Tag Archives: service

Free enterprise vs. red tape

23 Sep

OK, so this isn’t the title of my first business case or anything like that. It’s the contrast between dealing with different service providers here in Oxford.

So first, the “free market”.  One of the first things I attempted to tackle was getting a new phone number.  Step 1, find mobile phone provider that provides iPhone service. Step 2, get phone unlocked. Step 3, get new SIM card for phone.  It’s Step 2 that made me chuckle.

None of the “official” mobile phone operators will unlock you phone for you, but when asked, they all were able to point me in the direction of a certain “news agent’s shop” that provides some value-added services, namely unlocking phones for anywhere between 10 and 20 pounds and 15-20 minutes of your time.  You walk in, you say you need a phone unlocked, they tell you up front before you pay if they can do it, and invite you to have a seat.  Mohammed, the mobile phone locksmith, does some magic with his laptop and hey presto! Phone unlocked, 20 pounds please. 

During my 20 minute wait, I counted about a dozen people who came into the shop for various things – cell phone charger, internet usage (they also have an internet cafe in the basement), printing, scanning, and cigarettes.  The bus driver ran in to grab a drink on the fly as the bus stops outside. A builder down the street came in to get a set of drawings and notes copied. And a lady popped in to pay the 5 pounds she owed from the week before, when she needed a charger in an emergency and didn’t have any cash.

Contrast this with my attempts to open a bank account, the definitive “red tape” experience.  I’d researched online, knew which bank and which account I wanted, and showed up to open an account with all the paperwork I thought I needed.  Not so! First off, a 20 minute wait in line, only to be told I needed an appointment to open an account.  Um, no I said account, not mortgage! But yes, apparently an appointment is required, and of course there were no more appointments left that day.  Come tomorrow, I was told, you won’t need an appointment tomorrow. Oh and by the way, we actually need a completely different document from the one we told you in our brochures.

So visit 2, back the next day, new document in hand, another wait in line.  First question – do you have an appointment to open this account?! At this point, I start looking for the hidden cameras, thinking this has got to be a joke in the making.  Not so! After recapping the previous day’s conversation, the person serving me agreed they could “squeeze me in”, probably because some other poor sucker didn’t have the right documents when he showed up for his appointment!  But then … oh no, this isn’t the right document either, it needs to be signed and dated and on letterhead from the university. Grrrrr!

A classmate also in the line took pity on me, and showed me the letter he’d received.  Having confirmed that in fact, this third piece of paper held the magic formula, I agreed to go and source this document instead.  In the meantime, I was able to persuade the bank to open the account “provisionally” for me, on condition that I would drop the magic document off later that day. 3 visits, 1 bank account, maybe. Wow!

There’s a lesson here somewhere.  I’m still trying to figure out what it is.  Off to navigate my way through another day…


It’s so hard to say goodbye

7 Sep

So heads up – if you thought this was a soppy sentimental post, you can just move on right now. I’m not sentimental today, I’m mad!

Why, you ask? I’m discovering how difficult it is to exit my life. Not the leave-taking of friends and family, familiar places and the like, although I’m sure that will warrant its own post at some point. Right now, it’s the extraction of myself from services that is proving excruciating.

My cell phone provider sold me a plan – a bundled voice and data plan – at a single fixed rate. Imagine my shock and horror when I called to cancel my service and was told I’d be subject to not one, but TWO cancellation fees, one for voice and one for data!  Yup, $400 plus taxes, to NOT have something.  What made this even worse is that when I gave the guy on the other end a piece of my mind, he passed me on to a smooth-voiced calm Englishman (the irony was not lost on me) who was able to placate me with a completely different offer – a stripped-down minimum-charge plan for the remaining 10 months of my contract for $225 including taxes. What a difference a dude makes!

Now it’s not that I don’t expect to pay some sort of penalty to leave a contract early. I read the fine print, and I’m not unreasonable. What made me really annoyed was the completely different treatment and information I received, simply because I challenged the first offer.  What happens if you don’t, I wonder? If you are not savvy enough to push back and say, oh I don’t think so! I guess you get stuck with the hefty price tag, and the poor service.

It makes you wonder too, what else we are putting up with, simply through a failure or lack of inclination to speak out.  What else would we ask for, of whom?  What would get better if we demanded it?

There was some good news today – I can readily extract myself from health care coverage with a single phone call, and I can choose when coverage starts and stops.  Thank goodness some things are simpler than others.

Please count me in

24 Jul

Dear Mr. Harper,

My name is May, and I am 10 years old. I was born in 2011. At the time, my mother and father were going to English school for grown-ups, so they decided to give me an English name after the month I was born in.  They were very proud of me, and happy I could be born in their new home country of Canada.

I am writing you because my mother said you were Prime Minister when I was born, and she said that this is a very important job, and that you could do important things, even if you are not Prime Minister any more. I would like you to please tell your friends who are in charge to bring back the big counting thing my teacher says is called a census. We are doing a project at school about Canada, and my teacher said this would help us know more about Canada and all the people that live in it, so we could make sure they have all the things they need.

I really like school, but it is very crowded.  My class also has lots of kids from all over the world, who have moved to Canada with their families.  My friend Asha only came to Canada last year. She says her Dad is very worried he will not be able to find a good job, because there is not enough information about how to find work in our city.  My teacher sometimes helps Asha’s mom to write letters, since there is no more grown-up English school where we live. Asha’s mom said it’s because there isn’t enough information about what new people coming to Canada need, or what languages they speak.

My mom says this too. She is a nurse at a hospital in our city. She works very long hours because there are not enough nurses, because the hospital thought there would be less people getting sick.  It turns out there were more people moving to our city all the time, and now the hospitals are not big enough. Sometimes when people are very sick, they have to wait for a long time to get better.

My Dad drives a big bus in our city. He says that the bus company is hiring lots of people, because they need more buses now that people want to drive less and be green.  People are still the same colour, but I think he means something about the environment.  Dad says that there are not enough buses in some places, and it’s because the bus company only had some old information about where people were going to want to live.

In my project, I am going to write that we used to know more about the people in Canada, where they came from and what they needed.  This stuff is pretty important, especially since my mom and dad wouldn’t have to work so hard, if the hospital and the bus company had more information. If your friends in charge can’t fix it so we have the census again, when I grow up I’ll be Prime Minister so I can fix it.

Yours respectfully,


Grade 4, Smith Elementary School

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m an excited aunty-to-be who hopes that my niece or nephew will be counted. Reinstate the long form census of Canada in 2011.

Things that go beep in the night

15 Jul

It was the loud and insistent ringing that woke me. The intercom phone in my apartment, which kind of sounds like a fire alarm.  Was it a summer vacation prank, an urgent summons, a dream? It was weirder than that – it was the police!

“Good Evening Ms. Rudder. This is the police. Your car alarm keeps going off, can you come down and turn it off? The police car will be waiting, ma’m.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day that the police show up at my house, especially in the middle of the night.  Still rubbing sleep from my eyes, I dressed, grabbed my keys and headed downstairs.  Sure enough, there was one of New Westminster’s finest, along with a tow truck, flashing lights and one of those fabulous “policeman’s flashlights” we all secretly crave.  Sure enough, there was my car horn, stuck somehow and producing a pretty feeble, fast-fading tone.

“Could you open up the car, ma’m? There’s a smell of burning wires, we just want to make sure there isn’t a short or a fire.  Maybe you should make sure it starts and the battery isn’t dead.  If you pop the hood we’ll take a look for you.”  Such service!

The tow truck driver, a sprightly young guy with a “back East” Nova Scotia accent checked it over, concluded my battery was fine, and that it must have been my steering wheel lock that had somehow pushed against the horn and caused it to stick in the “on” position.  After recommending I take it in for service, and verifying my name and address, my two new heroes disappeared into the night, taking their flashing lights and sense of adventure with them.

Now, let’s reflect for a moment on the amazing things about this story.  That I live in a neighbourhood where noise after about 11 p.m. gets the attention of the neighbours.  That said neighbours care enough about what’s going on out in the street to call the police, and that the police respond with politeness and assistance. That I live in a place where social trust is high enough that if the police ring your doorbell in the middle of the night (well OK, it was 11:30 p.m. but I’d been asleep for at least an hour by then!), you feel comfortable enough to answer the door, rather than diving to hide the valuables and grab your passport as you head out the back way!

I love this country! July 1st is fine and all, but this officially marks my personal “Canada Day” this year.  Here’s a lesson to us all: make sure you put your steering lock on properly, and don’t forget to appreciate the small but important things in life.

Happy Canada Day, everybody!