Sunday, June 29, 2008

Less than Enchanting Customer Service

One of the things I find most frustrating about living in Puerto Rico is the terrible customer service I often get. Generally speaking, whether it be at restaurants, shops, insurance companies, etc., it just seems to pervade every corner of the service industry. As for contacting government agencies, where you'll be lucky if anyone ever picks up the phone, I shall touch upon on a future blog entry.

Obviously, I do realize the fact that this is not New York City and people work at a different pace. However, what annoys me is the inefficiency and lack of training that people get. The local culture doesn't place much emphasis on giving its customers the best service possible. I've lost count how many times we've gone to restaurants where the waiter just seemed to have disappeared or paid no attention to us at all. What happens is I usually don't end up ordering the dessert I usually crave so much.

It's a shame how people don't realize the importance of providing good customer service. Perhaps, they just don't want repeat customers. Recently, we had a plumber come to our house to give us an assessment of some work that needed to be done. He had promised to contact me with a quote shortly. Unfortunately, more than a week has passed, and we still haven't heard from him. "El cliente es primero" literally means "the client comes first." I'm afraid this is a principle that does not apply to the "Island of Enchantment."

(Photo credit:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Troubled Skies

Did you know that Puerto Rico's Luis Muñoz Marin International, located in San Juan, is the Caribbean's busiest airport? Perhaps, an unsurprising fact is the dependency of Puerto Rico's economy on the tourism industry. This was dealt a huge blow recently, when American Airlines decided to drastically decrease the number of flights coming in and out of the Island of Echantment. According to the local papers, the total number of daily flights will be reduced from 93 to 51. This is particularly bad news, considering that American Airlines practically owns the airport in San Juan. As the economy is officially in recession here, this decision certainly adds insult to injury. Subsequently, this reduction also leads to layoffs. An estimated 400 of American Airlines' employees, which amounts to a third of its workforce based in Puerto Rico, will be losing their jobs.

American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, will also be cutting down or entirely eliminating some of its flights in the Caribbean. Their flights will be reduced from 38 to 18. All changes will take effect this coming September. Citing high oil prices, many airlines have been forced to alter its routes in hopes of cutting costs and coming up with solutions to improve the bottom line. Increasing airline fares and charging for checked-in baggage are such examples. Recently, US Airways even decided to charge for non-alchoholic beverages (including water!) served onboard. Isn't this just ridiculous? The going is certainly getting tougher.

If you're planning on traveling to the Caribbean, do plan ahead. From the way things look, booking early will probably be the smartest move.

(Photo Credit:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

San Juan: Best City in Central & South America

Based on the latest worldwide best quality of life rankings, San Juan is the best city in Central and South America for expatriates to live in. Overall, San Juan received a ranking of #72. This study was published by a management consulting agency with the purpose of helping multinational companies, amongst others, determine where to re-locate their employees. Some of the factors considered include the following: political stability, economic environment, housing availability, cultural offerings, etc. Most of the cities in the top 10 are in Europe.

I'd say I was pleasantly surprised to see San Juan, where I was born, receive such an accolade. While I have not traveled extensively in Central and South America, I must say San Juan is relatively prosperous and enjoys a stable political and socioeconomic environment as compared to other Latin American countries. Although I was not raised in San Juan, I do remember how it was in the past and a lot of progress has been made. This is especially true in terms of its infraestructure, and the attraction of investments by some of the world's largest corporations in the past 10 to 15 years. However, I do also see an ever increasing disparity of wealth.

Interestingly, if Puerto Rico were to become the 51st state of the U.S, it would also become the poorest. According to the 2000 U.S Census Bureau, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico is almost 45%. This is more than twice that of Mississippi, which is the most destitute in the U.S, at 16%. While this latest ranking shows how progress has been made, there is room for a lot more improvement. When there's a larger number of people who are living in economically precarious situations, it will most likely result in destabilizing and undoing the marvelous achievements of the past.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Netherlands

One of the best things about traveling to foreign places is how my five senses just seem to go on high alert. Suddenly, I am more aware of my surroundings and my place in it. This time, to be fair, I wasn't venturing into completely unfamiliar territory. The photo above was taken in Utrecht, the Netherlands about two weeks ago. Although it was my first time in this charming city, I've been in the Netherlands before. Someone very special in my life is from this low-lying country, which is famous for its windmills, tulips and cheese.

My first time in the Netherlands didn't count for much of an experience, as I was only in Amsterdam for a weekend. However, over the course of two more visits, I've realized how wonderful this little country really is. What really impresses me about the Netherlands is how environmentally concerned people are. Supermarkets actually charge shoppers for plastic bags. As a result, most people bring their own. The Dutch also have one of the highest recycling rates in the world. Throughout the country, you'll also see windturbines.

Trains and bikes seem to be the most popular mode of transportation. Practically everyone owns a bike. The country is quite flat, so I guess it just makes perfect sense. I also think it's wonderful how all the towns seem to be connected by bike paths ("fietspad" in dutch). The country is said to have thousands of them. Don't get me wrong though, there still is a lot of traffic despite the exorbitant gas prices. Back here in Puerto Rico, as well as the U.S, people are complaining about paying over $1.00/liter (which amounts to around $3.50/gallon). This pales in comparison to what drivers pay in the Netherlands, where prices are nearly double.

Perhaps, one of the highlights of my recent trip was my ability to actually practice my Dutch! Although my knowledge is quite limited, I was able to understand a lot of the street signs, billboards, etc. I was also able to order my food (and ask for the bill) all on my own. Although most Dutch can speak English, out of respect and to the best of my ability, I like being able to communicate with the locals in their own language. Besides, I like languages. Isn't it wonderful when you can express yourself in different ways?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hillary's Victory

I've been away from Puerto Rico for two weeks, and came back just in time for the Democratic primary election frenzy. At this moment, according to the latest projections, Hillary is said to have captured over 60% of the votes. This is not a surprise, as Puerto Ricans love the Clintons. However, it remains to be seen what the voter participation rate is, but I have a gut feeling it won't be too high. Most Boricuas just don't see the point of voting in the primaries, since they can't even vote in the presidential elections come November.

In the past, Puerto Rico has never played a crucial role in deciding who the presidential candidate should be for either political party. With this year's election, everything has changed. Suddenly, the candidates actually have to fly down here! So, what has been Puerto Rico's reaction? Unfortunately, I just don't feel the excitment or an abundance of energy here. Having just come back from Europe, where I was asked on several occasions about the election, there seems to be more interest amongst Europeans than Puerto Ricans when it comes to this year's U.S presidential elections.

The fight for the Democratic nomination is near its end. Obama is so close to winning it. Hillary's victory in Puerto Rico is interesting though. Perhaps, it does show how most Latinos do support her. Personally, I can't wait for this whole Hillary vs. Obama duel to be over with. Isn't it time for us to say 'enough is enough'?

(Photo Credit: Ramón Tonito Zayas/El Nuevo Día)