I know the country and the world are falling apart and I’m writing about, what’s this, matapobre (antipoor) hospitality?
I did intend to write about national politics but I just lost an entire morning dealing with rudeness in a bank, leaving me only with a lunch break to do my column. You’ll see in the end, the column will deal — albeit tangentially — with the nation, too. Moreover, I will include tips on how business managers can better train their staff (and, all too often, themselves) to overcome this matapobre hospitality, which they probably don’t know is making them lose many business opportunities.
I first read about this selectivity many years ago in a commentary (my apologies but I cannot recall who wrote the article) about Philippine fiestas, during which, we open our homes to all visitors, or so we want to claim. The reality, all too often, is that we open our homes selectively, only to those who we see as equals, or as superiors.
This matapobre hospitality certainly happens thousands of times each day, especially in our business establishments.
You can see it in the way the clerks follow you around as you move around the shop. If you seem to be someone who can afford their goods, they will follow you like a puppy, accompanied by hard sell on their products, which is material for another column. But if you seem to be “shopping without money,” they give you that contemptuous look that tells you they want you out soonest. Touch something and they will take it from your hands if you hold it longer than a few seconds, almost as if they’re worried you transferred some germs from an incurable disease.
The extremes in this aspect of matapobre hospitality are mind-boggling. In the swanky up-market shops, clerks are not supposed to even approach you. They stand at the side, watching reverently and waiting for you to beckon them. Ask for something they don’t have and they will be apologetic, moving heaven and earth to call other branches to get it for you.
On the other extreme, and you will see this in low-end malls and shops, hold a product or stay in a shop a few seconds too long and the clerks will actually protest and scold. Once, I actually heard a cell phone dealer asking a client if he was buying or not while asking another customer not to “istambay” (stand by) at their counter if they were not buying. The poor can be the most oppressive when dealing with the fellow poor.
Somewhat in the middle are stores, banks and government offices where the staff and clerks are themselves middle class. They’ll fawn on the rich, while everyone else gets a degree of politeness matched by their judgement of the clothes you wear, the language you use (ay, Tagalog spokening), the shopping bags you’re carrying around (an indicator that you have money to buy, and in which establishments).
If you are seen as a lesser being, if you ask more than one question, they stare at you and give a curt “yes” or “no.” In my case, when I asked about dollar remittances for particular transactions, the bank clerk looked almost incredulous: Are you saying you need a dollar transaction? I showed her a form requiring a dollar deposit and she seemed even more shocked but quickly retorted, “You can’t use pesos to pay for this and we don’t sell dollars here.” Then using one hand, she tossed the form back to me.
I went to another clerk for another transaction and she was much nicer. I then asked her about the dollars and she was apologetic: You have to do that at your branch of account because it’s not for travel purposes. I smiled back and said I understood. One simple line, with the “sorry but” made a difference.
But I knew I could not let this pass. I went to see the branch manager, introduced myself with a calling card and explained what had transpired, including a “sayang,” what a pity, I’d been thinking of opening an account with them since they’re so much closer to UP.
The branch manager was apologetic, but added a revealing, “Perhaps she didn’t recognize you… are you in shorts?”
I was in a T-shirt, rubber shoes and long pants.
Whatever the long and short of all this, the bank manager did go out of her way to arrange for the transaction and promised to lecture her staff. I did not name the rude staff; my mother always told me for small matters, a complaint can be made graciously and without resulting in the person losing his or her job.
Hand over, not toss
I decided to give the manager and her assistant some quick tips on being more gracious, starting of course with “A janitor or a chancellor deserves the same treatment, and never try to figure out who they are by what they’re wearing.” I’m notorious for dressing simply, which does invite the matapobre treatment but smart store owners and clerks know very well there’s a difference between shabby chic and pretending-to-be-rich chic (I nearly typed out s—t).
I explained too that the voice makes a lot of difference between the arctic and the tropical. Pretending you care, as in shouting “ready to serve” every few minutes leaves me cold. There are many ways of showing you care — I have two Mercury stores near each other where my parents live and I always go, in a weekly ritual, to the one that’s further out because their staff are always greeting their suki (frequent customers) by name, with a “kumusta” that tells you they do want to know how you are.
Never, never toss a receipt, or change, or the credit/debit card, even a calling card, to someone. “Hand,” as a verb, means presenting something, or giving back something, with respect. For East Asians, two hands are appreciated. With Muslims, it’s one hand, preferably the right because the left is “profane” or dirty, you know, the one you use to wipe.
We need to make this graciousness part of our culture, a habit. Little gestures can change our mindset, too, and as we learn to treat people with equal respect, maybe we’ll have a kinder nation, a nation that recognizes and protests against how we have gone berserk with our disdain for the poor. There is, I can tell you as an anthropologist, a connection between the way we deal with the poor in daily transactions, and the way we “enforce” laws, down to pulling the trigger on a gun.