All things come to a beginning

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Back when I was a waitress in a local Irish pub, I used to make a mean Irish coffee. Delicious dark coffee, the sweet whiff of whiskey and and the tingle of cold whipped cream on your upper lip... I got to pick a free beverage of choice after every shift, and the choice wasn't hard. I used to sit on a table right by the bar, stretch my achy back, smile at the manager (Sue - tattoos, a motor bike, the works. She was awesome) and take in the smokey, darkened, laddish atmosphere with as much of my 18-year old misplaced sense of romance as I could muster.

Not as easy at it looks, though, making an Irish coffee. Dunking the Jameson into the coffee is simple enough. But when the whipped cream isn't cold enough it doesn't stay afloat but sinks and melts. Instead of the gorgous contrast between the glowing caffeine and the white fluffy cloud on top, you get a murky light brown liquid. Sensual? Not so much anymore. My manager - who was nice enough never to give me a hard time for these kinds of faux pas - would take a look at the glass, and ask me about the customer. Was he Irish? Start over, drink it yourself (no use wasting the alcohol). "Belgian? Serve it, they won't know. And if they do, they won't have the guts to protest".

At the time, I saw it as only slightly mischievous. Because I was part of the inside crew, I didn't feel too sorry for the misguided customers. The harsh reality, though, is that the same principle is applied on a daily, global basis in each and every business sector. Anything - from medication over cars over gasoline over refrigerators - are held up to the highest quality and safety standards when it comes to the European, North American and possibly also the Japanese market. Mind you, they're not perfected as much as they could be. It is perfectly possible to make a washing machine that never breaks down. The know how is there, both for technological perfection as for ecological innovation. But perfect, economical machines don't get replaced and don't consume as much. Which means no repeat purchases and less sales. In other words, sublime quality is bad for business. You want to aim for a nice upper middle level. For a highly effective sales technique, provide a cheap, low quality model A, a pricy decent quality model B and a ridiculously expensive model C. Most people will choose model B and go home feeling like they took a responsible decision - not having spent the maximum amount of money, and not being cheapskates either. Meanwhile, your average quality products are selling like hot buns at ambitious prizes. Everyone wins!

Now, inevitably there will be products that fail to meet the highest quality and safety standards. Throw 'm out & start over? Nah, that would be a waste. It's all good, the legal standards in, say, South America are far lower. Your products are not as safe as they should be? Less robust? Not as effective? Contain a higher level of toxics? This plane was deemed unsafe for the transportation of European passengers? Dubious side effects? Well, hey, it's their laws, right? As long as they're interested and willing...who are you to say no? Don't worry, they don't have the guts to speak up anyway.

Fuck. I mean...this is written down somewhere. Printed. Officialized. With stamps and signatures and entire departments aware of the situation. There have been meetings about the risks. Suppose it crashes/explodes/poisons/kills? What's the most trouble we could get in? What are the odds of a civil lawsuit? What do you pay in these countries for "emotional damages"? Really? That little? Man. It sure is good to be living in this part of the world, eh guys?


Anonymous marieke said...

just want to say that i love this post. love the comparison and how you elaborate it! keep blogging!

9:27 PM  

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