We know first impressions are crucial to human relations. (Just ask Helen.)
By extension, they also impact our business dealings.
Having just visited Bali, I now know first impressions are powerful enough to skew an entire world view.
We’d been warned to take US$50 for our on-the-spot entry visas.
As we sweated in one of the immigration queues, we learned why.
Each visa was US$25 or AUD$31, but the officials neither gave nor accepted change.
Thus, an Aussie tendering $40 or $50 paid just that, while anyone with exactly $31 was told to round up to the nearest note.
These rorts triggered angry scenes in the lines.
We felt this was a poor start to our inaugural Bali adventure.
Then again, we were First World dinks* in a Third World locale. Perhaps this wealth redistribution was reasonable and necessary.
Pondering this, we drifted through the airport wondering where to go next. The queues around us were long and confusing.
Just as panic panged, a man touched my arm and said ‘Come here please’ in a clipped voice.
Startled, I strove to take in his uniform and Airport Security badge. My thoughts tumbled like suitcases from a blown cargo bay. Was he:
Asking if we needed help?
Guiding us to the right queue?
About to check our visas?
Picking us for body search?
My list was truncated as he bid us to follow him. We skipped to keep up as he shepherded us, walking and speaking fast.
Then he asked for our passports.
At that moment, Fonnie reminded me of Bali’s fake luggage handlers - who seize bags and demand cash for their return.
We looked at each other and finally asked what the man wanted.
‘Immigration. There long line. You give me now I stamp stamp stamp. Three minutes only. Finish!’
We still weren’t sure, but he herded us on. Down a free lane. Past hundreds of perspiring travellers.
‘Very fast stamp. Three minutes.’
Could this be a shakedown? ‘How much for very fast?’ I ventured.
Now I saw. Or did I? Was it a sting? Getting us to bribe a government official so we could be thrown in jail? Would it cost us millions to get out – and our holiday?
Suddenly we were beyond the queues in an alarmingly empty space. With every eye on us.
I looked at my hands; our passports were gone and the man was speeding to a distant door.
I failed to summon the courage to protest. Then I noticed a knot of Caucasians a short distance away.
Fonnie and I approached them and quickly ascertained that they’d been similarly ‘handled’.
I smiled grimly and joked, ‘Wish I hadn’t watched Midnight Express last week.’
It went down like a fart at a coronation.
After three of the longest minutes of my life, the official returned and handed over our stamped documents and indicated it was time to pay.
In full view of the terminal, I pulled two 50,000 Rupiah notes from my wallet, which he viewed with proprietary interest.
‘No! 100,000 each!’
Not knowing how, I replied, ‘I agreed to 100,000’.
To my surprise and intense relief, he took my cash and vanished.
I fumbled with our papers, trying to ascertain if they, and he, and we, were legitimate.
Utterly rattled, we found our luggage, battled past the ‘porters’ and emerged to tropical sun.
Then the taxi driver ripped us off by feigning lack of change.
Thus bitten by both ends of Bali’s food chain, I wondered if everyone in between would behave similarly.
What a way to start a stay in ‘paradise’!
I’ve always gone to pains to optimise my new clients’ experiences.
Having endured this dreadful first impression, I’ll be taking more care than ever.
When new clients come to you, do they know the drill?
Or do your systems and language startle and bewilder?
Do you brief them on what to expect and guide them when they arrive?
Or must they fend for themselves in your native land?
Your feedback is sure to impress.
* Double income, no kids.
Paul Hassing, Founder & Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire