the mall, the grocery store, Immigration, the airport… Virtually everything you do will have a lengthy queue or line of some sort associated with that activity.
Queueing theory is a discipline related to statistics. Yes, you can actually get a degree in studying lines, queues, how they form, how they move, how they behave, and their impact on productivity. Really fascinating science. A bit of math, a bit of psychology, a bit of statistics, and a bit of management, all rolled into a single discipline.
Recently, I believe the Philippine Government has hired some people who specialize in queueing. Why? I’ve noticed new queues at government offices. DFA, new procedures. BI, new procedures. The Airport, new procedures. SSS, new procedures. All, however, follow the same new pattern, and they seem to be more efficient, at least at first glance.
I think that, especially for my fellow Americans, this can be a difficult adjustment to make. Not so much the idea of waiting your turn: We are generally, as a people, raised to respect other people’s rights and “space”. Moreso with respect to the fact that most Americans have come to associate good service with speedy service… and long, seemingly interminable queues fly directly in the face of those expectations.
I was thinking about this just today. Due to some bank holidays here and abroad, my salary transfer was delayed. I needed to get cash and deposit it into one of our bank accounts for rent. So, I head to the bank. Go inside and the guard gives me a number… No big deal, I think, as I glance at the number. Only eight or so to go. Wanna take a guess how long it took to go through those eight numbers? About an hour.
Now, I generally don’t get bothered by queues here. You adapt and start to expect a queue pretty much everywhere. I’m laid back in that regard. I wait my turn.
Why I was writing this article, I was thinking about how things were 25 years ago. I was paid twice a month, by check. I took the check to my bank, in person, after getting off work, and they deposited the check. Wait a few days, and the money was in my account.
I have not been paid by check ever since. Direct deposit or ACH in the States, wire transfer once I moved abroad. I’ve had online banking, through multiple banks, for ten years (Really fifteen… I vividly remember when Citibank debuted online banking with AOL, sometime around 1994). I haven’t written a paper check in at least that long. It really seemed anachronistic… Something I haven’t experienced in a while.
Here in the Philippines, though I have online accounts, many, many people here do not. People still go to the bank, in person, to deposit their salary. Or to access their account. Hence, on the few occasions when I need to visit a bank, there is always a queue, sometimes quite long. I really don’t mind, though. Is it frustrating? Yes. However, I wait my turn. Everyone else there has things to do, places to be. The revelation is that many, many services in the Philippines, whether banking or otherwise, seem to be in a time tunnel, 25 years back. It’s just how it’s done.
So, recently, I’ve had some airline issues. Air travel regulation in the Philippines dates back 25 years or so. There are rules, for instance, as to where you can buy your tickets, how much you pay, and how you are taxed. For foreigners just visiting here, most of this is transparent, and you will never notice. When you live here, this can be an issue. What happened? Well, I purchased a ticket on Cathay Pacific’s web site. About an hour after buying the ticket, I needed to make a change. Cathay in Hong Kong couldn’t help… I live in the Philippines. So, the office here was going to re-issue the ticket. What did they want? A FAX of my passport (I haven’t had to FAX anything in years… They have gone the way of the dodo). Why? TIEZA tax. Huh?
I bought the original ticket, no problem, entering credit card and passport number. Pay the tax at the airport, just like it says on the E-ticket. Easy. However, make a change, and it’s like pulling teeth. Ahhh… The ticket will be re-issued in the Philippines. I have a FAX that has never been used… I don’t even know if it works. I’m not sure if I even remember how to use a FAX. Can I scan it and email? No. Visit the ticket office in Makati (big queues and at least an hour out there) or FAX. So, I say “Screw it… I’ll just buy another ticket. Issue a refund.”
“That will take six weeks Sir.”
My response: “Well, you took the money immediately an hour ago, didn’t you?”
“It’s procedure, sir”
I must admit, I started to blow my top at this point. I calmed down. I’ll deal with it in Hong Kong later. A lot less hassle. Really, an airline is electronic nowadays. Funds transfer is electronic, and immediate. However, procedures are stuck in the 1970′s time warp. Should have followed my instinct and just lied and called Hong Kong.
Paying your bills here? I’m able to pay “most” bills online. However, there are a couple of outliers. See, some companies have arrangements with specific banks or payment centers. Paper bills come monthly, but, sometimes the bills are late. Why? Philpost and the courier services deliver to the guard in our compound, and he distributes them. Normally, this is OK, but once in a while….
One gets lost.
So, that means that if we want to pay our bills all at once, we head to Bayad Center (Always a queue). Bayad Center is like the Western Union offices in California or the “Currency Exchanges” in Chicago… Banking for those without checking or bank accounts. You pay a small fee to pay your bills there. With us, the most urgent bill is MERALCO. Later than three days past due date, your electric is cut off. So, we use that as our index. MERALCO due, start gathering the bills together. First stop, ATM to get cash. Next stop, Bayad. In a way, it can be convenient. For me, it’s a toss up… Wait in a queue and pay all at once, or pay most online and wait in a queue anyway to pay a couple. I normally choose the former. I have noticed, though, that most of the time, Bayad Center’s queues are short in the early morning. So, you bring your bills, the cashier adds them all up, and enters each payment into the computer. Bill is stuck in an old dot matrix printer, that prints a payment confirmation on the bill. You keep this. NEVER throw away. Why? If, for some reason, a payment doesn’t reach the company, you have proof of payment. This happened to us once with water and once with PLDT.
So, how long does bill paying take? Can be as much as an hour, depending on queue and how fast Bayad’s computers are at that location.
Grocery stores (or department stores). Same queues. Why does it take so many people to check you out? Procedure. Shoplifting. Internal theft. Employees with zero empowerment. All are reasons.
About six weeks ago, I went to buy some office supplies. My paper shredder died, and I needed a new one, along with around ten other items. Total bill was around P2,500… No big deal. No queue at the register. 35 minutes to check out. Why? A second clerk was manually writing the serial numbers for each item on individual chits. I was incredulous. I’ve seen serial numbers recorded in the Philippines before, and in the US, on high value items. But on a P40 box of paper clips? No griping on my part. Never offered a single complaint. However, I’ve never seen this type of thing taken to such lengths, especially with a bar code reader on the register and on such low-value items. I truly was a little dumbstruck.
In any event, keep your cool… Getting aggravated doesn’t make the queue move faster. It doesn’t eliminate asinine or obsolete procedures. Deep breaths, and a prayer to St Michael for his refreshing pilsen medication.
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.