OK, so, you know how I mentioned that I now live in a matriarchal culture, where the women call the shots? This is not a bad thing; in fact, it may be why the country has no military and why the people are calmer.
However, I had a series of experiences a couple of weeks ago which were, shall we say, frustrating to the point of traumatic.
To begin: I don’t get out much. And I do like to shop, but it is always worth waiting for my next trip to the US to buy what I need. However, due to my cutting out the carbs in my diet, I have lost about 15 pounds. This was not a goal, since I’m trying to improve brain health, but I’m pleased to back to what is considered an ideal weight for my height.
Also for the benefit of my brain, I decided to wean myself off of Seroquel, and anti-anxiety medication which I started years ago when I was working and under a lot of stress. This drug helped me sleep but can have nasty side effects on older people, so I stopped it gradually over a month. However, my brain chemistry never adapted, and I went three months without a decent night’s sleep. I found myself plagued with ruminating thoughts (my phrase of the day) and unable to fall asleep. So my doctor told me to go back on the meds and then wean myself off over four months instead of one.
I tell you this as prologue to my shopping adventure. One Thursday, I decided to Uber over to the mall and accomplish three tasks: Buy some Seroquel, buy a pair of jeans (as mine were literally falling down), and cancel a cell phone number which I no longer needed. Simple enough, right? Who doesn’t like a trip to the mall?
Encounter #1 – The Pharmacy
I wanted to buy some low-dose Seroquel and an antibiotic, the latter of which required a prescription, which I had. When I went to pay, I was told I owed $150. I then learned that the prescription was for the brand name. When I asked the cashier to change it to the generic, she told me that I needed to get a new prescription for generic from the doctor. I found it odd, but I believed her.
I then went in search of the doctor in the pharmacy. Since the public health system (Caja) can require months for non-emergency appointments, most pharmacies have doctors on staff to advise customers and recommend medicines which here do not require prescriptions. Once I found her, I asked if she could authorize a generic for me. It turns out that the cashier had lied and that it was perfectly legal to switch to a generic without a new prescription. I guess when she saw a gringo, she decided that I both could afford $100 for a $20 antibiotic and would be willing to pay it.
Encounter #2 – The Department Store
Knowing that I’ll be in the US in December, I didn’t want to pay Costa Rican prices for clothes. So, I went in search of a sale. In imitation of our Black Friday, here they have Black November. And, sure enough, I saw big sale signs at Siman’s, which is their equivalent of Macy’s.
The tables and racks had multiple discount signs with different percentages, so I asked the salesperson to explain them to me. She said the discounts were for customers of Banco Nacional. I told her that I was one, but that I wanted to use my AMEX in order to earn mileage points. I then asked her if there were any discounts for people NOT paying with Banco Nacional cards. She told me yes, walked me through her area, and pointed out three tables of non-BN sale items.
After trying on jeans (at 30% off), I went to pay with my AMEX. She then asked for my BN card, so I assumed that she was going to try to get me that discount as well. Only when I saw her placing my BN card in the little machine did I yell at her to stop. She hesitated but did not pull out the card. I told her, again, that I wanted to use my AMEX. She then informed me that there were no discounts for cards other than Banco Nacional. When I asked why she had told me otherwise, she said that she was sorry. Apparently she had decided, in order to make the sale, that she would charge it to my BN card even after I’d repeatedly told her not to. I thanked her for wasting my time and walked out.
Encounter #3 – The Cell Phone Company
Here I use Claro (which means “clear”), which is excellent. I went into their store to cancel an account I wasn’t using. I was sent to the workstation of a professional-looking young lady, to whom I explained what I wanted to do. She began to enter information in her computer.
After a few minutes, she informed me that there was a special (about which I had received a text) which would allow me to pay half-price for the account for three months. I thanked her and said that I didn’t need or use the account and still wanted to cancel.
After a few more minutes, she asked me if I had a family member who might want to use the account I was trying to cancel. I again thanked her and said no.
After a few more minutes, she asked me if there were any third party to whom I might want to give this account. I again said no, and, to drive the point home, told her that there were no circumstances under which I would keep this account. I had made up my mind. She, however, refused to take no for an answer.
After a few more minutes, she asked me if I was sure that I wanted to cancel this account. At that point, I put my head on her desk and, rocking side to side, said “No, no, no, no, no, no, no”. I then asked her if she was going to let me cancel the account and if I would be allowed to leave the store without agreeing to keep it. She told me that she was just doing her job, to which I replied that the first attempts to save the account were understandable, but that refusing to take no for an answer and badgering a client into submission could not possibly be company policy.
We were at a deadlock.
I then noticed the customer at the station next to me, who appeared sympathetic. She had heard everything, and I asked her for help. It was only after she, another tica, intervened on my behalf, that I the agent agreed to cancel my account.
Exhausted and traumatized, I left the mall. The good news is that, in spite of being bullied and infantilized, I accomplished all of my tasks: I bought my generic medicine, I bought jeans on sale (in the same store but from a male employee), and I canceled my spare cell phone account.
I know that the way I was treated was colored by the fact that all gringos are perceived to be rich and, I guess, easily manipulated into spending money. Now, I know that it wasn’t personal; it was cultural (gender and nationality). But what was telling was that the young man from whom I ultimately bought the jeans was completely helpful and never tried to get me to do what he wanted me to do. He seemed to understand that I did not work for him, that I was an adult capable of making a decision, and that his job was to provide a service to me and not the other way around.
When I finally got home, I realized that the Uber driver had added extra charges to the ride in order to double the price. We’ll analyze that one another time.
And you wonder why I spend so much time alone at home?
A NOTE: The cartoon at the top shows a doctor explaining to a woman that he is a pediatrician and can’t treat her grown son. The mother explains that she made the appointment through Caja when her son was six months old.