Where Incompetence is Acceptable

I’m talking about Costa Rica, as you may have guessed. Obviously it has its good points or I would find another place to live, but if you live here or follow the news you can’t escape the feeling that it’s okay to be incompetent here.

A week or so ago a friend sent me some money via a MoneyGram. Being an internet-kind-of-guy I checked online to see where I could get my money. I was pleased to see my local BAC branch listed. The place was about a block away… how convenient is that? So I headed over there and took a number to talk to a teller. My wait was probably about 15 minutes, which is pretty short for a Costa Rican bank. When my turn came, the young lady politely explained to me that they don’t do MoneyGrams at that branch, and I needed to go to another of their branches, which was (fortunately) only about 2 blocks away. That wasn’t so bad, I thought to myself, and off I went.

I got there and the entrance was behind a parking garage, and I asked one of the guys in the little lobby which line I should get in to get my MoneyGram cashed. The guy told me they didn’t do that in THAT branch either. He directed me to a place about 6 blocks away on Central Avenue, Teledollar. I was irritated but okay, off I went.

I followed the directions and after looking hard I finally found the place. Up the stairs I went and there was a little office that had a Moneygram sign. I went up to the window and showed the girl the paperwork and my ID. She got on her computer and spent about 5 minutes fussing around. After all that she told me they didn’t do Moneygrams and I needed to go to… wait for it… THE PLACE I JUST CAME FROM!

Up to this point I had been genial but this ticked me off. Sadly, my Spanish isn’t quite good enough to have questioned her in detail as to just why she wasted my time playing with her computer when they didn’t do MoneyGrams, and why they had a sign in the window. I knew she’d just blow smoke and it would do me no good. So after registering my displeasure, I left, heading back to the place I had just come from.

When I got there I was greeted by the same guy who had told me they didn’t do MoneyGrams. I asked to speak to his boss. He said HE was the boss, but he took me to a teller who miraculously had NO PROBLEM giving me the money. Hmmm. Apology? You must be kidding.

Isolated incident? I WISH. I won’t bore you with any more stories of dumb rules and clueless or lazy employees. Ticos don’t LIKE to make you unhappy, but if it requires being proactive or taking any initiative to get something done, you might as well forget it. And if you expect a lazy or incompetent employee to be reprimanded, you can forget that too. Pura vida.

The IDEA of a meritocracy is a nice idea. Although the United States isn’t totally a meritocracy you can still see somebody of average origins excel. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were not born to wealth and position but they both became President. I can’t see that happening in Costa Rica. Those who are born into a ‘good’ family here can usually rely on connections and the fact that they can afford an education to get them some kind of decent job. Those born in the slums seldom end up working in banks or government offices. They are well aware that no matter how honest they are and how hard they are willing to work, that world is light years away.

So if effort is not rewarded and incompetence is not punished, this is what you get. No surprise, I suppose. Pura Vida.

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