Thursday, September 18, 2014


By Rabia Ahmed 
I needed clean currency notes, so this year found me as usual at my bank the day before for Eid, clutching a service number (1576) waiting for 1465 and up to be dealt with at the counter. The single teller, an earnest man with a permanent pucker between his brows was excruciatingly slow. I took a seat and waited.
The young receptionist, dressed in a frilly kameez shalwar and chappals, flip flopped around the bank. A customer stepped on her trailing dupatta and she hitched it up with a vague frown. The Manager shouted at her. ‘Miss XYZ, please remain at your post! I didn’t hire you to walk around the office.’ She therefore remained at her post and yelled information, including an account number to the teller on one occasion.
The Manager’s phone rang. A man waiting to speak with him waited some more while he spoke into it for ten minutes and then waited some more again, because as soon as he put the phone down I accosted him.
The service number had progressed only to 1466 after twenty minutes, and ten minutes later had moved but another digit. The reason for the delay was also that three persons had appeared at the window without numbers and been dealt with. Hanging over the shoulder of the man in front each took his time when his turn came while those with numbers waited. I asked the Manager to bring in more tellers or make sure people did not jump the queue.
The Manager took my money from me and apologised for the delay as he handed me the change. He explained that they were short staffed that day because employees had taken an unauthorised day off, adding that it was not possible to enforce the queue at any time. ‘Yahan pay tho aisay hi hotha hai jee,’ is what he said.
If this whole episode at the bank could be captured as a single picture captioned ‘spot the errors’, what would you find?
Almost all banks have a machine that spews out a service number yet it is common for people to skip the queue, or for members of staff to break it on someone’s behalf as in my case when the Manager got my change for me by jumping the queue, because others were doing the same in turn. That is how it works.
The bank Manager’s claim that it is not possible to enforce a queue is invalid. Banks, schools and other institutions can become the cradle of change and achieve miracles, particularly if they all act together.
The people of Pakistan detest queues. We cannot say which came first, the chicken or the egg, but in today’s culture of safarish and bribery this dislike is understandable since the person who awaits his turn is liable to be left out, so each person pushes his way in.
Not only is a queue necessary but a decent space must be maintained between each person in the line to allow for movement and privacy of speech. Bank employees must also understand the need for privacy; no one appreciates having his account details shouted out across the bank.
The young receptionist was inappropriately dressed. Frilly trailing clothes are unprofessional, and dupattas should be pinned in place. Her slouchy walk and manner were inappropriate to a professional setting, but the Manager’s behaviour was inappropriate as well.
Employees at any level must never be humiliated and certainly not in front of customers. What’s more it indicates poor management if employees take leave without permission. It is the Management’s job to enforce attendance, particularly during the rush preceding Eid. It is also exceedingly impolite and unprofessional to allow phone calls to interrupt dealings with a customer. Phone etiquette is utterly lacking in our society, professionally and socially; it died in the stampede that resulted when cell phones flooded the market.
It is in this setting that the first Friday of September which falls on the 6th of September this year, comes in. The first Friday of September is ‘Bring Your Manners to Work Day’. The purpose of this day is to bring protocol and etiquette to the forefront at the workplace for both employees and employers.
Etiquette is as important as business ethics and acumen. It requires a man to for example, respectfully allow a woman to precede him in a social or a professional setting, but protocol within a professional setting requires a female worker to allow her boss of whatever gender, to lead on a formal occasion without relinquishing her right to being treated with respect. There is an overlap between the two, but protocol in a professional setting varies from place to place and may override some aspects of etiquette at certain times.
Etiquette is based on respect for your fellow humans, and on business and customer service expectations which in the current global atmosphere are very high. Queues, phone manners, professional dress code, and dealings between professionals and customers are all a basic aspect of etiquette.
The bank manager was only partially wrong this time: manners may not now be a feature of public life but we were a politer people once. The fast pace of modern life has, like the cell phone, outstripped our values in the race to the workplace and other public ground. It is a matter of some concern in our current affairs, and a crying shame that we are now so far behind the international community in this field. It is an idea for institutions and their umbrella organisations to give the matter of business etiquette and protocol some priority and groom their workers so that Pakistanis can once again pride themselves on their ‘tehzeeb’ and ‘adb’ which appear to be more creatures of Ghalib’s imagination today, than reality.

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