Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First they say "Welcome Sir"...and then they search you! - Manila, Philippines

An unlikely "iPost" at a shopping mall
There is an enormous mess of shopping malls around the Makati and Ayala Avenue crossroads, apparently evergrowing, like some kind of urban benign tumor. The inevitable SM and Parkson malls can be found there, while Glorietta and Green belt have five branches each. They are laid out one next to the other, forming an uninterrupted commercial island a few square kilometers big. Shops, restaurants, department stores, cinemas, alfresco cafes, discos: hundreds of business venues and thousands of customers every day. A gold mine for the rich investors and the usual salary-eating trap for the middle classes of Asia, that when it comes to advertising and the call of the ephemeral don't have any form of self-defense and fall for it like little kids.
This avidity of the storekeepers runs counter to the general paranoia induced by the increasing criminality rate and the permanent sensation of political instability. This conflict takes place mostly at the mall entrances, where the clientele is channeled through narrow passages patrolled by security guards equipped with metal detectors.
You are not only searched when you first enter a mall but also each time you walk from one building to the next: it looks as if the managers of a company didn't trust those of the others, even though they spend their days next to each other.Besides carrying out their usual tasks the guards also act like pseudo-butlers: most of them in fact are expected to welcome each one of the customers they examine. Check, greet, check, greet, hundreds, maybe thousands times a day. A real nightmare: for the money they get I wouldn't probably do it more than three times. On top of that, every time they greet you they wrap it up with a Sir or a Ma'am. For most Filipinos this is a sort of professional bias: they say that to pretty much anybody, provided it's someone they don't personally know that for some reason, even an odd one, has to be dealt with respectfully.
When I was in Boracay I often happened to have a casual conversation with some local guys and girls at the beach: after the fifth Sir in a minute I felt totally ill at ease, I let them know what my name was and strictly forbade them to Sir me again. The awkward and confused answer that I normally received sounded pretty much like this: "Alright Sir...hmm Fabio...I mean Fabio Sir...ops...Mr. Fabio...well, only Fabio...Fabio, that is..."
At the end I realized that it was better not to say anything and put up with the embarrassing sequence of Sirs.

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