Sunday, November 25, 2012


I always enjoy going to Mexico.  I like the idea of being a traveler in someone else's land, of being the outsider, of seeing new and different things and wondering how they came into being.

Sometimes this clashes, though, with my "eye for efficiency".  If I have a superhero power it's the ability to look at something and see if it's being run efficiently.  In Mexico, unfortunately, I see so much that's not.

And why is that?  Well, I don't have hard information to go on, so I take what I do know and try to see if I can weave a narrative that will explain what I see.  Here's what I come up with:

There's not much of a middle class in Mexico.  There's the very rich and the very poor, and neither of those groups trusts the other.  That right there is the source of so much of the inefficiency.

What is this inefficiency, you ask?  Well, here are just a couple examples from the resort at which we stayed.  This isn't my first time in Mexico--I've been to several places--and always there's something similar.  I think it's cultural, and I think it comes from that distrust I mentioned before.  But now the anecdote:

Pool towels.  Upon check-in we were each given a "towel card" in addition to our room card.  When going to the pool we exchange our towel card for a towel; when heading back to the room, turn in the wet towel for the towel card.  Lose the towel card and you pay $25 US to replace it.

So far, so good.  I see that they don't want to lose beach towels, so they've implemented a system designed to keep people from losing or even inadvertently taking them.  All it really costs is someone (who no doubt earns less in a day than the replacement cost of one towel card) to exchange towel and card, and if you want to provide a "towel service" at the pool, this person would have to be there anyway.  As I said, so far, so good.

But here's what I don't understand.  You don't just exchange the towel card for a towel.  The attendant also fills out information on a clip board--your room number, your name, and the number of towels you took (one towel per card, but a family could exchange all their cards at once).  Then you sign for the towels.

Why do they have the towel card system if they're also going to record all the information on a clip board?  I tried to come up with a reason, and I came up with this: what's to keep me from stealing others' towels, turning them in for towel cards, and then later exchanging these cards for clean towels and then stealing those?  Clearly, towel theft is a major concern there!  The answer to my query is, of course, the information on the clip board!  If I exchanged only 1 towel card for a towel and try to return 3 towels, the attendant will know something is amiss.  And there it is, a logical reason for doing all the recording of data.

But if they're recording the data on the clip board, and if I'm signing for receipt of the towels, what is the purpose of the towel card?  All the information they need, including my signature if they need to charge me missing towels, is on the clip board.  It appeared to me that they used the towel card system primarily, so I was left to wonder about who, exactly, is reading all the information recorded on the clip boards?  What's up with this dual system?


On a lighter note, here's where you'd use your towel card and associated towel:

Next tale of inefficiency:  security guards.


Happy Elf Mom said...

So much of the inefficiency keeps people employed, though. Imagine if they had a swipe card for towels. And many other jobs. It's almost as though these people need to make work up so the townsfolk around aren't angry. Just a thought.

Mary J said...

Just FYI - This is now commonplace in the good old USA, too. We stayed at the Palm Desert Marriot resort. We were there on the very day the full system got implemented and much confusion ensued among the workers and guests alike. Pool cards, clip boards, signatures, yadda yadda.

Darren said...

Happy Elf Mom, "make work" isn't efficient. It's akin to requiring everyone to break their windows each year--imagine the boon to the economy when everyone has to spend money on new windows, and look at all the work for the glaziers!

I'm sure there's plenty of "productive" work that could be done, if only someone wanted it done.

MikeAT said...

Kinda like the joke picture you have probably seen of a "government job". One man in the pit digging with a shovel (I.e. working) with six men outside the hole with clipboards, trying to look important but doing no work. The captions id the union rep, safety rep, supervisor, assistant supervisor,

KauaiMark said...

..Cash for clunkers come to mind?

Hube said...

Having lived in Costa Rica for quite a time, I can sympathize with Happy Elf Mom's analysis. It's about employing people, and efficiency be damned. I recall having to go to some offices for an extended visa and I must have had to visit at least seven windows manned by seven different people who were merely stamping something (for something). All I could do was roll my eyes and say to myself "WTF?"

This was quite a few years back; CR has improved quite a bit since then, and I imagine it is more efficient than Mexico. CR has a strong history of supporting a sizable middle class and is privatizing more and more (always a good thing).