Not being from a society specifically known for it’s standard of service and now living in the Middle East where the level of service obtained in every aspect of life is outstanding, I can fully appreciate this happy by-product of life as a western expat in the Middle East.
Pull into a service station in Ireland, to fill your car at the cost of c. Eu. 1.30 per litre, long forgotten are the days when there might be an attendant to pump the expensive golden liquid into your feisty fiesta or even a forecourt person who might help with a fiddly petrol cap or the air pressure apparatus. Stepping out of the possibly the most expensive mode of transport available in Ireland, including flying, you hope despite past experience that there might be some of the blue coloured tissue paper in the dispenser, and yes, you were right, it’s not there. Wont to avoid the stench of petrol on your hands, you look for a glove, even a used glove, but again, there is none. Standing in the sleeting rain, hands numb on the pump you fill the car and ponder two things, 1. Do you have enough money in your purse/bank to fill the tank and 2. Will there be soap in the bathroom? Wiping your hands on the grubby windscreen cloth in the front of car, you get the annoying yellow lint on your black coat and angrily make you way to the shop to find the manager to complain. To which the manageress will tut sympathetically and reply, “I don’t have the key for the bathroom, it’s terrible isn’t it and you’ve been on the road all morning, the last thing you want to do is stand out there in the cold and rain but that’s the way this country has gone, get something for the hot counter and a coffee, warm yourself up”. Obediently you grab a couple of greasy sausages rolls and a coffee from the DIY coffee station, hand over the Eu. 87.50 charge and thank her very much.
It is experiences like this that have honed my appreciation skills to the point that when that when I pull into a service station in the Middle East, I can feel the tension in my shoulders begin to fizzle out. As I roll down the window to inform the uniformed attendance my fuel of choice, I feel a smile emerge. As the fuel is being pumped and money meter barely moves, I feel a wave of satisfaction wash over me. Instead of standing still contemplating life, the attendant proceeds to wash the windscreen and the back window, just by way of service, no extra charge. My smile almost breaks into uncontrolled laughter as the eighty eight litre tank fills for under EU. 20, so much so that I always give a generous (relatively) tip for the experience. So enjoyable in fact is the whole experience that it takes me all my strength to stop myself from flinging the whole purse out the window in gratitude. However, I refrain and give a respectable five dirham, Eu.1.
Five dirham proves enough to acknowledge the good service and rid my mind of the carcinogens to which the attendants are constantly being exposed. On a monthly salary equivalent to Eu.200 for filling petrol for long hours and in intense heat I feel that to tip the attendant is not only polite it is the danger money that makes the job worthwhile.
When I recently read that these attendants are prohibited from keeping the tips and are regularly strip-searched in an effort to find the few dirhams stored in a sock or shoe, which the company considers rightfully theirs, the tip, not the sock or the shoe, I became dismayed. Enter guilt.
In one case in particular a twenty four year old man was fired for pocketing a 10 dirham tip. The “haul” was found after a routine check was carried out at the end of the shift, where all the workers stood in a line and told to jump so the manager could hear the guilty jingle, the workers continued to be frisked and thereafter strip-searched.
As these multi-billion dollar petroleum companies bolster their revenue by taking the measly tips from the lowly paid workers I thought surely there could be a happy medium that lies somewhere between lint and guilt.