Archive for March, 2006

Pay the most important person the least


Time Out Dubai has an interesting survey of local pizza delivery places this week. One of the review criteria exposes a common flaw in the way business can be conducted in this part of the world.
All but a couple of the pizza places reviewed scored dismally on the ability to get an order placed. Considering that these are businesses that make the majority of their money via takeaway orders placed over the telephone, you’d have thought that this critical link in the business chain would have been taken care of thoroughly.
The problems Time Out encountered are by no means limited to pizza parlours. The journalist describes having to repeat orders to several different people, talk to order takers who can’t speak basic English or don’t know the product range and so on. This is all too common in various other customer facing situations elsewhere in the Gulf.
I’m not saying that we’ve got it 100% right in the UK, but you won’t find yourself ringing a courier, computer firm or bank in the UK only to be greeted with a grunted ‘allo?’, followed a by a bewildering conversation whilst you attempt to get through to the right person. This basic part of customer care is typically handled well.
I think part of the problem here lies in what can be a rather old fashioned approach to appearance and status. The guy who takes the order is perceived to be at the bottom of the heap and is paid accordingly. The manager is the most important and needs a large office with a large desk. The result is that the key person in the money making process simply spends the rest of his pizza career alienating customers and ruining the company’s business.
Sadly the most boring and apparently easy jobs often need the most capable and expensive people.
One company that gets things right here is Emirates. Their call centre staff are clearly very well trained – simply superb. Citibank also do well.


My kidnapper’s photo


As mentioned earlier, Mrs Saul has replaced her camera and is viewing the world almost entirely through her viewfinder once again.
I’ve been happy to pose, which shows my typically magnanimous nature.
Not being particularly photogenic (or quite vain, as some might cruelly suggest) I’m usually not too fond of pictures of me. Today, however, Mrs Saul captured a nice image that I think would be perfect to distribute to the BBC should I ever get kidnapped on my travels.

“A smiling young Engagement Architect relaxes in a Dubai cafe, blissfully unaware of the traumas that lie before him. His kidnappers have demanded a replacement of all pointless PCs by Sun’s thin client products within the year, or he will not be released.”
If anyone wants a larger copy, submit your bids in the comments section. Nothing under $60 will be accepted.

Creekside in Dubai


Mrs Saul has replaced the camera she dropped in a river in Cyprus and is fully back in the photographic saddle, as these pictures show.
We took a walk today down the Bur Dubai side of Dubai Creek, starting off near the British Embassy and ending up at the Heritage Village. It’s a nice walk, but I prefer following the route on a Saturday. Friday is the day off for a lot of labourers who get dropped off from their buses at the top of the Creek and who then spend their time milling around the general area.
I don’t begrudge them their day off at all, or the right to go wherever they want to in Dubai, but I do get fed up with the shameless gawping at my wife that goes on. I’m sure I’d do the same in their position, but I reserve the right to find it annoying and to glare at the worst offenders. Next time I’ll dress Mrs Saul up in a Burqa.

Stuck pics!


Two nice pics of my stuck last week on the way to Fossil Rock have been posted here and here.

A sinner redeemed?


I broke my new year’s resolution to behave decently and totally lost it the other day. Events afterwards lead me to redeem myself a little, I hope.
Dubai gets to me sometimes in a way that living at home in London never did. People can do things here that step so far beyond the standards of what I consider good behaviour and common sense that I have to fight the natural instinct to blow my stack and be rude. Events the other day really pushed me over the top.
Returning from the cinema, where a Western expat nearly smashed into the side of my car in the car park and then refused to apologise in the slightest, had left me a little tense as I drove into the entrance of our car park. On turning in, I found a taxi sitting in front of the barrier. The only way for him to get out, as he had no way of driving through the barrier, would have been to have reversed, which would have meant my having to reverse in turn, straight into oncoming traffic. He had clearly just pulled out and was in the process of sorting out lots of change for his passenger.
Stopping where he had done to let his passenger out was simply idiotic. He could have stopped in lots of other more practical places. I got out of the car, strode up, pulled his door open, told him rather rudely that he was silly to have stopped where he was and used my pass to open the barrier so that he could drive in, drop off his fare and then drive around to the exit. I slammed his door shut. The driver opened the door and shouted at me that I should have seen that his passenger was ‘old’. Looking in the back of the cab I saw a lady in her forties who looked perfectly mobile and not old at all. I opened the barrier again and told the driver in my best ‘forceful tone’ to drive in and drop her off so that I could get into the car park and park my own car.
When I walked back to the Jeep I felt terrible. I’d probably simply taken out all my frustrations at the hundreds of bad taxi drivers I encounter every week on one poor guy who’d just been a bit thoughtless. Yes, stopping where he had demonstrated a complete and predictable lack of common sense, but I should have been more polite than I had been.
I felt awful – I’d been rude, uncompromising and hadn’t treated someone else in the manner I’d expect people to treat me.
After we parked the car I got my first chance to redeem myself. As we walked to our building entrance heavy rain started to fall – that really wet kind of rain that soaks you right through. A young guy in a wheelchair, in local dress, was making very slow progress from where he’s parked nearby, wheeling himself around the building courtyard. I asked him if he needed any help. ‘Give me a push to the coffee shop!’, he asked and I wheeled him around the corner to the door of the cafe at the bottom of the building. He was very grateful and very thankful. I was soaking wet, but he was a lot drier than he would have been making his own way around. I felt I’d redeemed myself a little.
The next day, as Mrs Saul and I were driving out of the car park to go to dinner, I spotted a young Lebanese lady sitting on the floor next to her car. I stopped and Tabu got out to ask her if she was ok. It turned out that she’d hurt her foot earlier in the day and when she’d got out of her BMW, her ankle was in such pain that she’d simply collapsed in agony onto the tarmac. She was in tears from the pain and couldn’t walk at all, but was clearly embarrassed and didn’t want to cause us any trouble. Tabu and I helped her to the Jeep and I drove her to the front of the building whilst Tabu went round on foot.
In the best Dubai tradition I double parked with my hazard lights and we carried her to reception, made it clear she was no trouble at all, tried to cheer up with some silly jokes about her predicament and got her settled on the security guard’s wheeled chair. She was grateful and said the guard could help her to her rooom, after which her friends would come and help her further, call a doctor and take things from there.
We could easily have driven past – it was nothing to do with us, we were late for dinner and it wasn’t that obvious that was in trouble. I’m glad we didn’t drive by. I’m also glad that I got to help someone out to make up for being so rude to yesterday’s taxi driver.
Mrs Saul’s much calmer and nicer than I am, so her efforts were simply extra points added to her good karma score. I felt that I’d redeemed myself a little at least.
Sorry, taxi guy. Next time though, park somewhere that makes a little more sense.

Jogging in hotels


Travelling a lot is slowing turning me into a chubby lump of jelly in human form. The combination of not always being to choose what I can eat and being rather weak willed makes it hard to consume the right food and to get the exercise I need to stay trim and healthy.
Usually I try at the very least to do a brisk 30 minute walk, but when it’s minus 5 outside, walking can be an unattractive evening proposition, especially after 14 hours travelling door to door to wherever I’m staying.
Yesterday and today I bit the bullet and went to the hotel gym. The Diplomat in Prague charges guests for using the gym, which I feel is a bit of a swizz considering the lack of decent gym equipment, but after spending two good 30 minute sessions on the running machine, I feel much better for it.
The view from the gym here is of Prague’s castle, or me on the jogging machine, depending on how the light reflects of the windows. Both views are beautiful.
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself a lot fitter than I though I would be. It’ll take a lot more effort to stop my stomach bouncing around so unpleasantly though…

Backside, backside!


A brief guide to English in the Gulf, to be expanded upon if I come across any useful additions.
English is the lingua franca of the Gulf. Inevitably a set of expressions has evolved that has become the only way to communicate effectively.
Backside – not your buttocks, but the back of the building, shop, restaurant, etc. This can be confusing. When asking where the toilets are, having someone shout ‘backside’ at you can be a little odd. Yes, I do need to do use my backside to go to the toilet, but I was actually asking where they are, not which part of my anatomy to deploy in order to achieve the task…
Frontside – the front of the building, shop, restaurant, etc.
Signal left/right – turn left/right at the traffic lights. Whether your taxi driver will bother to actually signal left or right is doubtful, sadly.
Go straight – continue down this road. Actually going down the road in a straight line will probably not happen. Expect the driver to weave in and out of lanes utterly pointlessly, risking your life and limb with every non-indicated manoeuver.
Too much – as in ‘too much big price’, or ‘too much hot’, ‘too much traffic’. ‘Too much’ basically means ‘very’ or ‘a lot of’.
Five minutes – a period of time that may last between five minutes and five hours.
One hour – a period of time measuring between one hour and a day. That said, I’m still waiting for the KFC I ordered last year to be delivered to the office, which was allegedly to have been sent in one hour. I hope it doesn’t arrive.
One week – a period of time measuring between one week and all eternity.
I’ll do one thing – a phrase usually employed before a large list of ‘things’ is reeled off, none of which will ever get done.
No problem – actually means ‘lots of problems’, none of which you’ll be told about until it becomes clear that whatever was promised to be done has not been done.
Best price – a vastly inflated price quoted to you as you are clearly clueless as to the value of what you’re purchasing.
Discount – a standard reduction in the price of goods or services that will reduce the price to being merely something approaching ‘best price’.
Best quality – low quality.
Non-smoking table – a table in a restaurant that has had the ashtray removed especially for you and that is surrounded by smokers.
We can’t do that, it’s not the procedure – unless you shout at me, I’m not going to courier your new ATM card to you, I’m going to make you come to the branch to pick it up.

Thanks or no thanks?


I was reading through this list of email tips today.
I like to think that I employ most of the suggestions in the mails I send, apart from one about saying ‘thank you’.
“No thanks – I’m not married to this one, but I know a lot of people who swear by it. In more informal settings and in high-volume mail environments, it’s not necessary to respond with a “Thanks” email whenever someone does what you asked. Save your gratitude for the next time you pass in the hall; a one-word “Thanks” email can be crufty and unnecessary. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to thank someone for their time if they’ve truly done you a proper.”
If I get a response from a Sun alias, I do tend to reply with a brief ‘Thanks!’. Is this something people find annoying, or not? Personally I like getting an acknowledgement if I’ve provided an answer or suggestion to an emailed question, so I try and do the same.

Cable spaghetti


I know that it makes good business sense to lock your customers into buying a $1 cable from you for $30, but the cable spaghetti in my bag at the moment really makes me wish that the various vendors out there would get their act together and come up with a standard way of connecting to and charging their devices.
I have a usb cable to synch and charge my iPod.
I have a usb cable to synch and charge my Palm Pilot.
I have a usb cable to synch and charge my mobile phone.
I have a standard usb cable to synch and charge things that have thought about what their customers need and used an existing standard.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, I hope that the captains of industry who read this blog will sort someting sensible out.

New old ring for new phone with only new rings


Despite my being rather down on Sony Ericsson phones after my year long troubled relationship with my T630, I’m now using another one – the K700i given to me by Sun.
I have to say I’m very impressed. The user interface is much easier to use and the graphics for the games are incredible. There are still a couple of annoying quirks – I keep getting asked if I want to send a text message or a picture message. Since I never send pitcure messages, I’d prefer a default to take me straight to texting. The buttons are also a little cramped, even for my stubby short fingers. I’m expecting a severe case of ‘texter’s thumb’ in a few weeks’ time.
To my shock and disgust, there was no ringtone on the phone that actually sounded, er, like a phone ringing. The tone called ‘ring ring’ consisting of a woman’s voice singing ‘ring ring ring’, possibly the most irritating ringtone ever created.
To solve the problem I ended up using a convoluted path. Using my new super modern phone’s super modern features I recorded an older phone ringing, then set that recording to be my phone’s ringtone. So now I finally have a phone that sounds like a phone.
Mrs Saul has bought the K750i, which is excellent. The camera is 2 mega pixels and actually takes nice little snapshots. This does pose a dilemma, as my wife now has a better phone than me, which simply won’t do…