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Peter Espeut | Save us from indiscipline in 2017

Published:Friday | December 30, 2016 | 12:00 AM

As the year draws to a close, and a new year beckons, it is time for reflection, introspection - and hope. Some of the bad things about Jamaica are intractable and will not improve without radical effort, but others are low-hanging fruit and are within reach.

Take customer service in our retail establishments, for instance. The supermarket I frequent - Shoppers Fair in the Harbour View Shopping Centre - offers its customers a very useful service, especially when the check-out is crowded: a quick-service line for those with ten items or less. A sign above the till shouts in big letters: "10 ITEMS OR LESS. NO TROLLEYS."

Yet more often than not, you look at the (usually long) quick-service line and see multiple trolleys and persons holding overflowing baskets containing many more than ten items. It is not, I believe, because they are illiterate. it has more to do with indiscipline, an unwillingness to pay the price in time and trouble to play by the rules.

It also has to do with the fact that sometimes indisciplined customers are facilitated in their indiscipline by indisciplined persons in authority. On Christmas Eve, I was sent by my wife to the supermarket to buy three items. As was to be expected, the place was packed. All the queues were long, so I joined the quick-service line with my three items in hand.


Playing by the rules


Of course, ahead of me were persons with trolleys and overflowing baskets, and around me my fellows in the line grumbled. I went to the supervisor behind the counter and asked her to defend her disciplined customers by asking the indisciplined ones to join the appropriate line. She advised me that she could not do that as the indisciplined customers had already been waiting in line for some time; it would be unfair to them to be asked to join the correct line! But was it fair to those of us playing by the rules? She was unmoved.

I sought out the manager who was, at the time, operating a cash register in a valiant effort to serve the massive crowd. I repeated my request, but she was unwilling to do anything about it. People will get away with what those in authority allow them to.

So I returned to my space in the quick-service line and slowly made my way up to the till. I asked the cashier why she served persons who came with trolleys or with more than ten items. Frustrated, she told me that when in the past she told customers to join the appropriate line, they complained about her to the management, and she was instructed to cash them. She was clearly not going to put her job at risk by trying to play by the rules.

Of course, many of us Jamaicans are indisciplined, but if we got to the cash register only to be told that we would not be accommodated, more of us would toe the line.

All that should be needed is a general announcement reminding persons of who is eligible to join the quick-service line, and that out of respect for those for whom the line was intended, the others would not be served. As we were taught in high school: Verbum sapienti satis est (A word to the wise is sufficient).

The problem is not just in supermarkets. I am now of an age where I join the senior citizens line in banks and elsewhere. On occasion, I marvel at how young some of these senior citizens look, especially the women. If you offer your Gold Card customers the opportunity of a quick-service line, none of us will mind producing the Gold Card if it means preventing opportunists from delaying us by 'trying a t'ing'.

Banks do encourage in-discipline, too. In my experience, many (if not most) of us Jamaicans, value order and discipline. When I line up to use a cash machine or to pay my bills, there is great respect for the line. Older persons may take a seat, but they are called when it is their turn, and if anyone tries to break the line, there is a hue and cry. There is a foundation of discipline on which to build.

I think that if the management in banks, supermarkets, etc, would only enforce the rules they put in place to better serve their customers, Jamaica would be a much nicer place to live in.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to