The ‘Semafor Metaphor’ is a way for me to explain the attitude of how people work in Serbia. Especially people who have a job behind a desk or a counter at a public institution and who have to serve clients face-to-face. In normal English that would be called ‘public service jobs’.
However, it is that ‘service’-part that is lacking most of the time. As is the case with the semafors in Serbia.
‘Semafor’ is the Serbian word for traffic-light. All semafors in Belgrade work by clock. They change colour according to a set time. In many other countries traffic-lights turn green after a signal is given that someone is waiting. In this way, one seldom has to wait for an unnecessary long time.
And waiting for an unnecessary long time is what one often does in Serbia when in need for a public service like getting a visa, passport, working-permit or even a stamp at the post-office. No matter how many people people are waiting, or how long someone has been standing in front of the counter, the public servant only starts working when he or she thinks it is time too. Just like the semafor.
I am amazed how most public servants have mastered the art of totally ignoring you. I honestly think they have a gift that allows them to look straight through people. Likewise, I am amazed how the people in line have mastered the art of waiting in patience. I believe in any other country, let’s say the USA, someone would have emptied his or her shotgun to reinforce their wish to be helped within 4 hours. Or if they are really, really annoyed, file a lawsuit. But in Serbia the only expression of discomfort is a deep sigh after another two hours of waiting in line.
Some say this lack of service is a left-over from the socialist times, when everybody had a job, and it was pretty much impossible to loose it. Your salary would be paid each month anyway, no matter if you were working your ass off or if you would spend most of the time drinking coffee. Or beer.
Others say it is a way to provide employment. Slow civil service means you need more people to do the job. And at the same time having a person waiting in line 160 hours a year creates one month of work that has to be done by someone who is not waiting.
I however think the cause are the semafors. Every day a public servant goes to work, he or she has to wait unnecessarily long for the same traffic-lights. The same is true for the people on their way to a public institution to wait. This way people are conditioned to wait and keep others waiting.
The answer to many problems in Serbia thus lies in making a button on each traffic-light that one can push to signal that you’re waiting. This way, people get used to be served as soon as possible. A same button should be made on each desk or counter of every civil-servant. As soon as someone pushes the button an alarm goes off that reminds the servant that someone requires a service. If that doesn’t work, maybe some light electric ‘signal’ could be given through the chair of the public servant if one pushes the button.
Until that happens, I am working on a project that will address the issue in another way. I can’t tell too much about it right now, so yes: You’ll have to wait…
More to follow soon!