Useless Moron Syndrome
I haven’t updated my blog for the last couple weeks because I’ve been on vacation traveling abroad. I just got back from New Zealand last night after having a fantastic visit. The people are wonderful, there is no end of beautiful places to visit, even the fast food was great. It’s hard to travel abroad and not find yourself comparing the lifestyles of people in other countries to our own. For example, I am acutely aware of a chronic attitude condition I experience constantly here in the US that I like to refer to as “Useless Moron Syndrome”. Just to be clear, “Useless Moron’s” aren’t necessarily actually morons, in fact they often have very efficiently optimized their behavior and attitudes to maximize their return on a minimal investment of effort. Useless morons are the seemingly witless dis-empowered drones you encounter every day in shops, restaurants and hotels and especially at mobile stores. You get so used to them that you just come to expect it of nearly everyone around you.
The first experience I had stepping off the plane in New Zealand was going to the Vodaphone store to try to get a local phone and of course get the three other computers I brought with me connected wirelessly there. It has been a 12 hour flight so naturally I wasn’t looking forward to standing in a long line to get service from the one working individual in a typical US mobile store while three other useless morons stand around yacking and pretending that there are no other customers present. There was one guy staffing the Vodaphone shop at the Auckland airport and he was serving three people in parallel simultaneously. Not only was he helping three people at once but he wasn’t making any mistakes, he knew everything that needed to get done and he took the time to personally configure all of my computers and verify their successful connections while helping the other people in line at the same time. I was in and out in 10 minutes with total connectivity. The experience was a total shock to my system. I had completely forgotten what real service was like. I’m embarrassed to say that I even had to choke back my initial indigent reaction when he started helping other people in line in addition to my self. I was so accustomed to being ticked off at having to wait in a long line only to get painfully slow useless moron service that I was pre-indignant with the expectation that his helping other people would slow down his ability to get me taken care of and on the road. Of course I was wrong.
At first I was so shocked by the experience that I assumed that I had encountered the one useful service person in the entire mobile store industry who happened to work for the Auckland Airport Vodaphone, but every service encounter in New Zealand was like that. It literally blew my mind. They were all friendly, engaged, competent and seemingly empowered. Stunning. On one occasion I had gotten myself stuck in a hotel parking garage because I didn’t have a parking ticket. The toll booth operator… one of the last places you expect to find somebody taking any pride in their job, was on the ball. Instead of just charging me the maximum overnight rate he called the hotel desk, got my room number, told them I had parked there overnight and got me the guest discount rate.
On another occasion we booked a flight to another part of New Zealand and missed the flight the next day because New Zealand’s day light savings time occurs on a different schedule. (It’s their fall during our spring) The lady at the local travel agency called the airline for us and got us an 80% refund on our tickets… unthinkable WE had missed the flight! After taking a cab somewhere the bill was $10.40, I gave the driver $15 and told him to keep the change. He looked at me like I was insulting him, gave me $5 back and apologized that HE didn’t have any change. I nearly fainted dead away…
The other thing you sadly get accustomed to in the US is constantly being treated like a criminal. You can’t reserve a hotel room or dinner reservation without reciting your name and credit card information over the phone. In New Zealand we had made ZERO travel plans. We’d just call a local hotel or B&B that we thought we’d enjoy staying at when we arrived in an area and they would just ask when to expect us. No credit card verification, nothing. Most of the B&B’s didn’t even expect payment or need a credit card when we checked in, they just took care of it the next day when we were ready to leave. B&B hopping in New Zealand is a great way to experience the country.
It seems like everybody’s home in New Zealand is a little cottage industry. They own an orchard of some kind, they graze some livestock, they run a B&B out of their home and they maybe have some service business like house painting or construction that the family also does for a living. New Zealand, like the US, has clearly been suffering some difficult economic times but the people’s attitude about it is amazingly resourceful and self-sufficient. Everybody seemed to be diligently doing something to get by. The best B&B experiences we had was just stopping at random homes that had some hand drawn sign out-front. At one point in the course of trying to follow one of these signs into a country neighborhood we got lost and ended up accidentally knocking on a little old Maori ladies door. She had a gorgeous beachfront house that we ASSUMED must be the B&B but it wasn’t. She insisted on inviting us into her home for tea and spent several hours telling us stories about growing up Maori on the remote Chatham islands. Her husband, also Maori, had recently passed away but had served in the army during WWII so we learned what that experience had been like in New Zealand.
Another family had the most amazing park like property with a solitary cottage they had built on it overlooking a pond. while we were getting settled in our hostess went on about how much work her husband had done to build the cottage and landscape the grounds, it was very impressive. She was a midwife and said that most of their customers were neighbors who came out to relax and recover after having a baby. The next day as we were paying our bill we actually met her husband in person. He was on crutches from what appeared to be a severe case of cerebral palsy, he took off his work gloves to come out and shake my hand.
On our last day there we had to visit Hobbiton, the original set from the movie which had been turned into a tourist attraction. Of course I expected a horrible tourist trap experience, bad over priced food, cheap junk tourist swag, being trapped with a mob and forced to listen to a dispirited tour guide recite their memorized monologue for the 50th time that day. It was NOTHING like that. Peter Jackson had built the set as a permanent fixture for the SHEEP FARMERS that owned the land he had rented for the movie. The SHEEP FARMER family was operating the tour business. The food was great, they had a sparse SWAG selection of premium WETA made replicas of popular items from the movie and the SHEEP FARMER tour bus driver was a local who had been hired on the crew to help setup and tear down the site for the movie while it was being made and had all kinds of great first hand stories about it. The site was amazing. The Green Dragon Inn was amazing and beautifully authentic. I felt like I had stepped into the movie and the food I ordered at the original Green Dragon Inn on the set of the movie was some of the best I’d had in New Zealand. The locals had started brewing local Hobbit Ale and ginger beer just for the Inn which isn’t served anywhere else. The tour guide let us wander relatively freely around the shire and even encouraged us to play with some of the original movie props, they weren’t the least bit concerned about the possibility that somebody was going to steal them and sell them on Ebay.
I knew I was home in America when I got off the flight and immediately went to the airport cafe to get a coffee which took forever and they got my order wrong…