Tuesday, 8 April 2008
I have had two similar experiences recently which made me reflect on the place of rules here in Colombia, on being foreign, and on the importance of relationships. One was in a bank. I needed to pay some cash into an account, but was told that this service was only available to people who have accounts with the bank, which I don't. I asked the teller what I should do, and she said, "Tranquila, te colaboro." (Don't worry, I'll help you.) She helped me with the form, took my cash, and said that next time I would have to find a bigger branch, where I would be allowed out the transaction. Another time, I needed to return some clothes to a supermarket. I cheerfully presented the items and the receipt at the appropriate desk. The two women got very agitated that the clothes WEREN'T IN A BAG. Apparently, you have to bring unwanted goods in a carrier bag that you have to get sealed by the security guard on your way in. What to do? I had a brainwave. I would go and buy something, get a plastic bag, put my unwanted items in it, go out of the shop and get the security guard to seal it. When I said this to the women, they laughed and said, "Tranquila." Next time, I would have to do things the proper way, but this time, as I was clearly foreign and didn't know the rules, they would exchange my goods for me. Here, it seems, personal connection is everything and rules don't matter very much. This is very nice for me - all I have to do when I confront bureaucracy is look stricken and speak stumbling Spanish - but I don't know if it is good for a nation, in the long run.