In part 6 of "The Other Side of Tourism", Myrna Loy explores customer service in Jamaica.
Trip Reports

The Other Side Of Tourism Part 6

Chapter VIII – EARTH AND CULTURE

On the way to the Pelican I was mesmerized by a jungle of wood carvings scattered on the ground. There was no symmetry, no order, no proportion, just carvings placed at random on the earth.

I was attracted to one piece in particular and being an artist myself, I appreciated the skill that had gone into a carving shaped like a tree. On the boughs, birds carved to precision, sanded down to a smooth finish and polished to a glimmering honey-colored sheen and placed on the branches. I marvelled at the intricacy.

“Yu wan dat?” A voice emanated from nowhere disturbing my equilibrium. I glared at her. [How dare she rush me] I tried to play the native’s role:

“How much fe it?”

“A 20 U.S. dallas dat.”

So much for me trying to talk like a native, it didn’t work . [20 US dollars indeed — that was equivalent to 500 Jamaican dollars!]. I was beginning to notice that conversion of prices varied depending on which price sounded more inviting. If the US currency made it seem cheaper they would quote in US currency and if, by quoting Jamaican currency, it made it seem like a bargain, the same tactic applied.

She was making my decision to purchase very difficult. I was battling with her aggressive tone, innate culture and my admiration for the carving.

“I’m thinking about it.” I remarked, reinstating my refined accent.

The oscillation of accents was becoming tiresome and definitely not working to my advantage. I replaced the carving and walked off.

‘Wappen? Yu doan want it?”

I looked at her exasperatingly. I did want it. I was expecting her to call me back and negotiate a lower price but I had walked about 50 yards, slowly and deliberately towards the exit, giving her a chance to reduce her price but she had not called me back. I stopped myself at the corner. 20 US? I questioned myself. It was definitely worth it but I knew I could get it cheaper ‘downtown’. Would I get the opportunity to go ‘downtown’ though? That was another question. I wrestled with my thoughts. I decided to buy it. I went back and picked it up, looking at it one last time. It was definitely a good piece of artwork. I gave her the money.

“Yu doan want any t-shirt? — 12 U.S. fe dem.”

[Now, that was definitely a rip off! 12 U.S? The prices of t-shirts I knew about.]

“Come look pon dem na.” she insisted.

“No thank you.” I replied and left.

I was happy with my purchase until I heard that I could have bought it for 5 U.S. in Freeport and I became resentful (bargains usually had a habit of evading me) but the resentment didn’t last, my appreciation returned and I nursed my purchase before packing it away in the suitcase.

Chapter IX – TELEPHONE SERVICE

It was about 5:30 in the evening. I looked at the menu… everything was over 100 dollars. I noticed a vegetarian meal for $95 — I would try that. It was sauteed callaloo, mashed potato and rice and peas. It didn’t sound very appetizing but it tasted delicious.

Because the food was so good, I ate at the Pelican in the morning for breakfast, in the afternoon for lunch and in the evening for dinner. I learned that they had ‘specials’ which were cheap meals, standard breakfasts, etc., so I always ended up having the ‘specials’. I was such a frequent patron that the waiters didn’t even have to ask me what I wanted, they just used to explain what the ‘special’ was and it would always be to my liking both economically and in taste.

I went back to my room in the hotel and looked through the rules and regulations that were on the dresser set out in a report-like layout. ‘No visitors allowed in the guest rooms, turn off lights and air conditioners to save electricity, how to get room service, how to make a phone call’, etc.

I threw myself backwards onto the bed. This is the life I thought. What a delight to be alone….to get away from creeps, like those I met on the beach. The appreciation of isolation lasted about five minutes. I became agitated. Who should I call? My cousin Uriah, my sister Sonia, my brother Winston, my other brother David? I had so many choices. I mused a while. Who would be the less cumbersome? My brother David. I had not heard from him for thirteen years….I would call him.

I dialed zero for the operator.

“Yes?”

“Could you get me….”

“Hol on a minute.”

I was interrupted in mid-sentence and after a few minutes:

“Yes?” the voice came back, “What was dat number yu harsk me fa?”

“I would like you to get….”

“Sorry, hol on a minute.”

I had been waiting for at least five minutes, by which time my anger had mounted. I heeded their laughing in the background and slammed the phone down. I remembered seeing a questionnaire requesting a rating of the services provided by the hotel. I immediately retrieved it and the section under phone service, I wrote ‘unsatisfactory’.

My phone rang:

“Wha number you sed you did want?”

I couldn’t stand it. Had they received no training on how to speak to people? Where was the telephone manner? The courtesy? The motto that the customer comes first? Basic professionalism? Were these ingredients void in this establishment? If I had another method of contacting Kingston, I would have done so but it was not so easy to obtain phone cards which would have been my only alternative at that particular time. After gaining composure I repeated the number.

“Yu know dis is a long-distance number?”

I felt like saying “What the hell as it got to do with you? It’s your job to get me the number. not ask questions.” But I kept silent.

“Is a long-distance number you know, you still want it?” he repeated.

‘Yes. I do!” I answered shortly.

I was constantly in dissension with who I was and who I had become.

The line rang. Someone picked up:

“Could I speak to David please? I’m his siste.”

“Sorry, David doesn’t live here any more.”

“Do you know where he lives?”

“No!”

The force with which she replaced the receiver disturbed me.

Oh well, at least there was Uriah. He had said he would be only too willing to come and pick me up and take me around as soon as I arrived. All I had to do was call him.

About the author

Myrna Loy