Friday, January 1, 2010

A new Third World country

by Don Klein

Isn’t this a great country? We have one of the highest standards of living anywhere in the world. We have more great universities than any country. We have world class symphony orchestras all over the land, more than anywhere else. We have great theater, a robust film industry, inventive dance companies and the world’s pre-eminent opera company. More books are sold and read here than anywhere else.

Our women are attractive and well groomed, our men are handsome and rugged, our kids are lovable and smart, we have plenty to eat, almost all of us have autos, we are an inventive, energetic and industrious collection of humans, we welcome foreigners into our society with open arms, our country is beautiful and bountiful, self-confidence abounds, our lives are predominantly pleasant.

We are prestigious in many ways, yet we are becoming a Third World country.

We hardly manufacture anything anymore. The television I watch was made in Japan, the American-made car I drive was manufactured in Canada and yours may have been built in Mexico, my sports jacket comes from Ukraine, my slacks from Vietnam, my shirt from Bangladesh, my underwear from Indonesia, and even my ballpoint pens come from China. If I wore a tie it probably would be Dominican made.

We don’t even supply all the food in our supermarkets. I eat cherries from Chile, shrimp from Thailand, our ground beef has South American meat mixed in it. There used to be just German and Czech beer and French and Italian wines available as liquor store imports but now there is Mexican beer (God protect us) and Australian wines to compete with Milwaukee beer and California wines.

American roads were once cluttered with Studebakers, DeSotos and Packards, all of which have been replaced by Korean, Japanese, Swedish, German and soon by Chinese cars. If you watch carefully there seems to be more foreign cars on suburban roads than American cars.

The Asians have taken over the camera business while German and American photography enterprises are hanging on by their fingertips. Even pineapples have gone foreign. They once came in boatloads from Hawaii, now they are less juicy, less desirable and come from Costa Rica.

But wait it gets worse. Try calling a major company today to discuss your service or a problem with your bill. For the first ten minutes you are interrogated by an intransigent recording. Press No. 1 if you are a new customer, No. 2 if you are an existing customer, No 3, if you need equipment repair, No. 4 if you wish to check the status of a shipment, No. 5 to check your balance, No. 6 for additional options, an so on.

I don’t like being subjugated to a fifteen minute third degree with a robot, even with a soft and sexy voice, and then when I finally get a human being on the other end of the line she is speaking from India with a perplexing accent.

Try to get a medical or dental appointment in less than four months, that is if you are not doubled over in pain or on the brink of death. Try to talk to the your home delivery agent when your newspaper is not delivered and you get an apologetic recording, as if they know they should be answering the telephone when they are not.

You have a 9.30 appointment with the doctor? You will be lucky to see him before lunch. Some doctors don’t understand that an appointment is a joint agreement between the patient and the doctor to meet at a given time. Try calling your stockbroker these days and be prepared to wait.

The following happened to me. I needed to speak to a particular person at an auto dealership where I recently purchased a new car. First I got her voice mail and I asked her to call me. Two hours later, after not hearing from her, I called again. Got the voice mail again. I asked for someone else in her department to talk to. A girl came on, took my message and after I waited eight minutes
disconnected me.

Then I called again and asked to speak to the sales manager. Voice mail again. Left message again. No call back. Called again. Same thing again. Finally got his assistant who gladly took down all my information then said, "I give you a live person." Shocked, I said, "I was under the impression you were live?" He said, "Yes, but it’s not my department, I’ll switch you" and promptly sent me back to the original voice mail I had called twice before – unsuccessfully. Frustration set in.

Finally got to the office manager after an umpteenth call who took charge and called me back with the following explanation: "The work you need has been completed a week ago but the women in charge had to leave for a personal emergency." she said. No one picked up her lapsed work. It just sat on her desk as time fizzled like air out of a flattening tire.

This reminded me of when I was on a business trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico 30 years ago and tried for three hours to telephone the local newspaper office to invite them to a reception we were sponsoring for local businesses. When I finally got someone to answer the phone he said, "Sorry, but Jose is next door fixing a toilet." Imagine an editor of a daily newspaper not available for three hours because he was repairing someone's plumbing.

A colleague explained, "What do you expect. Puerto Rico is the equivalent of the Third World nation."

Today I must ask, is the US becoming a Third World nation, a banana republic whose only crops are indifference, delay and manana.


Carol Ann said...

Hi Don,

I enjoyed your latest comments. I lived in PR for six years. Yes, it was frustrating that the phone service broke down on a regular basis, banks were inefficient, etc. However, if you really wanted your phone fixed, you'd hail the truck when it came to your street, talk sweetly to the repair man, and generally he would come and fix your phone.

What I really liked about PR was that they knew when to just let it all hang out--enjoy themselves over a holiday or even someone's birthday. This was 30 years ago, so I don't know if they have joined the rat race too, but I know that the rat race hasn't done us much good. We're all running around, getting ulcers, for lousy pay and little recognition. We don't know how to relax.

Well, that's my take. Just one rather large exception to your comments--not everyone is well fed, or housed, or even relatively happy. I know I'm not happy to learn today, when the assessment statement came, that my house is worth at least twenty percent less than we paid for it.
Carol Ann Ellis

Anonymous said...

Here in the U.S. we have always liked being No. 1 and, historically, we have been in just about every area including medicine, science, education, and technology, etc. Alas, that may no longer be the case. But take heart, for we have emerged as No. 1 amongst third world nations. Your story is, indeed, a sad one. Especially since it was probably an American made car!