By Arab News
By Sabria S. Jawhar
The other day I was running around doing some banking and errands when I stopped at my bank to make a transaction. I arrived a little after 10 in the morning and the Ladies’ Branch was open, but when I entered it the lobby was dim and the teller windows empty.
The branch manager greeted me sleepily and didn’t bother to ask what I wanted. She just looked at me expectantly. I told her I needed to make a deposit and apply for a new ATM card. I repeated my request three times.
She looked at me as if I insulted her and said that I must wait for a teller. As my eyes swept across the room, there were no tellers at their stations. It was almost 10:30.
“Can you do it for me?” I asked.
“You must wait for a teller,” she replied.
As I waited, tellers started to arrive for work as sleepy as their boss. At this point I discovered the card machine was broken and they couldn’t even fulfill half of my request.
I left the bank and went over to Samba. The contrast between the two banks was startling. Samba’s Ladies’ Branch was brightly lit, bustling with activity and had tellers at all stations. They actually seemed eager to do business. I was in and out of the branch in less than 10 minutes.
Somehow, somewhere in the mind of Saudis, Ramadan seems to have become the catch-all excuse to take a mental break from work. The body is there, but the mind is still under the covers in bed dreaming of the big meal at iftar.
I’m hungry and thirsty, too. But why must my brothers and sisters make me share their suffering as well?
The contrasts between the way the two banks conduct business during Ramadan is a classic example of the expectations of businesses toward their employees. The ladies’ branch manager set a poor example for her tellers and by greeting her customers as if they were a burden. Why should her subordinates come to work on time if their boss can’t summon the energy to be professional?
On the other hand, Samba clearly has a policy that demands the upmost professionalism of its employees no matter how uncomfortable they are during the day. When I go inside their bank, whether it’s the men’s or women’s departments, the level of professionalism is uniform across the board.
Apparently it’s easier to adopt the former attitude. Up until iftar it’s best for expats to keep a low profile lest he earns the wrath of a hungry Saudi, who is eyeing his watch and wishing that time speeds up. In the meantime, patience is not a virtue but a nuisance when an expat quietly explains that he must close the shop for Asr prayer and the Saudi flies off the handle insisting that he is somehow a special person who must conclude his business before rushing home to take a nap before the big meal.
Fasting comes but once a year and part of the experience is to go through the day conducting business as usual because the rewards are great. No where is it said the experience means inflicting the discomfort of your hunger on others by ignoring them, outright refusing to serve the people you are employed to serve, or losing your temper because an expat doing his job may result in intruding on your nap time.
Managers should insist that their employees perform their duties in the same manner as they would if it wasn’t Ramadan. It’s a reflection on the business and the employees. That’s why I am taking my business from the dingy confines of my old bank with their sleepyheads behind the windows and giving it to another bank. And that’s why I won’t let pass the next man or women who feels inclined to give a clerk a tongue-lashing for doing his job.