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Romania's Rarest Commodity

In the West trust is taken for granted. The supermarket trusts that its customers are not there to shoplift (even if some do), the bank trusts that the customer is not there to conduct a fraudulent transaction, government institutions trust that the information they are provided by the citizens is accurate. If all these entities worked on the assumption that none of their patrons are trustworthy, the result would be an arduously slow bureaucracy and a society of people who are unable to trust others and who approach all situations expecting the worst. Basically, it would be like Romania.

Here are questions I'd like some really good rational answers to:

1. Why do I have to show my ID every time I go to the bank? Why does it need to be the same ID I originally opened the account with?

2. Why can I only enter a supermarket at the designated entrance (in a mall)? What's wrong with going in through a cash register if nobody's in line and the entrance is far away?

3. Why do I have to sign every page of any official application even the pages that don't have signature fields?

4. Why waste time going to another place in the store, after paying, to pick up  a warranty slip for a newly bought product?

5. Why does security have to seal up any bag I'm carrying when I walk into a supermarket?

6. Why is it that if a very large purchase is made (many items), a security guard has to stand by to watch the items, the cashier, and me as if we're trying to pull off a heist.

7. Why does a taxi driver always ask which way he should go to get to the destination, as if he doesn't already know the best route?  (This is a masochistic question, as the driver assumes that the passenger assumes that he, the driver, is a crook who will surely take the passenger to the destination via the scenic route unless otherwise requested).

These are only a few of the things that came to mind as I write. The list goes on.

I understand that loss-prevention and fraud prevention is a major concern of any customer-facing business, but it's not like these places aren't wired with CCTV, EAS systems, and security guards up the wazoo. The 'why' I'm asking is rhetorical. What I mean is, why are you wasting my time, robbing me of my dignity, and presuming I'm a thief or a scammer whenever I want to get something done?

The irony is that these places never return the favour. When I have to pay a bill, or identify myself at a register, and there are a bunch of people behind me, I'm often expected to provide my full name name, date of birth, address and phone number out loud. No regard for my privacy and security? No problem.

All this denotes an utter lack of respect for the dignity of your customers. Worst than that is the fact that the said customers don't complain and even 'collaborate' - they know the drill and don't think there's anything wrong with an institution presuming that they're liars and thieves even though they're there to spend their hard-earned cash.

During my high-school days, when I worked at Zellers, there were shoplifters sitting, and sometimes crying, in the loss-prevention office every single time I came in for my shift. You couldn't even apply a stereotype, the entire demographic spectrum was represented. Young, middle aged, and old people were caught stealing on a daily basis. None of those people were presumed to be shoplifters until they got caught. Catching them took some undercover work (much more effective than a goon at the store entrance who doesn't move from his post), but it didn't inconvenience every single person walking into the store to do it.

I wonder how things might change if this attitude were reversed. The general consensus, when I've brought this up in discussion is that everyone would somehow try to take advantage of the implicit trust granted by a person, store, or institution.

I disagree completely.

The people who don't steal and who aren't scammers would not, all of a sudden, decide to give criminality a go. Those who do would now think it's easier to ply their craft and would take advantage of the 'lax' security measures, but they would also be careless and eventually get caught -as all criminals do.

It's going to be some time before anybody makes this policy change, but in the meantime, how about we take it upon ourselves to set an example? Let's give cab drivers some slack, let's talk to store managers when security is over zealous as we walk into a store, let's contact our Deputy to ask that they change inefficient laws requiring triple signed documents, let's be good upstanding citizens and assume our compatriots are too. Let's offer our trust as a sign of goodwill to one another. At worst we will weed out all bad seeds as they attempt to take advantage. At best, people will reciprocate and you'll see nothing but good come out of those relationships.

There should be one simple principle when it comes to trust: I trust you, until you give me a reason not to. Tends to work pretty well.


  1. Excellent post. I have lost count of the number of times I have walked out of a shop in Romania because a security guard was following me around. Guilty until proven innocent: it's a Napoleonic thing.

    1. I do wonder how many thieves have ever been caught this way.

  2. Oh, and the whole guarantee for big ticket items/banca de probe thing is another story entirely. A simple receipt should be good enough to get a full refund.

    1. Exactly.

      It's all a bit too much at times.

  3. AnonymousJune 26, 2013

    True but in the mean time we need a visa for US and Canada as we can't be trusted. Then once we arrive there we need to take our shoes off as we might have a bomb or knife on us. The issues raised are not only here so give me a break about the west vs. Romania

    1. Alright, here's a break:

  4. That 'signature on every page' deal works for both you and the person you're signing with. For them, it proves you read that page, and for you, it means they can't substitute that page with a similar page, and claim that you'd read it.

    Everything you listed, except the warranty slip, applies in South Africa as well. Just some more points of commonality, huh? At least our banks accept drivers' licences as well for proof of ID.

    Here in SA, it's common to have to take your high value electronics to the exit with the till slip, where a security guard will stamp that the goods have been checked. Heck, that's even started at a shared doctor's offices I use, where you show the guard at the exit your till slip proving that you've paid for your consultation.

    Instead of more trust, like you're proposing, I think we need better IT systems which would make these basic manual checks moot. All electronics are already tagged with RFID chips which set off buzzers at the exit, so why don't you link this to the purchase of the item at the till?

    1. Oh man, don't get me started on IT systems, I could write a whole post about online banking alone. At the same time, I'm afraid it's a lot of battling windmills. People would rather wait in line at the teller to pay some bills than use an ATM that lets you pay bills, or instead of going online, which, by the way, you need to sign a separate banking agreement for and involves a monthly fee.

      I'm not surprised to hear SA operates along the same lines though.

  5. In the mean time we have the NSA sniffing our private stuff and the Western states asking us to apply for a visa. Lack of trust is a global issue mate.
    I know a few people that commented on this article yet 0 comments are displayed.

    1. Sorry! First time I checked and found 8 comments awaiting moderation, maybe I should be more trusting and forget about the moderation part ;)

      And yes, it is a global issue, but it's applied at entirely different scale. You can't compare your shopping experience to the airport experience, and if you do, there's definitely a big issue.

  6. AnonymousJune 30, 2013

    "In the West trust is taken for granted. The supermarket trusts that its customers are not there to shoplift (even if some do), the bank trusts that the customer is not there to conduct a fraudulent transaction, government institutions trust that the information they are provided by the citizens is accurate ..."

    Sorry Matt, I ve never been to Canada, but I suppose be West u also mean other countries including USA , so I cannot help saying: are u talking about your ideal phantasy West?

    In USA the cashier had to put everything in bags, I was not allowed to help her or carry something in my hand, at the airport the immigration officer asked me if I am married and than said without smiling “maybe you ll marry here after this visit” and I don t even want to mention they latest surveillance circus which , whatever u may think about it, involved some West European countries too. In Germany you get pulled over if you have a Romanian number, the passport is not a good id when opening an account, in Bavaria you have to show your id when coming from the Czech republic but only if you are black or Asian ( they suppose you have drugs on you since the Czechs legalized them), finding a home for rent in Westeuropean countries as a Romanian is and adventure that deserves a whole blog, nevertheless at the entrance to Romania in Curtici there s a huge billboard saying that giving money to the officers from the border is punished with x years of imprisonment. OK you ll say this is another kind of lack of trust from one nation to another stereotypes blabla except the last example.

    I suggest you as an exercise to travel to France or Germany and talk only Romanian to your friends and English with a strong Romanian accent if needed and of course to use only your Romanian id. It s quite challenging.

    In most of the European countries you have to sign every sheet of paper so that nobody can add something afterward, supermarkets are bad designed in Romania, but the guards are replaced with hundred of cameras.

    What you describe is for my rather a typical skepticism and pessimism about the human nature, typical for Romania and some other East European countries which had to deal with tons of corruption, small but often law breaking, major national or local cons scammers and so on in a short period of time. Trust just takes time and cannot be learned in 1 night.

    After 50 years of communism followed by 20 of bad behavior from politicians,official institutions and nevertheless foreigners from the so trustworthy West which came to do good business (which often ended bad for the locals) in the 90ies and later on in a quite infantile country, people have a negative way of thinking and do not expect the others to be honest and good and uninterested nice to them. I believe you wrote about this kind of negativism in one of your posts. I think it s just skepticism very often mixed with the bad customer service everybody complains about in Romania. I also think all this is changing quite rapidly, especially in Transylvania, so soon there will be no material to write about and people will have to complain on blogs that they get a bonbon instead of 2 bani at the corner butic (I m sorry, I read this in one of the posts and had to laugh about it, there are so many things to complain about in RO...this would be my last option).

    I m not sure it s always bad to be skeptical, a certain amount of that plus pessimism keeps you in a safe place expecting the worse getting most of the times something good. That used to be typical for Romania but it s changing too (thanks to those so wonderful designed trainings of positive thinking which have become a must for every cool Romanian). No, really now, I think there is a huge amount of lack of trust everywhere, in the West it is just nicely and professionally hidden under a lot of makeup.

  7. I think you could've started your comment with this statement: "in the West it is just nicely and professionally hidden under a lot of makeup."

    That's pretty much it. I know I can nitpick on tons of stuff in the west. I have already, in fact, but yes, maybe that's what's really annoying after all; the very blatant lack of trust is disrespectful and further highlights the lack of customer service and unprofessional behaviour.

  8. sorry, i did not realize i wrote so much,good Romanian example of logoree,i reacted with counter examples because at this point the lack of trust concerning East Europeans abroad pisses me off so much that I don t really notice the day to day disrespect in Romania itself.

  9. AnonymousJuly 29, 2013

    I was relieved to find the same surveillance system in shopping centers in Italy. Granted, they might be set in place for our very own compatriots... I find that many of these frustrations are common across Europe but we often assume that it's just a "Romanian thing". Bad customer service is another thing you will find in some of the Western countries. So is getting jipped by cab drivers.


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