Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rock in Rio: Forget the Lineup, How about Those Lines?

In anticipation of this year’s Rock in Rio concert, Cariocas, as Rio natives are known, are exercising one of their most remarkable talents—the ability to wait patiently in endless lines. Tickets went on sale yesterday, and would-be concert goers are camping out by the tens of thousands to get their hands on them. Not surprisingly, there have been reports of “confusion” at some points of sale. There have even been some rumblings of discontent.

From my experience in Rio, it’s not the length of the lines that makes you want to bash the cashier’s head against that of the little old lady who’s digging around for change, but the demoralizing, almost imperceptible speed at which they move. When you’ve been standing in the “express” line at the grocery store for 15 minutes and only two people have paid, you start to give up hope.

There are a few reasons for this phenomenon.

The biggest is that, almost to a person, attendants do their jobs as if they’ve been shot in the neck with horse tranquilizer. They do not feign interest in their work. What would be the point? We all know it’s a crappy job, their pay is equivalent to an American teenager’s allowance, so why pretend?

Then there’s the matter of change. They don’t have any. Ever. I don’t mean they don’t have change for a $R 50. They don’t have change for a $R 5. From what I could tell, cashiers start their shifts with an empty drawer and rely on customers to fill it. When that doesn’t work out, they have to call the money holder. This is the only person who has cash, and it’s his or her job to dispense it to the cashiers, but only as much as they absolutely need for a given transaction. Of course, they’re always wanted in several places at once, so your cashier will have to wait a while. I’ve heard it put forward that this system is used in case of robbery, but when you have someone wandering around with a fat stack of bills in plain view, the explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The salt in the wound, though, is that when cashiers have a little change, they don’t want yours. Your total comes to $R 8.25, so you hand over $R 10.25. The cashier hands you back the 25 centavos and then gives you your change for the ten. And you know beyond a doubt that five minutes later, the line will stop while the cashier waits for 25 centavos to be brought over and rolls her eyes like the delay is the money holder’s fault.

So it’s faster to just use a credit card, right? Wrong. If the store even takes credit, this usually requires the cashier to fill out some sort of paper work. A debit card is your best bet.

And that one really short line? It’s probably not for you. One source of line-related confusion for gringos is the “preferential” line for the elderly, the pregnant, the obese, the one-legged, etc. (Yes, the obese get special treatment in Brazil, although nothing is designed with them in mind.) Shortly after my arrival in town, I was awaiting my turn to pay at a Zona Sul supermarket in Ipanema, when a woman who fell into at least two “preferential” categories came up behind me and asked if I was in line. I was baffled. What the hell did it look like I was doing? I nodded and she made a little face. Several minutes later, I was still standing in the same place when I noticed that the whole time, there had been a sign next to me saying this line was for old folks. The lady behind me saw the realization dawn on me and kindly told me to stay, but I was mortified and went and found another line to spend the afternoon in.

Apparently, the “preferential” arrangement doesn’t always work out, as, according to the O Globo story, the old-timers and preggers in one of these lines for concert tickets had to wait an hour before the first of them were served. The article doesn’t specify what sort of “complications” or “confusion” caused the wait, but this sort of thing is never surprising.

The complications are often completely unnecessary. For example, in my second week or so in the city, I was making a purchase of a couple of ballpoint pens, and when I approached the register, I was redirected to another guy across the shop. So I tried to pay him, but he declined, scribbled my total—something like $R 1.50—on a slip of paper and sent me back to the register, where I was finally allowed to pay, only after I handed over the scribble. I figured the scribbler must just be the owner’s brother, but this kind of thing is way more common than any reasonable person would expect.

At home, I’m known as a patient individual. But I noticed time and again that, while I was standing there with my two items, fidgeting, sighing loudly, running my hand over my face, staring daggers at the cashier, fantasizing about burning the place down, the people around me were completely zen. Spending a third of their waking lives standing in line is just something they’ve come to accept. Or if not, they just cut ahead of you, pretending not to have noticed the rest of the line.

This is why I had to laugh when I saw the guy quoted toward the end of the story, saying folks who had been in line for a good 24 hours were surprised at the number of people who had mysteriously appeared in front of them, especially, one can assume, while they were sleeping last night. How can a Brazilian be surprised at anything, other than a person who’s always on time?

Speaking of punctuality, yes, this is a work week, and yes, there were 16,000 people camped out at just one of the three ticket-sale locations. This brings us to one key to the Carioca’s superhuman line-waiting ability: For most of them, work is just something you do between celebrations. They’re not in a hurry. They take great offense at this characterization, especially when it’s perpetuated by their neighbors in São Paulo. But there they are, in droves, camped out indefinitely while their bosses hope they get over that flu they woke up with yesterday morning and the attendants in the ticket booths wait for change and scribble on paper. To be fair, there are probably plenty of Paulistas among them, learning from the masters.

                                                I believe this is the line to get in line.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure if your stories make me want to visit rio or stay the hell away, but they are very entertaining.