One time I paused to note how an ice cream vendor served me without lifting her head; she never even looked at me. It was a shame, because she would have gotten a flattering compliment.
“Food service here in Cuba has been reduced to the basic interaction required to collect the payment from the customer. Nothing else matters,” I told myself.
What’s more, it is surprising how little importance attention to the consumers has to do with how the State provides compensation to workers in the food service industry here. Concern is often limited to the function demanded of these workers by the State: selling.
Selling is seen as part of a process in which the consumer is nothing more than a necessary step. In fact, many food service workers don’t concern themselves with the amount of money that the State pays them; it’s because this sum —approximately $8 dollars a month— isn’t so important.
The true wage is received when they sell products at their establishment under the table; these sales bring in approximately $28 a month. Therefore, only a small part of their earnings are derived from sales at their workplaces to regular customers. Sales to them are assured — so why give them good treatment? Such treatment is reserved for friends and family.
Some mistreated customers point to psychological and criminal reasons to explain such lackluster behavior. Would a Cuban food service worker in London be able to provide service that was less cold in that country? Though I don’t believe that English gastronomy is the solution we’re looking for, I immediately understand that the root of the problem doesn’t reside in pathologies or crime, but in the way in which our societies are organized.
It’s likely that if that otherwise insensitive worker were to serve me ice cream in a London shop, I would receive a look directly in my eyes; I might even get a “have to nice day.” This wouldn’t be because she was flirting with me or found me attractive). Instead, it would be a question of cost and benefit.
There are days when I curse under my breath at the discourtesies of some service worker. Today however, I can find understandable explanations for their behavior. I consider them sisters and brothers of the cause, and I hope that one day we can make peace.
Hopefully this reconciliation won’t occur in an American-style McDonalds, though nor would I like for it to happen in one of those dumps where almost daily I pick up a hamburger that many try to imagine are made with meat.