One thing that spending a few years in the USA has given me (apart from an addiction to Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and better teeth) is an appreciation and expectation of good customer service. Ignoring any government run departments (particularly the social security bunch), the customer service in America is second to none. At the absolute opposite end of the service spectrum lies the customer service I have experienced in Angola. The service can be so bad in so many different places that it is almost impossible to pick the worst. One of my favourite places to go and be treated like someone found me on the bottom of their shoe is our local ‘Shoprite’ supermarket (lovingly renamed ‘Shopwrong’ by anyone who has to go there). The only living things having anything close to a good time in this place are the weevils that have set up home on the shelves of the flour aisle. Empty cupboards had forced me to endure another ‘Shoprite’ experience on Wednesday. It started well when I located some slightly-more-robust-than-normal plastic bags to fill with fruit and veg. Normally, anything rougher than a peach can lacerate these bags sending their contents all over the floor. Halfway through some meticulous apple selecting we had our first power cut. Plunged into darkness we all stood still as our eyes adjusted to the gloom. On the bright side, the inane Christmas pop music had also stopped. A couple of minutes later the electricity supply resumed and, like children playing musical statues, we all sprang back into life and continued our specific shopping activity to the background of Christmas tunes. In Shoprite, and most other supermarkets here, we have to have someone weigh and attach a sticky label to all of our fresh produce before going to the till and unluckily for me I chose the only scales manned by someone who didn’t know any of the codes. Ten or so minutes later he had managed to weigh and correctly identify four of my eight items. I knew it was going to be a long shopping trip and contemplated the idea of telling him not to worry and the Foleys would survive on tinned fruit and veg this week. Having said that, there is only one thing worse than spending two hours in Shoprite and that is tinned vegetables, particularly green beans. I still can’t understand how any manufacturer can justify charging customers for them, they should be free or we should be paid for taking them off their hands. Veg weighed, I sauntered off to find some slimy ham and cracked eggs. After a couple more power cuts I headed to the till. As queuing isn’t as popular here as it is in Great Britain, you have to adopt new strategies to maintain your place at the checkout. I use the method whereby I stand at the front of my shopping trolly and look fierce. It worked today. I said “Bom dia” to the lady sat behind the till, she ignored me and continued to have a conversation with a member of the bakery staff who had wandered over for a chat. She began scanning a few items and then stopped for a bit to carry on her conversation with her floury friend. Out of 15 items, 5 didn’t scan, these included a bag of potatoes (hardly exotic) and several bags of nuts. She shouted “Colega, Colega” several times and a few minutes later a ‘supervisor’ sauntered over who, without speaking, took my carefully selected bag of potatoes and disappeard for some time before making a very slow return journey to the till and dropping a new bag of randomly selected potatoes onto the counter. There was still no familiar ‘bleep’ so the shop assistant just said ‘No’ and put the potatoes and nuts behind her. So that was that, I left with two thirds of what I had hoped for. The cash machines were out of cash and then I couldn’t find my driver in the carpark, none of which was out of the ordinary. We drove to three different banks trying to find one that had some cash and that was in a safe place where I wouldn’t be immediately mugged before I got back in the car.
There is quite a lot of petty crime in our area, mostly muggings. We hear lots of reports of locals taking large sums of cash out of the banks and then being shot as they leave and ‘relieved’ of their cash by men on motorbikes. We all suspect that these are inside jobs where someone working inside the bank is tipping off the criminals. I don’t carry big money around with me anymore as we now have a bank account and a debit card. In addition, most of us don’t wear expensive jewellery of carry designer bags when out and about. I ve swapped my fancy wallet for my 7 year old’s ‘Hello Kitty’ purse and a bag that I won in a raffle. I also carry an old, broken mobile phone as well as my iPhone. In heavy traffic I hide my iPhone and any cash so if we do get held up by muggers the worst that can happen is that I have to explain to my daughter that some bad men stole her wallet.
There are places that we don’t go to in Luanda because of safety concerns, although the same can be said about most big cities. The main problem is that us white expats stand out like a sore thumb and we are guaranteed to be carrying a mobile phone. I lived in London for many years and my basic student grant meant that I had to live in the not-so-salubrious parts of the city. I regularly commuted through the types of neighbourhoods where you kept your head down and didn’t make eye contact. After dark I would take off all my jewellery and stuff it in my mouth until I reached the safety of my hallway. I inadvertently swallowed an earring back once but felt that this was a small price to pay for protecting my valuables.
Right, the cat has appeared at the window and she needs deworming – more on that later…..