Colombo Telegraph

Masochism And Customer Service

By Padraig Colman

Padraig Colman

Back in 1988, I took a flight from London Heathrow to LAX. I was very excited to see in the departure lounge that a fellow passenger was one of my all-time heroes, Ray Davies of The Kinks. Unlike most celebrities encountered in the real world, he was taller than I expected. He was also rather morose, which was not unexpected.

On the flight itself he was in First Class and I was in Economy. I spied  him from time-to-time at the bar in the middle of the plane which available for  free drinks. On one occasion, he came to get a drink and there was no-one to serve him. I thought he was going to burst into tears but he shrugged his shoulders and returned, drinkless, to his seat. The yakkoes in the cheap seats were undeterred by the lack of a bar steward and just helped themselves.

When the plane landed we were making our way to be sniffed at by beagles hunting illegal fruit. Mr Davies halted abruptly in front of me. He had noticed that the moving pavement was not moving. He turned to me and intoned in a melancholy fashion: “Surprise, surprise!”

Rewind to the mid -1970s. I had to travel from London to Manchester. Frugality impelled me to eschew the expensive British Rail and to opt for a bus journey on National coaches. The weather was inclement outside and the heating was on inside the bus. Passengers around me were uncomfortable with the heat which was somewhat overwhelming. After listening to their whinging for some time, I made my way to the front of the bus and politely asked the driver if it would be at all possible, technically,  to turn the heat down. He said “Sorry, mate. Didn’t realise. Can’t feel it up here. No problem”.

I went back to my seat and saw that my fellow passengers were resentful. I had deprived them of the opportunity to moan.

There was an ancient radio comedy series called ITMA (It’s That Man Again). There was a character called Mona Lott, whose catchphrase was: “It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going”.

Fast forward to Sri Lanka 2002. Soon after my arrival in Sri Lanka, I was happy to be able to open an account with Hatton National Bank. I constantly told them how pleased I was with their service, which was, quite truthfully, far better than I could ever expect from a UK bank. In Ireland I had become used to the convenience of internet banking. HNB did not offer this service at that time. They did have telephone banking and I asked to sign up for that. The manager told me that I would need to fill in a form. As there was no demand for the service locally, he did not have a copy to hand. I asked him to get one for me. For  several weeks I gently reminded him about the form. Eventually, when he said: “YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT SRI LANKA IS ONLY A POOR COUNTRY” I sent an e-mail to HNB HQ and they sent me the appropriate form immediately.

After some more of this kind of nonsense I changed banks. When I closed my HNB account the manager said sadly: “Ah, we have failed you”. For eight years I have been getting excellent service form Sampath Bank, service which would be  a fantasy in the UK or Ireland.

I needed  to replace my roo[MP1] f. When the representative of the roofing company did not appear at my home at the appointed time, I rang  him to discover that he was in Ratnapura and had no intention of coming to my home, or of telling me of his change of plans. When I contacted the CEO to tell him that I would not be doing business with his company, he said: “You have to remember that this is Sri Lanka”.

My recent article about the shortcomings of CEB drew many supportive comments. What was dispiriting was the attitude revealed in comments like this:

“We are third world –> second world yet..any villagers complaining of the power supply? They are glad that the lights work even if erratically. If anyone wants to live in remote places, Install your own generator..then you are happy and so are we. But please stop bitching about another’s house when you are a guest..or get lost. Go home. Period.”

“Padraig Colman is under the conviction that he is such a precious specimen of the human species that he thinks the power cuts and other inconveniences of our little country should not apply to him.”

This is a distortion of my position. I live a frugal life and can indeed cope with the little inconveniences of life in a remote place. I was happy to return home to my after a week in Colombo. Less happy that the electricity went off soon after I went through the door at 14.00 and cut off a further five times before the day was over. My point is not that I expect a better service than anyone else because I am a foreigner. I would like to empower everyone to get the service they deserve and pay for and to enjoy the respect and courtesy to which they are entitled. If there is a genuine technical reason for the interruptions in service tell us about it.

These supposedly patriotic Sri Lankans (who have chosen to live abroad) think that their compatriots have been infected by the English masochism. Their benighted compatriots who have chosen to stay in their native land (“our little country”) should, like happy serfs, be grateful for any crumbs from the table.”Don’t worry about us master. We have electricity. We are grateful, even if it doesn’t work. Please kick us as you pass”. Any foreigner who draws attention to these issues is to those patriotic expatriates a sinister force sent to undermine Sri Lankan culture.


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