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Is It Deterioration or Too High An Expectation?

Has the quality of expatriates working in Indonesia deteriorated? I have already suspected such is the case for quite some time.

Attending a recent event organised by one of the five-star hotels located on a famous roundabout in Jakarta; my suspicions became even stronger. The F&B manager of the hotel was playing the role of host, cashier and committee on duty during the event that night. It was an occasion where you order whatever food and drinks you want and pay when you leave. When the show started, this particular European manager was busy running around, shushing everybody to be quiet by - among other things - tapping the guests on their shoulders! He basically told us, the paying guests, to shut up in a rude manner. Unbelievable. After the show, I paid for the food and drinks I had consumed at the cashier. I couldn't wait to leave the place, as it was cramped and uncomfortable working my way through a narrow corridor in the crush of people. Suddenly, this manager's hands grabbed my shoulders and shifted me to the side of the long queue!

"What do you think you're doing?" I asked him almost furiously.

"You have no receipt in your hand. You haven't paid the bill. You have to stand aside," he replied arrogantly in a thick Austrian accent.

As I consider myself a civilised person, I tried to calm myself down and explained to him in a very slow - but slightly menacing - tone.

"I already paid the bill, gave the money to your cashier, and - what do you know - your cashier kept the receipt. He didn't give the receipt to me. Perhaps you'd forgotten to instruct your staff to follow your procedures?" He didn't reply but kept smiling to other leaving guests, completely ignoring me.

Please correct me if I'm wrong. But don't you agree that a hotel manager's job is to represent the company, to give friendly and polite service to every client of the hotel? As an expatriate manager, shouldn't people expect him to understand basic rules of courtesy, and shouldn't he exceed the professional standards set for local managers?

As I've written before, this was not the first time I've encountered an ill-mannered expatriate on duty. I've heard tons of similar stories. What about the self-employed expatriate businessman, so busy exporting the rich natural resources of this country (he's extremely wealthy) that he doesn't contribute anything to local social welfare? Or the 'not so fortunate' freelance expatriate writer who abuses his so-called friends' goodwill to pay his way, even the beers he gulps!

I know that rotten apples exist in every society. The numbers of these rude expatriates probably don't exceed the numbers of bar-style cheap chicks among Indonesian females. But still, they are annoying - I mean the low quality expatriates, not the chicks! Because we know, that according to the rules set up by the mighty government of this country, every expatriate who works in Indonesia is granted the privilege of working here due to their superior abilities. Their role definitely doesn't include 'plagues on society'.

No more than ten years ago, I feel there were more expatriates who were, what a Javanese refers to as 'miyayeni' from the word 'piyayi', meaning graceful and respectful toward other people. And those expatriates seemed more willing to learn the local customs and try to understand the various cultures which influence Indonesians' traditional way of life. What is going on? Why it is easier nowadays to find bitter, cynical or even loud mouthed foreigners dressed in poorly made suits complaining about our country, not helping to achieve anything - just becoming a part of the problem.

Is it true that the quality of foreign workers in this country has deteriorated that much? Or is it the quality of the local people that have changed for the worse?

I can imagine that some newly arrived expatriates were disappointed by the country's situation, conditions and the attitudes of certain members of Indonesian society. The rampant corruption practises, worsening economical and political situations have altered the attitudes of certain member of local people ... for the worse!

Mike, a Canadian friend of mine, arrived in Jakarta last year with a big smile on his face. He had a lot of great ideas for positive changes. A couple of months ago, I saw him again. He has become a completely different person. The little fire in his eyes has disappeared. I asked him why, he told me how sickened he was with the rampant corruption, the racist treatment he received, how the local girls and local people in general thought that every white man was loaded with cash and how those people tried to use him to their own advantage. He was so disillusioned.

I have also heard that during the monetary crisis, ongoing political upheavals and the mushrooming of bloody unrest in Indonesia; fewer foreigners were willing to fill positions in this country. Does that mean that those foreign and multinational companies are employing and sending under-qualified people instead?

The chicken or the egg - that's the question.