Thursday, May 04, 2006

American Productivity

I waited in line at 12:03 pm at the cafeteria at work. I hadn't thought that the order of a plain hamburger would be that confusing, but there was a lot of wasted motion behind the counter. "12 Noon seems to catch George by surprize every day" I murmured to the person in front of me in line. The person in front turned and told an amusing story about waiting an hour for a pizza. In Rome. When the pizza was pre-made.

It reminded me of long waits for service in Romania and Hungary, and even, come to think of it, in England, Ireland, and the airport in Frankfurt. Contrast this with the service that barely-supervised highschool kids give you at McDonald's. It was the efficient-under-pressure fast food service that I had automatically compared George to, not to George's advantage.

McDonald's is a cultural synomym for low-talent, bottom end job in America. "You want fries with that?" But notice when traveling abroad how few people can manage that level of efficiency. They seem to do just fine when they immigrate here, but it just isn't happening there. These are the countries whose students are supposedly walloping ours in every competition. If that's the case, why are they unable grill two different sandwiches simultaneously?

I have wondered on this site before how, if our education system is so bad, we keep so far ahead of the rest of the world? People in other places work much harder, but get less accomplished. Productivity is the term used in economics. Japanese productivity in technical and industrial areas approaches or exceeds ours. In service industries, they are far behind. There are islands of efficient information exchange outside of North America (sorry to have excluded the Canadians thus far. Them too), but no one has so many people moving helpful info into the hands of people who need it.

Americans have a gift for spontaneous organization. So what if our pumpkin-headed teenagers forget where Costa Rica is fifteen minutes after the quiz? They can figure out how to get two kids to work, one back from school, and everyone to Emily's house from 8-12 with two cars and little gas. They can figure out that someone needs to move from stocking to bagging for a few minutes. They take awhile to notice and respond, but they get there. Try that in Romania. You will time them with a calendar, not a wristwatch.

Favored stories: I first visited Romania in 1998 or a mission trip. We had
less than two hours to shop in Oradea at the end of the trip, and I had a mission to get to the museum before it closed. We arrived in the van at 2pm and got coffee at the McDonald's on the bottom floor of a shopping center (a shopping center with few things for sale, BTW. Better now). The Romanians began a discussion of where and when we should meet to return. In my head, this was already automatic reasoning: We all know where this place is. Meet back here. We have to be back by five, it's an hour's drive. Allow an extra half hour, everyone meet here at 3:30. Ten minutes later, the Romanians are still discussing the matter. "When Dani comes, maybe she will want to go shopping with the women." "Andrei's church doesn't meet until 7pm. We will already be gone by then." I thought The
average American fifth-grader is more organized than this.
These were intelligent people, but wasted effort doesn't seem to bother them as it does Americans.

In 2001 I visited Chris and J-A just after our permission to adopt came through. John-Adrian's soccer team traveled to Oradea to represent Beius in a tournament on a Saturday morning. I followed the team in a rented car. We got to the field early, but no one was there. The teacher/coach talked to some people, and we drove to another field. No one there either. Finally he talked to someone on his cell and we searched for a third field. We got there late, but three other teams had still not arrived. The coach tried to register the team, but was not allowed - he was supposed to bring everyone's birth certificate. Much complaining and gesticulating followed. The team was allowed to play one exhibition game. Another team had forgotten their birth certs and played an exhibition as well. One team never showed up.

On the way back, the police stopped the coach, discovering that he had not registered his car for six months, nor renewed his license. He had also been letting the boys have drinks as a consolation, but no one worried about that. Eighth grade? No problem.

Five years in America, our boys organize things like Americans. It's not an intelligence issue. But while cursing your wait in line next time, remember that it would be worse anywhere else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But while cursing your wait in line next time, remember that it would be worse anywhere else.

When I am in Romania that's how I try to comfort myself: it is worse in India (which I visited) :-) It usually doesn't help me feel much better about my native Romania, but isn't it a great thing to know that other places are worse (even than Romania) :-)
Unfortunately, one of the mottos of life in Romania is merge si-asa, meaning "it's good enough". The ones who strive for excellence are not doing it because they were taught so by society, but because they have an innate desire to do so.