My wonderful little misadventure in obtaining a car is coming to a close, and as elated as I am to finally be master of my own travels, I’m hesitant to start celebrating just yet.
The view of the Gulf on the King Fahd Causeway from
the passenger seat during a recent trip to Bahrain.
Last week I was lucky enough in finally getting a dealer to agree to sell me a car, and after recovering from his ‘illness’ (which, conveniently, only struck during the open business hours between prayer times), he finally started processing the necessary paperwork. Unfortunately, I was informed that the letter I had finagled out of my employer stating I had the permission to buy a car was actually unnecessary. Rather, I would need to obtain a different letter saying I had permission to finance a car. It was a small oversight that my employer and the car salesmen both knew about, but had apparently forgot to let me know ahead of time. I spent a few more hours calling my GRO from random mobile phones so he couldn’t ignore me, and dropped by his office unannounced several times over the course of the day to help speed things along. The next morning I had my letter.
Over the weekend I stopped by the dealership a few times to check on things. There wasn’t any point in going there to try to talk to anyone because there weren’t any managers present, so only one or two staff members actually showed up and they didn’t speak English. The general idea was to let my salesman know that I’m not going anywhere, and that I’ll keep pestering him until I get what I want. When I first arrived here in the Kingdom I thought it was a bit odd to bother people with constant phone calls or to make an effort to visit someone day after day after day. I entertained the idea that people would eventually stop answering their phones and stop showing up for work, or they would become so frustrated they would tell you that the deal is off and you should go somewhere else. I’ve come to learn that the people here don’t think that way.
Saudis haven’t developed the work ethic that comes from generations of wage based labor that the typical Western worker does. Everyone, from country-wide managers down to the lowest of pencil pushers (which for Saudis isn't really that low when compared to the pseudo-slavery that is menial day labor), all share the same apathy towards work that is seldom seen in the West outside of trust fund babies and megalottery winners. Self-entitlement runs rampant here, and one of the most effective ways to work the system is to treat it accordingly. It feels rude to harass people into doing something, but you soon realize that the only way to get them to do the work they’re being paid to do is to either bribe them or treat them like a small child. The guilt associated with being a prick to total strangers wears off surprisingly fast. It then quickly turns into all-consuming frustration and the rather unappealing realization that, culturally, most people are almost too inept to do their job. Finally, after being trapped in the system of constant uselessness for what seems like an incredibly long period of time, you come to understand that nothing is going to change. You have to learn to work the system.
This past week I’ve spent the majority of my prep periods during the day and my spare time between teaching adult English classes at night driving back and forth between the dealership and my bank delivering random letters, lease paperwork, and money, in order to make sure everything is moving forward. Now that I’ve put a considerable amount of money into various hands and the majority of the paperwork has been filed, I can safely say that within a few days I’ll be driving my car. I’ve spent slightly more than 36 hours on this endeavor in the past three weeks, but I’m not quite done yet. I’ll spend the next day or two calling, and visiting, the dealership and loan center. After that, I still have to deal with the service center and keep gently nudging them along as they finish fixing and detailing my car. It’s been a long frustrating process, but it will be well worth it in the end. There's still the ever-present lingering feeling of doubt about anything actually coming to fruition, but, for now, I'm finally hopeful.