2017-12-14 Handymen

In between Sweden and Portugal it is impossible not to reflect on handymen. As in people who come to your house to fix things, a broken fence, a dish washer, cleaning of pipes, you know. I am intrigued by the fact that these seem to be entirely different species between different countries.

In Sweden, when expecting a handyman or a delivery, it is a big thing, kind of a once in a life time. You are there ahead of time just to make sure, you wait for what seems to be an indefinite and endless time, you jump up when the doorbell rings and open immediately, in fact you had probably already opened since you had been standing on watch to see their van pull up, you stand hesitantly around while the handyman mutters, you maybe understand what happened when he leaves, or for that matter what the next step is, you close the door. You are not sure what happened, but you feel relieved you were there on time and didn’t miss it.

Everybody in Sweden knows that a handyman or  delivery of appliances to the house happens with a timing that someone else has decided. At it’s best you get to choose the time interval. And their time schedules are the same as anybody else’s, so it’s Monday till Friday 8am till 5pm or maybe 7am till 4pm. So because of this everybody is excused from meetings to pick up the phone because it is the handyman or the freight company, cause who knows when they´ll call again, and for sure you will never succeed in having them answering your calls. It works the other way around – they call you, they tell you when to be there. For this same reason everyone can say they have to leave or work from home a day because they’ll be waiting for a handyman or a delivery interval. Because you do not compromise that. Because you don’t know when the next chance is. If you miss out, you start over. You are at their service.

And there will be different persons coming depending on what you need done. In Sweden you know that when setting out on a home renovation project you are really diving into a scheduling project in which you will be fighting to try to coordinate different handymen to arrive in somewhat close and right timing to each other. In reality you will have absolutely no control but are at the hands of which time they can find to have available and when making up your first grand schedule and proposed timings and tentatively trying to aim at ‘sometime before Christmas’, one of them will tell you they can’t come till after and in any case when they’ve come the next company will have to take over anyway because it is electricity or water or whatever and they don’t deal with that. And all of a sudden, your time lines are as unrecognizable as a drop of water in the ocean and more importantly, equally slave under a current you can’t do a thing to influence. And you wait, and adapt your plans. Not that you know what you are adapting to, but at least you wait some more.

In Portugal, you need something done you ask someone around and they will irreversibly know somebody to call for whatever you need done. If not they will know somebody who actually has an answer to who knows and arrange for a phone number. This somebody will come straight away no matter the day of the week or the time of the day. And this guy who comes, well, he is the guy who fixes everything. He is the pool guy, he is the guy who paints the fence, he is the guy who comes when your pipe is broken, he is the guy who moves things, he is the guy who rinses the chimney, he is the guy who does pretty much everything and anything. At the time you want.

As for deliveries, they are impeccable. We had a new fridge delivered. On a Saturday. We asked for the afternoon interval. They arrived at precisely 2pm, the very beginning of the interval. In all fairness, at the time we bought it it was promised to be on a two week delivery time, after two and a half weeks we called somebody (successfully!) who seemed to have absolutely no idea of any order at all. But when investigating and returning the call it was found to be possible to deliver the day after. Just when we had given up and thought they’d just gone about and forgotten all about the order so we’d have to start all over again. But no, it was there. Sure it makes you wonder what made them wait so long already from the start, but come on, it is still a very quick delivery, the day after!

In the end I guess it is all really not that strange. In Sweden, division of labor, specialized work forces, strong unions, strong labour laws and expensive man hours mean that the seller can actually dictate the buyer on how the job is to be done. Especially with a supply lower than demand. In Portugal, the bad economy, both the national and the one for the majority of the work force means that everyone fights for their own survival and that the buyer needs dictate the market place. Everybody needs to work as many hours as possible and is as a consequence available at any time.

I mean, undeniably the Swedish social liberal variant is a better solution for a long standing society of equals the way I view it. But, also, come on, can I just say sometimes it is real nice and convenient to decide when and how thing are going to go down…? At least in your own house.

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